By Chris Olsen
Shayai Lucero is the recipient of a Fueled by Purpose micro grant. Fueled by Purpose is the nonprofit sister company to My Founder Story and is dedicated to providing resources to female-identifying founders. Since 2018, more than $220,000 in grants and services have been donated to women business owners. To learn more and apply, visit our grants page.
Growing up on the Acoma and Laguna Reservations in New Mexico, Shayai Lucero dreamt of being a doctor. She loved participating in science fairs and competed twice at the international level. In college, she discovered science doesn’t always take place in a lab. She began researching the medicinal plants of her people and interviewing her elders about their healing practices. Shayai was planning for a career that combined modern medicine and traditional Pueblo medicine. Then, when she was just 19 hours away from earning a degree in pre-med biology, she was forced to leave college. There was an issue with her tribal scholarship. The only way to resolve it was through legal action—and that could take years. With no idea what to do next, Shayai was crushed.
To take her mind off the devastating news, Shayai’s mom suggested she get involved in a different kind of competition—Miss Indian World. She entered and won. For the next year, she traveled around the globe as an ambassador for Indigenous peoples. That led to different roles, including a position with the All-Indian Pueblo Council, the oldest Native American organization in the United States. When her scholarship issues were finally resolved and she could return to college, Shayai discovered she was pregnant. She couldn’t imagine raising a child while attending medical school, so she gave up her dream of being a physician.
Still, Shayai felt called to medicine. She and her mom studied Curanderismo medicine, a centuries-old folk healing practice connected to religious beliefs of harmony with nature, spirit and self that originated with the Aztecan, Mayan and Incan tribes. When they finished the certification program, Shayai decided to complete her bachelor’s degree as well. Twelve years after being forced to leave college, Shayai graduated.
Up to that point, Shayai’s interest in plants was mostly for medicinal purposes. She used them in her everyday life, for preemptive health measures, or when ill. She advised others on their uses as well. She never considered being a florist or a small business owner. But when she learned about a woman on the reservation who was selling her flower shop, her first thought was: “I could run a business! How hard could it be?” She didn’t know much about floral design, but the shop’s certified florist would stay with the business. In 2008, after a long process of seeking funding and discovering that capital for reservation-based business is practically non-existent, Shayai finally secured a loan and opened the doors to her shop, Earth and Sky Floral Designs.
Shayai quickly learned that running a business is not as easy as it looks. She got a crash course in business management and floral design. The latter came more easily to her. She discovered that not only is she good at floral design, she thoroughly enjoys it. She made it her mission to Indigenize and educate the floral industry by incorporating Native American Pueblo culture into her designs. She also hopes to make the journey easier for future Native American florists who currently represent only one percent of the floral industry.
Shayai finds great joy in connecting with her customers. While her floral designs are typically made with non-medicinal plants, they do provide a kind of therapy. A thoughtfully designed spray can help a grieving family honor and say goodbye to a loved one. A beautifully crafted bouquet can bring a smile to a nervous bride’s face. Shayai believes it’s an honor to help others commemorate special moments in life with plants and flowers.
The shop’s location has changed over the years, from its original storefront to Shayai’s home studio. With the help of grant funding, she is converting her garage into a floral design and gallery space. In addition to showcasing her own designs, she plans to use the space and her business to support Native American artists who can’t typically access the tools to promote their work outside of reservation borders.
Photo: Kristin Gentry Photography
About the author: Chris Olsen is a radio veteran turned communications consultant, educator and author of “Whyography: Building a Brand Fueled by Purpose”. Through her work as a consultant partnering with startups, Chris realized her WHY—to support women-owned businesses in confidently communicating their purpose and impact, setting them up for entrepreneurial success. She created My Founder Story as a platform for doing so.