photo credit: Tara Pixley

Maurice Harris On How Bloom & Plume Is A Form Of Magic And Resistance image


Maurice Harris On How Bloom & Plume Is A Form Of Magic And Resistance

“I wanted to create a space that was literally filled with color, that was from a person of color’s perspective, that centered people of color.”

Maurice Harris is the owner of Bloom & Plume, a floral boutique and coffee shop in Historic Filipinotown, on the Eastside of Los Angeles. Read about more of his favorite spots in LA here.

Bloom & Plume, my flower business, is a high-end, bespoke, luxury weirdo queerdo design company, where we curate and make arrangements and installations and make people smile through flowers, and through color and shape and dimension and magic.

And because it’s such a luxurious thing - flowers are so luxurious because they die so quickly and they’re very expensive - I wanted to open something else in my neighborhood. My studio is two blocks away from my house. My coffee shop is next door to my studio. I’ve lived in Los Angeles for 20 years, and I’ve lived on the East Side for basically 18 of those 20 years. And I’ve lived in my apartment for 17. I’m also a Cancer. We’re nesters and we don’t like to move and I’m a creature of habit in that way. I’m really close to Echo Park Lake and I love that.

Maurice Harris On How Bloom & Plume Is A Form Of Magic And Resistance image

photo credit: Tara Pixley

I saw all the rapid changes happening in my neighborhood. Matter of fact, they’re building two six-story apartment complexes next door to my apartment right now. It is incredibly hideous because I wake up to construction sounds at 7:00 a.m. every morning, and because of COVID we’re restricted to our houses for the most part. So all I listen to is banging all day long.

Aside from that, I just knew that there was a lot of change happening. There hadn’t been something updated or kind of cool and interesting in this untapped neighborhood, and I realized it was going to happen sooner or later, so I probably should be the change I want to see before somebody does something really annoying in my neighborhood that I don’t like.

So my brother and I went on this quest to figure out what would be the right thing. And a coffee shop made sense to me, because it’s a community-based place. A retail shop or a proper flower shop aren’t things that are built-in necessities in our lives today, but getting our cup of coffee is a little bit more integrated into our culture. But most coffee experiences are white-centered and white-male-centered, and are also usually literally physically white-box spaces.

I really wanted to create a space that was literally filled with color, that was from a person of color’s perspective, that centered people of color, that had beauty all around it, and was at a price point that was more approachable than our luxurious arrangements which start at, like, 200 bucks. So I wanted a five dollar coffee experience for everyone to be wrapped in a luxury feeling. The $200 arrangement feeling without making anyone compromise the limitations of their pocket book. Every day can be Bloom & Plume day, you know? I think that that’s really great.

Maurice Harris On How Bloom & Plume Is A Form Of Magic And Resistance image

What’s happened over the past year is complicated, because it’s both uplifting and devastating at the same time. When George Floyd died, there was such a surge of support and wanting to help Black businesses coming from a lot of new communities. And then, you know, that faded off and we’re just kind of back to normal. So it was definitely a trend. And that’s a little unfortunate.

That said, we learned that our sense of community comes from being able to figure out how to keep our employees employed and safe, knowing that they have a safe place to work, and the fact that our community and customers respond positively to what we’re doing.

And I have been trying to mind my own business, if you will, and not get so caught up in what is happening everywhere around us, because it’s not my problem. And what I mean by that, as a Black business, is that the society that we have is not set up for me to even have a business, or to be successful. And so the fact that I exist is a form of protest, a form of resistance, a form of standing up for our rights.

I vote, I pay taxes. I do all of the things that I’m supposed to do. And it still seems to not work very well. And so I really feel very, very strongly that I didn’t create this mess. I’ve been tempted to try to help clean it up. And it still keeps getting worse. And the people that should be handling it avoid it or try to do really simple things that don’t make them uncomfortable. And that’s simply why we keep staying here. Until white people want to reconcile our history with slavery and really acknowledge that, and really sacrifice their own privilege, we’re going to keep ending up in the same place. I can’t make myself crazy getting involved in things that I literally cannot solve or change when I know what the answer is.

If you are white educated person, there has been some level of privilege that has allowed you the space to be able to get to where you are, in a way that me as a Black educated person didn’t even have. And at my level of excellence, I think it’s embarrassing for this country how extraordinary I have to be in comparison to some very ordinary, mediocre white counterparts.

Maurice Harris On How Bloom & Plume Is A Form Of Magic And Resistance image

And so I get really frustrated because I study and I work hard - really, really hard. I’m not perfect. I’m a hot ass mess often, but I really try to take responsibility for my life and my decisions. And when things aren’t working, I try to pivot and change and make it better for my employees, make it better for myself, make it better for my family. And I just don’t think everybody’s doing their part, which then allows for people - white people - to break into our nation’s capitol. It’s literally hilarious because, how absurd is that a Black person couldn’t even get close to the door of the Capitol without being murdered? But this is the way our country was established and set up. It works perfectly. It’s working exactly how it was intended to work. And so until white people really start sacrificing their privilege to actually make room for everybody else to have a seat at the table, knowing that they’re not going to lose everything, we’re just going to keep finding ourselves in these places.

I don’t say that my business is extraordinary because I think highly of myself. I think that my business is extraordinary because I work very, very, very hard and I am a very talented person. That’s just what it is. And I don’t get the same sort of financial support to explore my creativity and explore my excellence in the same way that, you know, I’ve seen a lot of other people get - specifically white people - and white businesses.

Maurice Harris On How Bloom & Plume Is A Form Of Magic And Resistance image

I started Bloom & Plume with my severance package of three or five thousand dollars - I can’t remember anymore - when I got laid off from Juicy Couture in 2010. There has never been a loan, or anything like that, that has gone into this business. It wasn’t until the coffee shop that we went down the SBA loan route, but we got about 45 no’s before we met an SBA lender that was Black-owned and Black supporting, that actually saw the potential of what we were creating, and saw what we were doing to be valuable enough to support. Our credit was amazing and our business plan was amazing. Our rent ratio was amazing. It was just such an easy, straightforward deal. Yet we got all of these no’s. And while I can’t say exactly that it was because we were Black, the writing’s on the wall. That’s what happens. We give opportunities to white people with half-baked ideas all the time. And mine was fully rendered and realized, and I had the money to invest in it. And I still got a no.

My point is that I feel what happened at the Capitol is not my responsibility. The Black community voted, we got the right person in office, Georgia did its thing, and yet still overwhelmingly more white women voted for Donald Trump than did the last time. What is going on?

It’s something that will just continue to haunt us. And so I try not to be overly involved with things that are set up as further distractions from what I am trying to accomplish, which is creating a beautiful, lovely community space that is filled with love and excellence, that is approachable, that can inspire other people to do the same and to have the courage to express themselves. And to find paths to make it easier for other people to do the same.

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