Semi-Finalist Spotlight on Shayai Lucero, Earth & Sky Floral Designs
Meet Shayai Lucero, Owner of Earth & Sky Floral Designs, from Laguna Pueblo and Acoma Pueblo. Shayai is a Pow Wow Pitch USA Semi-Finalist. We sat down with Shayai to learn more about her, her business and her reflections on entrepreneurship.
PWP: Shayai, can you tell us about yourself?
SL: I am from the Pueblos of Acoma and Laguna. I am of the Roadrunner clan for my mother and a Turkey child for my late father. I am the daughter of Stanley and Cecelia Lucero. I am the sister of Haitsi and the late Payadyamu.
I have been with my partner/husband Aaron Fry (Cherokee and Chickasaw) for 24 years.
I have two children: a son named Kaweshchima who is 17 and a child named Maityaitsa who identifies as non-binary who is 13.
I am also a self-described ‘science nerd’ and have been involved with the American Indian Science and Engineering Society since I was 13 years old.
I am a knowledge keeper of the medicinal plants and a lifelong learner of Curanderismo Medicine.
PWP: Can you tell us about what motivated you to start Earth & Sky Floral Designs?
SL: Earth & Sky Floral Designs is a full-service floral design studio located on the Pueblo of Laguna reservation in New Mexico, USA.
When I graduated in May 2008 from the University of New Mexico with my Bachelor of Science degree in Biology, I was a Mom with a 5-month old daughter who was still breastfeeding. I knew I needed to find work, but I wanted a job that could accommodate motherhood and breastfeeding.
I received notice that the local florist was selling her shop and I naively thought, “I could run a business! How hard can it be?”
After months of looking for capital, I was able to obtain a loan for down-payment and other new business costs. I received the keys for the shop on December 5, 2008.
The business purchase included a floral designer who was professionally trained and certified.
I was content with being the owner and had no interest in designing. However, the designer became pregnant and I had to take a crash course in basic floral design.
I found out that I liked designing and I was good at it. Eventually, she had other duties in her life come up and now works for me during holidays and events. I am now the main floral designer.
My main goal as a floral designer is to Indigenize and educate the floral industry by incorporating Native American Pueblo culture into my floral designs.
As a Native American florist, I am the 1% in the floral industry and I hope to make this journey easier for future Native American florists.
PWP: What has been the most rewarding part of being an entrepreneur?
SL: I love sharing my experience as a rural and tribal-based entrepreneur. Native American and rural entrepreneurs are often excluded from the conversations. Each group has different needs from our urban counterparts.
I am grateful for groups like the Small Business Majority who have taken the time to learn about Native American and rural entrepreneurship. By working with the Small Business Majority, I have been given the opportunity to testify on Capitol Hill of the United States Congress to provide insight into life as a tribal entrepreneur. I have also been able to be a part of a roundtable discussion with the United States Department of Treasury Secretary.
We, Native American and rural entrepreneurs need to inform small business advocates of our needs. No matter how small, we have to remember that we too help the United States thrive.
PWP: Thank you for giving Indigenous entrepreneurs a voice in the United States. What has been the most challenging part of being an entrepreneur?
SL: Being an entrepreneur during the pandemic made me slow down… a lot. I had to pivot my business model to accommodate the various tribal health orders. So while off-reservation businesses have only one health order to follow, I have three additional orders from the three tribes I provide a service to.
In the beginning, I was closed completely for over three months. The Pueblo of Laguna wouldn’t allow me to operate or deliver. The Pueblo of Acoma closed its borders completely to non-residents. The Navajo Nation had its own stipulations I had to abide by.
For three months in 2020, I used the time to be creative and entered virtual floral design competitions. Then when I was able to partially open, I continued to enter floral contests.
Although I was forced to slow down, my creativity level went up and I even applied to a reality TV show!
I had to pivot and adapt to make a name for myself and my business virtually.
I am proud to say I am still in business.
PWP: Congratulations on staying in business despite it all!
What are you most proud of so far?
SL: I am proud of having been a TEDx speaker, a winning floral designer in an International floral contest, remaining in business for 12 years. I am proud of the renovation of my shop and that I am able to be creative.
There are so many amazing things I have done as an entrepreneur that are unique. I don’t plan on stopping.
Owning your own business means independence but it also means you need to be disciplined.
As a micro-business owner, you have to be able to juggle many roles from marketing to HR to spokesperson to doing janitorial duties. We don’t have the luxury of a large staff. I have learned how to multitask and figure out the business world.
However, I do love my business! Through all the hardships, moves, stress, and even a heart attack, I don’t think I would choose a different path.
PWP: Wow, what a journey! Thank you for sharing.
Why did you apply for Pow Wow Pitch?
SL: First of all, the $25K prize was a huge influence. But as I began to dig further into the competition, the opportunity to receive mentors and feedback from highly influential individuals was a bonus.
I am now a part of a community of entrepreneurs and creatives in Canada and the United States. The cheering and support of one another have been such a good feeling. People talk about “crabs in a bucket” in Indian Country, but so far it is not evident within the regional semi-finalist community.
I was also matched with two mentors, Charles Hwang from RBC and Alex Byrne from Shopify. Charles helped me improve the flow of my pitch and Alex helped me feel confident celebrating myself and my business as part of my pitch.
PWP: What advice do you have for Indigenous people thinking of starting up a business?
First, find a mentor. Someone you can trust and who will be honest with you.
Second, look for start-up capital from non-traditional resources such as loan funds, microloan companies, etc.
Third, utilize services from organizations such as Native Women Lead, New Mexico Community Capital and others who can offer free training.
Finally, write a great business plan with help and editing from your mentor and small business organizations.
I wish I had been given this guidance when I made the decision to become an entrepreneur. Maybe my path wouldn’t have been so difficult. And this is the reason why I share my journey so others do not make the same mistakes I have.
PWP: Thank you for chatting with us, Shayai! Good luck with the Semi-Finals.
You can support Shayai to reach the Pow Wow Pitch Finals by voting for her for the People’s Choice Prize. Click here to vote for Shayai. You can also watch Shayai Pitch at the USA Semi-Finals Live on September 25, 2021, at 6 PM ET Click here to register to watch.