By Sally Chun
On Record is a dividend blog series of The Selected shop, featuring up-and-coming individuals with an inspiring story to tell. All content is genuine work, written by The Selected team for our blog. For press inquiries or feature suggestions, please use our Contact Form here.
“What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have yet to be discovered.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson
Hannah Pae is the creator and owner of Paebies, an independently-run plant design company based in Echo Park, CA. She is the heart and brains behind all things Paebies, and the creative architect of her signature succulent arrangements. Today, she shares with us her journey, vision, and inspirations.
Q: Hannah, each creation you've made is unique and beautiful. What gave you the inspiration?
A: Thank you! I’ve always loved gardening and playing around in the dirt as a kid, so while I was in college, I was continually making time to grow things. Having plants in my apartment gave me so much peace through all the stress that college can bring. A single plant can bring a space so much vibrancy and life - I wanted to somehow share that with the people around me.
A single plant can bring a space so much vibrancy and life - I wanted to somehow share that with the people around me.
Q: That's a beautiful statement. So, tell us about the beginning. How did Paebies get started?
A: The summer of my senior year, several of my friends were going on oversea mission trips and I wanted to support them. As a broke student, I couldn’t provide much financially, so I started making and selling small succulent arrangements to raise money. I was surprised by how popular they were, so after I graduated and moved down to LA, I started thinking about how I could continue to do something I love. I started with a small pop-up shop the summer of 2015 at Plaza Cafe in Pasadena, and from then, started to build my brand.
(Brainstorming a potential brand logo using black ink and leaves)
Q: Do you remember your first creation?
A: Yes! It’s a bit of an embarrassing story. There were some traffic diverters planted with some succulents that I walked past every day on my way home from class while I was attending UC Berkeley. I swiped a small echeveria one day, and planted it in this cardboard box I had lying around the apartment. It was not cute at all, nor an act I’m terribly proud of, but it was definitely the start of my love story with succulents. When I go back to Berkeley this Fall, I will find that traffic diverter and return the succulent that I stole! After that encounter, I got in a bit of a succulent craze, and would regularly take the bus 30 minutes to the nearest garden store and Goodwill to buy succulents and containers. They were worth it.
In a small way, I am helping to breathe nature and life back into our city.
Q: I love it! So, in a city blossoming with start-ups, what has your experience been like navigating a self-made, 100% handmade company? What positives and struggles have you encountered?
A: Oh, so many struggles! From the get go, I struggled with figuring out the ins and outs of running a business by myself - What is a seller’s permit? What is a sales tax? How do I stop from going negative? How do I become a better designer? What in the world is branding??
Q: Wow, those are major questions. It probably wasn't an easy task figuring everything out. Once you did, what other difficulties did you experience?
A: Another struggle I had was balancing Paebies with my full-time career as a landscape designer. There were so many times I honestly wanted to give up on Paebies, but I’ve come to truly cherish it now as an outlet for creativity, as well as a salve for my itch to design and create things with my own hands. It’s definitely worth it to me, when clients excitedly send me photos of their Paebies that they’d purchased a year ago, and the plant is literally crawling out of their planter. It may sound like a stretch, but I think of each plant finding its way in this urban concrete jungle into people’s homes, offices, restaurants, as a victory. In a small way, I am helping to breathe nature and life back into our city.
(A sample of Paebies Vendor Display layout)
Altogether however, I’ve definitely learned so much from Paebies. Running a business isn’t just about making something and selling. It’s about perseverance and willing to take the risk of failing. I have so much respect and appreciation for all the other small business owners, makers, and designers who are working their asses off everyday to give something back to their world and their community.
Q: Who, or what, is your greatest inspiration?
A: This is difficult! I am constantly drawing inspiration from everything - nature, landscape architecture, art, floral design, botanical illustrations, “weeds” growing from cracks in the pavement, places I’ve been, other designers, other small business owners, other Asian, female boss ladies.
(Hannah's scrapbook of Sara Berman's Closet, a 2017 art installation at The Met featuring Berman's pristine, white wardrobe).
Q: What has been your favorite project or creation thus far?
A: One of my favorites is definitely a hanging installation at Korean rice bar Gogobop in Koreatown. It’s a series of sleek, geometrical wall planters with hanging succulents, and two long, concrete planted arrangements - a modern, semi-industrial vibe. Great clients make such a difference in this line of work, and Gogobop owners Jessie and Steve were definitely some of the sweetest to work with, who pushed my creativity.
Q: As more people have come to discover Paebies, it has gone through a significant growth spurt since its first launch. Where do you see Paebies going in the next year?
A: Paebies will be moving to the Bay Area! I’ll be going to Berkeley for my Master of Landscape Architecture this fall, and hope to find the sweet spot between landscape architecture and succulent design. The transition from Socal to Norcal will definitely be a challenge, but I am excited to see where Paebies will go. I still hold on to my dream of running my own landscape architecture design-build firm, and I know Paebies will find its place in this.
Q: Lastly, what advice would you give to your younger self?
A: Don’t be afraid to fail. You’ll fall down, face rejection - multiple times even - but each time, get up and keep trying and keep going! Those moments are worth more than anything money can buy.
To see more of Hannah Pae (@hannahpae), you can check out her portfolio online www.HannahPae.com/Paebies, or @paebies on Instagram. For local readers in Los Angeles, a small selection of Paebies are available for sale at Andante Coffee Roasters (Echo Park, DTLA). For custom orders, installations, and events, e-mail Hannah directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.