A stroke in her twenties led Yael Alkalay to nurture a labor of love that grew into Red Flower, a soulful wellness empire that encompasses a long-standing Nolita boutique, accounts at prestige hotels and spas like The Greenwich Hotel and Shutters on the Beach, retail spots at Credo Beauty and ABC Home and an engaged community devoted to the brand’s evolving collection of non-toxic, flower-based candles, body and skincare products. Long before the prestige organic craze, since 1999 to be exact, Yael has been carefully sourcing ingredients from the best purveyors around the world, producing in microbatches using Red Flower’s own natural preservative systems to ensure quality and safety. Her meticulous attention to sustainability shows. As you walk down Prince street in Manhattan, Red Flower announces its presence with the intoxicating aromas from its signature petal-topped candles. The small shop with its reclaimed furniture from the neighborhood lovingly reworked by Yael’s husband who is also CFO, feels like a personal extension of its founder. The vibe is quirky but Japanese zen with simple flowers from long time friend Denise Pocaro of The Flower Girl adding just the right homespun touch. You kind of just want to hang out in there all day. Which is exactly what we did with the statuesque radiant brunette to chat all about the ever-evolving wellness community, her ultimate heroines and her NYC blackbook packed with some serious female-powered businesses.
Tell me a bit about the origin of Red Flower?
Red is for revolution, flower is the purest symbol of nature’s beauty. With the launch of Red Flower I wanted to start a revolution in beauty, pioneering an empowering, life-affirming, non-toxic approach. Red Flower is about the way you feel, a call to action to live a fuller, healthier life by reducing stress and toxicity, while boosting energy and vitality.
Origin is a powerful word, Red Flower’s mission is a worldview that speaks to my heritage – the countless languages, countries and travels that formed my childhood and my delight in my mother’s lust for life, my grandfather’s connection to the vast Argentine landscape as a young gaucho, my Turkish grandmother’s elegance, my grandfather’s practice as the first dermatologist in Bulgaria, my hope to create something that my father could be proud of.
I was also deeply influenced by my four years living and working in Japan and visiting over 500 hundred bathhouses and mineral hot-springs dotted throughout the countryside. My time living in Japan, and my first long soak in a traditional onsen bath house and the vigorous effect that I still feel when I take my daily bath energize me to the core.
Who are some of your role models?
Beatrice Woods, Margie Goldstein-Engle, Bethany Hamilton, Misty Copeland, Amy Schumer, Diana Vreeland, Brenda Shaughnessy, Brooke Williams, Red Flower Wonder-Women (our incredible #girlpower team).
What did you study in college and grad school?
Anthropology and Economics/ Columbia Business School
Was there a particular moment or experience that inspired you to pursue your path? I read you had a stroke and that compelled you to start your own business, can you elaborate on that.
During a school holiday break while skiing in Courchevel, France a combination of forces caused a stroke – it was terrifying to feel my whole system shut down, like a total sensory recall. While undergoing extensive testing in a Boston hospital, a dear friend came to visit me and washed my hair with a super-minty shampoo – her generous touch and the intense scent were the catalyst for feeling whole again. The power of touch and aroma on my own healing compelled me to launch Red Flower.
One of the key tenets of sustainability is to improve quality of life. Having a stroke in my early 20’s immediately made it clear to me that the products I create need to be meaningful and have a positive impact on my daily life. I see beauty as health and well-being. For me, beauty is wellness. When you are healthy, feel good, have energy, you radiate from within. That is the Red Flower essence of beauty.
There is a strong wellness community in New York and beyond that is only strengthening. Can you speak to a few friends or brands that are doing things that inspire you?
Alexia Brue and Melisse Gelula at Well & Good, definitive, super-smart, go-to goddesses of everything wellness.
Deborah Warner, Mile High Run Club, run baby run, inspiring, accessible and fierce.
Simone De La Rue, Body by Simone, in a world of celebrity trainers, her work out, space, clientele and outlook are the very real and lasting deal.
What makeup brands do you use?
I love shopping at Credo, an all-natural beauty boutique that always carries the best natural brands. A few favorites:
- Antonym mascara
- Kari Gran Tinted Lip Whip
- Onomie Bright Concealing Elixir
- Rituel de Fille Cream blush
Any great beauty or wellness services you can’t live without?
- Acupuncture, Tui Na and Cupping with Dr. Wu on Baxter Street in NYC.
- Red Flower Bamboo Glow Treatment at Shibui Spa at the Greenwich Hotel
- A signature facial by Karen Terranova at Great Jones Spa
- Ionizing Hair Treatment at Vijin Salon
- Meditation with Kundalini Yoga at the Golden Bridge really love the movement, sound and heat – two hour sessions
- Yoga with Jessica Parks of Jessica Moves (held at the Red Flower corporate office for the entire company weekly)
What is the most difficult aspect of running your own business? What is the most rewarding?
Red Flower sources ingredients directly from the best purveyors around the world, this allows us to formulate with highly concentrated, potent botanical ingredients and revolutionary, natural preservative systems such as arctic white pe.at, finnish cold-pressed cloudberry oil and hand harvested salt. We produce and manufacture our products at our Red Flower facility in greater New York, for highest standards in quality control, environmental impact and micro-batch freshness. Although this has been the most rewarding aspect – it is also the most difficult.
Your most exciting career moment thus far?
The beautiful unique stories of how people discover Red Flower and use it in their daily life and pass it on to others inspires me every day. We received a letter from a soldier in Afghanistan about the time he discovered Red Flower in a communal bathroom and when he used it he was instantly transported to a better, happier place. That has always been my mission at Red Flower since the beginning – create extraordinary products that help people live fuller lives and build lasting connections with our community of customers.
Take me through a busy work day, describe a bit how it goes down. Do you have a routine or does it vary?
Showering is like coffee for me – I start my day with a glass of fresh juice or water with lemon, dog walk, a stretch and a vigorous scrub under very hot running water. I follow with a mist of quince to freshen skin and an oil to keep my body warm all day, in winter I use Cardamom Amber Oil. I love the material and design of Zero Maria Cornejo, it drapes beautifully over the scent of cardamom skin.
After dropping off my daughter at school I head to our sunny, bright office with Domino, drink my first black coffee – fresh pressed here and lots of water. The day is a whirlwind of creativity, logistics and balancing key projects whether writing detailed massage therapy protocols with our LMTs or testing new products. If I have to take meetings outside the office my favorite spots for a coffee are the lobby at Greenwich Hotel and Ludlow Hotel.
If someone was coming to the brand for the first time, what three hero products would you recommend?
You work in Nolita, any favorite spots in the neighborhood you care to call out?
My divine neighbor Laura Currie and Eleanor Edelman – Prospect NY Produced art collaborations and I am especially obsessed with their entertaining accessories for the home (@theprospectNY)
Heather Tierney – Butcher’s Daughter
Maria Cornejo – Zero Maria Cornejo
Tess Giberson – Tess Giberson
Denise Porcaro – Flower Girl
Marisa Competello – Meta Flora
Jill Platner- Jill Platner Jewelry
Karin Bereson- No. 6
Piece of advice to your 20 year old self?
Listen, and take good notes. Then act, fearlessly. Stand for something you believe in, work toward what will outlast you.