Before we were NiLu, I was Katrina Parris, trying to make it happen in Harlem. I had transferred from Howard University in 1990 to study Creative Writing at City College. After graduation, I chose another path—a solid career in corporate HR. As I rose at work, I needed a creative outlet so I started Real Life Cards. For three years, I made high quality party invitations and greeting cards. Then, my mother died at 66 from a heart attack in her sleep. Her sudden death woke me up. Life was too short to stay in a safe but unfulfilling career.
I worked out an arrangement with my company to take a less demanding, lower paying role, and I started Katrina Parris Flowers in honor of my mother who used to keep a garden of the Easter lilies my father gifted her every year. By then, I was married to Mark Pinn, and fulfilling orders out of our Harlem apartment. Business was slow until we were profiled in New York Magazine’s annual wedding issue. Suddenly, we had a client list that included millionaire brides, Swarovski Crystals, Bad Boy Entertainment, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and more. Oprah’s O Magazine voted us a top 10 florist for four years, back to back.
I eventually left my 9-5, and for fifteen years I juggled this very busy small business with marriage and new motherhood. Our first son’s premature birth hit us hard. Nigel was born several weeks early at 2.2 lbs. God being so good, he grew into full health. When our son Luke was born full-term two years later, we now had two boys under three years old. I had to accept that “doing it all” wasn’t healthy or sustainable for my family or me. In January 2015, Mark and I sold the business.
Our sons Nigel and Luke inspired us to provide a new kind of service to the neighborhood. They had started selling baked goods, books, old toys, and artwork by community artists—and, they were earning real money doing it.
We decided to open a gift shop promoting local makers, featuring a curated selection of special and meaningful pieces to gift and to keep. It was a new stage in my evolution—I could experience the gratification of expressing myself creatively and seeing my vision come to life, in a way that respected my need for a healthy life balance including reconnection with my family, friends and myself. We named it NiLu.