Women Who Inspire: Aurea Sanabria Molaei of Flower Bodega
“We're different and we're magical and deserving of opportunities in the city that made us. We can be successful business owners, tackle challenges with grace and intelligence, and have the same opportunities as the next person. We have so much to offer!”
This isn’t your typical neighborhood bodega. Meet boss babe, Aurea Sanabria Molaei, founder of the floral arranging and experience shop Flower Bodega. A floral stylist extraordinaire, she is also a creative director, artist, and producer. Taking the nostalgia of her family’s Bronx corner bodega and familial love of flowers, Aurea started her business as a way to connect her love of urban Latinidad and Upper East Side snobbery. We talked with Aurea about being a woman of color entrepreneur and all the beauty and hardships that come with that title. #HappyWomen’sHistoryMonth!
NUDEST: Tell us a bit about yourself and your biz, Flower Bodega?
Aurea: I consider myself a creative first and foremost. I'm a Native Nuyorican (NY-born of Puerto Rican descent) having worked in fashion, dance costuming, visual merchandising and event spaces over the course of the last 12 years. Flower Bodega is a boutique floral design studio in NYC that I recently launched, which specializes in one-of-a-kind gifting arrangements, signature mini bouquets, event florals and styling, retail collaborations and more!
N: How did you end up falling in love with botany and turning it into a career?
A: I've always had a love for flowers, both arranging them and receiving them! My father used to work for a florist when he was in his late teens/early twenties, so he'd drop knowledge on me throughout my years. Whenever I'd host get-togethers, I'd pick up some flowers at the deli and try to make my own creations. I am also an event producer, so I am surrounded by beautiful flowers constantly. In getting to chat with my floral vendors, I'd pick up tips and take a stab at doing things for smaller events myself. I didn't get serious about it until 2015 when I was producing an event in Miami. We hired an incredible floral and plant stylist to come out and work her magic to transform the Edition Hotel's pool area into an Amalfi Coast-inspired haven. She sourced flowers and decor from local wholesalers and invited us to help her clean, condition, and arrange the flowers andas we cleaned and prepped everything, she would tell us helpful tips about each flower and the care they needed.
This process took nearly an entire day and I found it to be such a nice change of pace from the usual chaotic energy buzzing around a high-profile event. The process was incredibly therapeutic and I remember saying out loud, "I think I could do this for the rest of my life and be perfectly happy." She gave me ownership over styling certain areas within the event and I took so much pride in it and just completely fell in love with the process and the response it received from everyone who attended, including the clients, because let's face it, flowers make people happy!
I was working at Refinery29 and at the time, they were investing in their employees' via an annual education stipend. Employees could take classes of their choosing (improv, language, public speaking, jewelry making, etc.) on the company's dime! Naturally, I used mine for Flower School and fell so in love with the process from shopping the flower market, meeting florists with shops all throughout the city, and working with some of NYC's best florists and instructors that I continued that education. Every year I would join a new program to learn techniques with Flower School and the NY Botanical Garden. I was still working full time as an event producer, so I'd apply my new skills to more and more events and quickly became the company's in-house florist. Suddenly my friends in the industry started reaching out to me to do florals for their events... that's when I knew I had something on my hands.
N: What has been one of your favorite things about being an entrepreneur? What has been the hardest?
A: I mostly love being in control of the creative process. Being the voice of the brand and establishing it on my own terms is very important to me. Being able to say no if something doesn't feel like a good fit can be risky, but very important when trying to maintain my brand's authenticity. Having the freedom to execute my own creative vision is so fulfilling. The hardest part about it is the fear of the unknown. Having the bulk of the weight on my shoulders is scary and can be very overwhelming. There are days that I feel like I can take on the world and days where I feel the weight of it all and am just downright exhausted. Because it's a brand new company and mainly just myself and my husband running it (not forgetting the never-ending support of incredibly talented friends and family who jump in for large projects), I wear all of the hats. I answer all of the emails, process invoices, make the supply orders, work with press, clients, and vendors, photograph the products, built and maintain the website, plan and execute all pop ups, installations, and projects, not to mention keep up on social media... it is A LOT of work and takes a lot out of me, but it is also so exciting and rewarding and incredibly fulfilling.
N: How does being a woman of color impact your experiences as a creative and entrepreneur?
A: My background and upbringing is very diverse. Born and raised in the Bronx, I went to art schools in Manhattan and designed for millionaire clients on the Upper East Side. I am heavily influenced by Bronx Latin and urban culture, but also avant-garde art and Upper East Side snobbery. No one can ever put me in a box. I like to show people that Puerto Rican girls from the Bronx aren't caricatures or stereotypes. We're different, creative, complex, can be elevated and elegant, but still have urban roots. We don't all look the same, speak the same, have the same skin tone or hair type. We're different and we're magical and deserving of opportunities in the city that made us. We can be successful business owners, tackle challenges with grace and intelligence, and have the same opportunities as the next person. We have so much to offer!
In thinking of my brand name, I wanted something super authentic to my upbringing that would surprise people when they discovered my elevated designs and floral choices, not just some thrown-together deli bouquet. The bodega flower is a NYC staple that I was exposed to everywhere. I wanted to bring that into my brand's story somehow and that's how I landed on the name. I get asked constantly by other women of color if I'm Latina; challenged because of the use of the word "bodega" in my name. But I appreciate that! I love having those conversations because they often lead to inspiring talks with women like me who want to ensure our culture isn't being exploited and want to make it in this city!
N: What are your strategies for deciding the best flower arrangements?
A: I rely on my love of music, film, and fashion to influence my arrangements and that's what sets my business apart from others who may cater to a similar audience. People will always love flowers and there are hundreds of talented florists in NYC, but no one is making up full character profiles for their arrangements or creating mood boards and Spotify playlists for them. My arrangements are heavily influenced on moods and once I establish the feeling that I'm inspired by, the color story comes to life through the visual reference images pulled from fashion spreads, movie stills, memes, and music videos.
N: Tell us about your beauty routine! What's your go-to look?
A: Skincare is very important. I try not to touch my face during the day to avoid as many germs and dirt as possible. I don't have an acne problem, but do have combination skin and am in my early 30s. Once a week, I'll use Origins' Retexturizing Rose Clay Mask and use Peter Thomas Roth's Hyaluronic Cloud moisturizing eye patches. I wash my face with cold water and Glossier's Milky Jelly Cleanser. Then I'll use Herbivore's Prism Glow Potion, IT Cosmetics’ Confidence in an Eye Cream, and finish off with either Glossier's Priming Moisturizer (Rich in the winter), Herbivore's Pink Cloud Cream, or Peter Thomas Roth's Cloud Moisturizing Cream. I move on to concealer. Then will use Glossier's Cloud Paint in a color that will compliment my outfit choice, Generation G on my lips, Lidstar on my eye crease for depth, Anastasia Brow Wiz and Glossier Boy Brow, and top it off with the Milk Kush Mascara. My look is never heavily made up the way it was in my twenties. I like to have a flush, glow, and generally look healthy and awake. I like my skin to breathe and show off the results of my skincare routine, haha!
N: How do you find the perfect foundation shade?
A: I am more of a concealer girl and like my natural skin color to shine through. I will use two different shades for different areas of my skin so that they blend well and are not easy to spot through caking or totally different tones. I find that I often buy the wrong colors and have wasted dozens of products in search of the best color for me though... maybe the NUDEST team can help me! Please!
N: How do you practice self-care as a boss babe?
A: This past year was the first year I really took care of myself. I went on vacation with my girlfriends and then again with my hubby. I got massages a lot more frequently than I have in the past. I got manicures regularly and even read more books than what's average for me. A few months ago, I donated my automatic coffee machine and got a Chemex instead. The process of warming up the kettle and taking the time to pour the hot water over coffee is so meditative and has become a part of our morning routine. It may sound silly, but that 10-15 minute coffee process is the most zen thing ever. In 2019 I'd like to take up yoga again. The physical demands of the job aren't getting easier on my body, so I want to ramp up the self-care even more.
N: Favorite plant?
A: A tie between a Jade plant and Pilea. Pilea's are special because you can plant trimmings from them to create a new plant. They're easy to care for and live on and on.
N: Favorite event you've worked?
A: 29Rooms. As an event producer, I worked on 29Rooms from its first show in 2015 through this past December in Los Angeles. I met some lifelong friends, had belly laughs, and created amazing memories with those people over the seven 29Rooms shows. This past year, I was able to take on all of the floral styling for many of the rooms, so it was the perfect way to integrate Flower Bodega in a way for 30,000 people to be immersed in our world.
N: Favorite makeup brand?
A: Glossier. I'm a Glossier STAN.
N: Floral for spring! Groundbreaking, or nah?
A: I like to consider them necessary. Flowers are a signifier that Spring has come, so they will never be scoffed at by me. I'd love to see more modern and abstract approaches to floral designs especially when it comes to fashion. It is 2019 after all.
N: Current mood/aesthetic?
A: I created these floral stories based on my moods, complete with mood boards and Spotify playlists, so I'm definitely feeling Lydia with a mix of Vivian these days. A mix of winter moody grays with soft romance.
Check out Flower Bodega here.