When I was growing up, the concrete basement of my parents' rowhouse in Philadelphia was literally packed to the ceiling with a mish-mash of art projects made by my sister Caroline and me. Everything from our handmade papier-mâché piggy banks, to elaborate dollhouses fashioned from old Kleenex boxes, were piled high on every shelf. While most kids in the neighborhood spent hot summers hanging out on the streets playing basketball and getting cherry water ice from the corner store with friends, Caroline and I were in that cool basement surrounded by heaps of glue sticks, embroidery thread, tissue paper, and the latest issues of "Martha Stewart Living" magazine, crafting our days away. Summers in the Strzalka family basement were so awesome!
(L to R) Me (Christine) and my sister Caroline at our old house in Philly. We've always been crafty AND stylish!
In time, the papier-mâché pigs, dollhouses and art supplies got thrown out and were replaced with computers, notebooks, and filing cabinets - the sure sign that Caroline and I had begun adulting (ugh!). Caroline got her MBA from Wharton, became an investment banker, and then moved on to a career as a media executive, building digital businesses for companies like Sesame Street and Scholastic. I became a finance journalist and then a corporate communications brand strategist. But I kept those old issues of "Martha Stewart Living", and whenever I looked at them, the awesome urge to make stuff welled up in me once again...the power of Martha compelled me!
All hail Martha -- the original gangsta of crafting.
On a whim, I decided to take some flower arranging courses with a friend, and before we knew it, we were entering and winning floral art division competitions at major events like the Philadelphia International Flower Show -- the largest indoor flower show in the world. Together, we opened a floral studio in Philadelphia - "Secret of Flowers"- in 2007. After my studio was open for a while, I noticed that most of the brides who came to the studio were asking for DIY flower lessons so they could save money and add their own personal touch to their wedding flowers. I told Caroline about it, and together we came up with the idea of do-it-yourself flower kits, which we lovingly call "ItsByU".
At its core, ItsByU delivers a kit to your door with fresh flowers, tools and containers, plus a streaming online video that teaches you step-by-step how to make your own bouquets, flower crowns, wreaths, centerpieces and more - no experience required. It’s fun, fast, easy...and a money saver. The best part is that ANYONE can do it, no matter how un-crafty (or super crafty) you think you are! (Yep, we made it that simple.)
Aya, from NYC, makes a DIY centerpiece kit from itsbyu...
Aya's finished creation!
But actually, ItsByU is way more than just a do-it-yourself kit. It’s a way for you to discover a new skill you never dreamed you could do. It gives you the opportunity to come together with your friends and family to create something beautiful. It allows you to unleash your creativity in a new way.
ItsByU helps you realize that if you can easily create something as lovely as as a floral bouquet or a centerpiece from scratch, you can do just about ANYTHING.
Yep - ItsByU really has helped me and Caroline believe that we really can accomplish whatever we set our minds to. This summer, we've moved our crafting efforts out of our parents' basement and into the Minneapolis offices of the Target+Techstars startup accelerator. Here, we'll take ItsByU to the next level! We'll create lots more fun DIY flower kits and we'll find ways to help more people try flower arranging so they can organize parties, decorate their homes, and give flower gifts that they created themselves - with LOVE.
(L to R) Caroline and me (founders of ItsByU) and Taylor from Denver-based startup Spruce, hanging out with Bullseye, Target's mascot, at the Target+Techstars office in Minneapolis.
Check back here every week to read our snazzy blog posts about life at Techstars, to find what's next for itsbyu, and to learn more how you can get empowered -- with flowers!