Launching The Silk Touch in Norwalk on the cusp of the Great Recession, Danna DiElsi has kept her silk-flower business blooming due to accounts with area businesses that use artificial greenery in their halls and offices, rather than the real thing.
As the state’s horticultural industry and enthusiasts gathered late last month at the Connecticut Flower and Garden Show in Hartford, DiElsi is now working to get more wedding planners thinking seriously about silk centerpieces and bouquets – or “permanent botanicals” in the words of supplier Winward International Inc.
“If there’s a market I think I could do really well at, if I could just get going at it, it is the wedding market,” DiElsi said. “A lot of time brides are thinking real flowers, they don’t think there’s an alternative … For the tables especially, you are going to give away the arrangement anyway.
“Mother’s day is another one – it’s a keepsake,” she said.
Neither the wedding or Mother’s Day markets have been lost on Silkflowers.com, a White Plains, N.Y.-based company that bills itself as the largest online seller of silk flowers, including through its affiliate OfficeScapesDirect. The company sells everything from hydrangea stems for under $4 apiece, to silver birch trees at $1,200.
Even natural purists like Steve Silk can appreciate at least a few of the benefits of silk flowers, which are made from a range of materials. Silk is the current president of the Connecticut Horticultural Society and the onetime editor of Fine Gardening magazine in Newtown.
“I recognize that they make them phenomenally realistic,” Silk said. “I guess I am a stickler for the real thing.
“I will say they have a place,” he was quick to add. “The trees, the whole nine yards – it’s great for an office.”
It also makes for an easy business to start without an office. After learning the craft at a onetime silk flower arrangement shop in Norwalk called Buds Beautiful, DiElsi planted the seeds for the Silk Touch out of her basement with minimal inventory, eventually finding her current location at 5 Main St. in Norwalk.
She took a shot at the local corporate market at the suggestion of a friend, and landed her first account from GE Capital, which has its headquarters in Norwalk.
Then the recession hit.
“I was just getting going because that was right around my five-year point,” DiElsi said. “From then on, it just got really, really tough … Everyone I worked with was affected.”
Obviously it wasn’t just her. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of retail florist shops nationally dropped 8 percent between 2008 and 2009.
As Silk points out, we are all a little anxious for the first harbingers of spring. And as DiElsi says, even the green silk shoots can brighten a home, office – or wedding table.
“Sometimes you get right on top of them and you feel them, and you’re still not sure,” DiElsi said. “They are making them soft to the touch now, the technology has really changed.”