Diane James always had a passion for floral arranging. As a young adult, Diane would collect flowers from her gardens and branches, greenery, and berries from the nearby woods to create bouquets for her home in Belgium. She honed her craft with master florists in London, Paris, and Tokyo, before moving back to the United States in the late 1970s. Here, her work shifted to faux flowers, and, eventually, she established Diane James Home, the first luxury collection of faux floral designs ever sold at retail. Since then, the company has bloomed into a global brand with worldwide distribution in retail stores, through interior designers, and online. Diane’s twin daughters, Carolyn and Cynthia, have joined the brand and work with their mother in operating the business. I had the pleasure of speaking with Carolyn and Cynthia about their flowers, their brand, and their family.
What makes working in a family-owned business unique?
There’s a clear understanding of what our mission is when it comes to our business and each member of the family is all in. There’s also a passion for what we do that we don’t believe exists in a larger corporate environment. This has created a culture of quality when it comes to all aspects of our business as each member of our team embodies this passion. Our staff of 8 (6 designers, one shipping manager, and our amazing executive assistant) feel part of our family and we know they have our best interest in mind. Most of our staff has been with us since the beginning so there’s a level of trust that comes with that. And that trust also exists between Diane and her daughters which enables us to shine in our respective roles. This mutual support is so important and enables us to be excited to come into work every day.
How has working with a family business been rewarding?
Our mother launched her business when we both had corporate careers (Carolyn in investment banking and Cynthia in PR) so when it took off, she knew she needed help. We were able to come on board with the skill sets we had developed with other companies and really take the business to the next level. It was a blessing that her first collection at Bergdorf Goodman happened when it did as both of us were expecting our first boys. We’ve been able to grow the business and our families at a pace that allowed us to be present for our business as well as for our boys (5 in all!) Since our mother was also a grandmother she understood that sometimes our children took priority over the business and there were never any conflicts because of this. We would not have been able to have this flexibility if we had continued with our careers at that time (early 2000’s). And since we’re identical twins, we’ve also had the blessing of stepping in and being there for each other if need be.
In what ways did changing from corporate work to a family business alter the way you work and live?
The most important way that working for a family business altered the way we work was by giving us more flexibility to create that balance between our work life and our family life. When the business started, we had five young boys between the two of us so commuting into New York every day for our corporate jobs became a chore and we were missing out on the day-to-day joy of raising our children. Since our mother (and founder of our business) was very aware of how important it was for us to be there for our boys, she enabled us to create a work schedule that was mutually beneficial. We were able to work around our children’s schedules rather than having them work around ours. And we grew the business at a rate that would allow us to maintain this flexibility throughout our boys’ childhood. The boys are now all in college so we’re shifting our priorities to growing the business more rapidly and spending time on habits and hobbies that light us up like reading and meditating in the early mornings and Orange Theory workouts in the evenings.
All your designs are handmade – can you tell me a little more about why this personal touch is so important?
There are not many businesses in our industry that can say that their designs are handmade to order so we feel as if this is a competitive advantage for us. This means that if a client would like to customize one of our designs, we can help them by making it larger or smaller, changing out the container or even using their own container if they have a favorite vase or planter they like to use for florals. Handmade also give our designs their unique style. They are not mass-produced in an assembly line on a factory floor. Every one of our designers takes pride in creating our designs and they do so with care and attention to detail. How many manufacturers can say the same about their product? So not only does our high level of quality come through with the materials we use but also in the process of making our arrangements. Being handmade to order in the United States makes our designs special and unapologetically expensive. The fact that they’re guaranteed to look “fresh” for five or more years makes them definitely worth the cost!