How to design floral arrangements for Native American brides? With respect.

How can you serve customers with a strong cultural heritage? Ask. Listen. Respect. That’s the recommendation from Shayai Lucero, shop owner and member of the Acoma and Laguna Pueblo people of New Mexico. [rev_slider alias="native-american-1"] Shayai’s bouquet design for a Native American bride was selected as the Most Inspirational Wedding design in the 2017 INSPIRE Design Showcase. Shayai shared the Native American tradition of incorporating the natural elements of a person’s individual tribe into their flowers to honor their culture. Smithers-Oasis Floral Design Director Kevin Ylvisaker AIFD, PFCI expanded on her design for OASIS Floral Products 2017 print advertising, substituting for tribe-specific materials where appropriate.

Showing respect encourages customers

There are more than 550 Native American tribes in the U.S. and in Canada more than 600 First Nations bands plus the Métis and Intuit aboriginal people, nearly 4 million people in all in North America. “Showing respect by learning Native wedding traditions and using them in unique and personalized designs would perhaps bring a new community of brides to more flower shops as customers,” says Shayai. Each tribe or band has its own unique cultural elements, which other tribes are not allowed to use. Native American brides often want to include native elements that represent their tribe. Something as simple as a feather can have deep meaning in the bridal bouquet. For Native American couples from different tribes, it is important to understand and respect the symbols from each tribe.

Following tribal traditions

[rev_slider alias="native-american-2"] Shayai’s bouquet featured traditional natural elements from two different Native American tribes. Spirals represented the maze of life for the Gila River people. Solstice markers to track the sun represented the Pueblo people. Both tribes are desert people. “Rain is represented by the way the lily grass flows which is really important for desert people,” says Shayai. “In our culture, we use a lot of flower imagery in clothing, basketry, pottery. Flowers bring the pollinators—bees and butterflies’” Shayai explains. “It was important to me to express that imagery in the design with wire accents as flower petals. I wanted to honor both tribes with an object that was important to each one.”

A scientist in touch with her people

Shayai comes from a family of Native American painters, potters and jewelry-makers and lives on the Laguna reservation. She understands the deep connection between her people and the natural materials gathered from their lands. She was named Miss Indian World 1997, an honor awarded to a Native American woman who demonstrates a deep understanding of her culture, traditions, people and history. Still, she earned a degree in biology with a minor in chemistry and was focused on a lab career—until on a whim she bought a flower shop and “fell in love with nature.” “I especially love when the flowers arrive. I open the boxes and greet the flowers ‘welcome to Laguna!’” she says. “I really, really, enjoy the artistry of working with flowers.” Shayai found her artistic niche and mission in healing the world with flowers.

Working with wire

[rev_slider alias="native-american-3"] “I use a lot of foliage and wire accents to give the flowers a unique look,” says Shayai. “I just love the wire!” “When we bought the shop, a roll of strong pink aluminum wire was there unused and I started playing with it. Now we are known for our wire accents.” Shayai’s bouquet featured aluminum wire formed into petals with fine wire similar to bullion wire used to cover them. Pearls added the finishing touch. “I do a lot of my wire work at night while watching television. The hardest part is that if you handle the form too much it can lose its shape,” Shayai explains. “You have to be sure you don’t bend the wire enough to make it flimsy. Sewing the delicate wire in and out of the frame gives a finished edge to the petal, adds texture and strengthens the design.”

The bridal consultation

The most important part of a Native American bridal consultation is actively listening to your bride to learn which floral details you can and cannot use in honoring their specific tribes. “Our brides are a bit quirky,” says Shayai. “They want something different, but want to be sure it won’t take away from the dress, especially if they are wearing traditional regalia. The dress or clothing is very important to them.” “They typically want the natural element accent that respects their native culture to be subtle.” Most of Shayai’s brides come to her by word of mouth. She’s honored when they choose her shop and often experiments with new flower combinations to give each one a personalized look. “In terms of Native American weddings, our culture focuses on feeding the guests, so food is the priority. Flowers are an afterthought. As a result, I have to work within really tight budgets.

Discovering a European mentor

In an online floral forum, Shayai discovered Peter Manders from the Netherlands. She really liked his style and started following him. “One day on Facebook, I asked a how-to question about a curly willow armature and no one answered. I felt lonely,” Shayai shares. Peter responded with a solution in a private message. She began asking him design questions. He continues to mentor her by offering guidance online. “Sometimes what I see in my head doesn’t come out like I want it to, it’s not what my mind pictured,” says Shayai. “Peter taught me that the flowers will do what they want to do. You have to learn with them. Via photos on Facebook Peter has helped me to learn to be OK with letting the flowers do what they want to do naturally.”

Using flowers to heal the world

How does Shayai use flowers to help heal the world? Selling flowers is really a human to human interaction. Shayai believes it is her duty to honor each person’s culture in her floral expressions, especially when it comes to life tributes. “We know that flowers are personal. When someone chooses our flowers, we want to know that there is something in the design that emotionally touches their spirit.” How do you design to honor the culture of your customers?

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