Flowers that last forever

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THERE’S something to be said about the continued human adoration for flowers. No matter how beautiful a flower is, it will eventually die. We continue into a noble and futile effort to love something that will never last. But here’s a thought: what if it does last?

Dean Cuanso, a La Trinidad, Benguet native, grew up around flowers as the son of a flower farm-owning family. After weeks of nurturing flowers with water and fertilizer, their family’s work would be used for a day or two, and then thrown away. “The problem there is wastage after the event — ang daming tapon (so much is thrown away),” he told BusinessWorld during lunch in Makati on June 28.

Mr. Cuanso is the founder of Accents and Petals, a brand that makes “floral” arrangements out of recyclable and natural materials such as cardboard tubes and corn husks. But these are not your old aunt’s fake paper lilies or crude cutouts sold in the streets. Mr. Cuanso and his wife mold these materials and form them to the best of their ability into figures resembling orchids and roses and all sorts of flowers; dyed in colors nature can only dream of. They serve as bouquets in the hands of brides or as arrangements in vases in offices and hotel lobbies. The flowers have a base rate of P1,800, and the price can go up depending on the size and complexity.

Mr. Cuanso said that money was tight growing up, so the children had to make do with what was in the house, to learn how to make toys out of whatever they could get their hands on. Furthermore, his parents had a strict rule about recycling and reusing to prevent the waste of resources in the house. Mr. Cuanso ended up marrying his wife Liberty, who happened to have excelled in crafts in her home economics class in school. They tried to get into the Baguio woodcrafts business early in their marriage, but a mutual love of nature stopped them from cutting down even more trees, instead going into recyclable crafts.

In 2010 they were selling their crafts on online platform Etsy when a US-based client requested a floral arrangement, and Mrs. Cuanso took this as a challenge. The client was very pleased, and word of mouth and the photos of the flowers led the couple to create more floral arrangements, each more flamboyant than the next — until disaster struck, in the form of shipping fees.

In 2017, Mr. Cuanso recalled, the Philippine Postal Corp. increased its fees, leading to his having to pay 500% more to ship out their creations to overseas clients. Since most of their clients had ordered their flowers six months in advance, Mr. Cuanso went into debt in an effort to fulfill the orders.

That was when they got help from the BPI Foundation through the BPI Sinag program, which aims to help social enterprises. While the eco-conscious component of the Cuanso couple’s business is admirable, they took it a step further by giving work to members of indigenous peoples and stay-at-home mothers in the community, as well as tapping groups such as waste collectors for sourcing their materials.

From Mr. Cuanso’s training with the Sinag program, he picked up a few things: one, to concentrate on the local market in order to do away with the exorbitant shipping fees, and, two, to join trade fairs and create smaller items for shoppers to choose from, instead of full-blown bouquets. Mr. Cuanso’s new product line includes pins and brooches made of things such as discarded books and cloth scraps.

“I have to admit na malaki iyong tulong nila (I have to admit that they were a big help),” he said of the BPI Foundation.

“I was about to quit,” he said while shaking his head, remembering the debts they incurred.

It looks as if nothing really lasts forever, and that could be good or bad: Mr. Cuanso’s problems faded and he revitalized his business. Flowers still fade; but there’s a small mercy: Mr. Cuanso’s flowers don’t. Some of his creations live on after the wedding, in the homes of the brides who once ordered flowers from him.

“Our flowers last forever. ’Yung memories na nakakabit sa bulaklak, andiyan na ’yan lagi (Our flowers last forever. The memories attached to the flowers will always be there).” — Joseph L. Garcia