I met Christan Summers and Ivan Martinez during the week at the beautiful Bushwick showroom of their botanical brand Tula. A meticulous eye, bountiful botanical inventory, and thorough knowledge of plant care makes Tula a truly unique brand to watch. Incorporating plant Lookbooks and Collections on their website feels fresh, forward-thinking and perfect. Did I mention their site is GORGEOUS?
A Tula plant is the whole package: from the vessel (in collaboration with incredibly skilled ceramicists) to the plant itself to the hand written care instruction and tips. The star of the show of course is Tulita, the greenhouse truck parked on the weekends where both Ivan and Christan can be seen spreading green vibes, chatting with customers and playing with plants. Speaking with them, their passion makes it all sound easy. If we could all be so lucky. #itsplantporn
IPP: WHAT'S YOUR BACKGROUND AND HOW DID YOU START TULA?
CS: I’m from Boston. My mom had a farm where she rehabilitated animals and offered programs for mentally and physically disabled children and adults to come to the farm and be with the animals. I grew up around all this care and rehabilitation. In the summers I would go to Martha’s Vineyard with my aunt and sell flowers at the farmer’s market.
From a young age it began; plants have just always been a sanctuary and happy place. Nature relaxes me. I lived overseas in Bangkok and Paris and from there I came back to New York and fell into advertising for couple of years. I realized I wanted to go back and start another something, and that something making me happy was the thought of green. It was like, let’s build a space that’s green and people can come and enjoy it. The business idea evolved from there. Tula is a product of Ivan and I just totally going for it, doing all the branding, the website, the concept, the voice and tone. We really applied our advertising experience to building of the Tula brand.
IM: I was born and raised in Miami, Florida. My experience with plants started very young as a child subconsciously. My parents were very into having plants around the house. We had birds of paradise and orange trees. I had this very tropical setting but wasn’t really aware of it. I grew up around a lot of artist friends, so I became an artist and a designer. I moved to New York then I went to Chicago. When I came back to New York it felt a little harsh; in Chicago we had neighborhoods with more trees and that’s when I started buying collecting plants, thinking more about plants in general and having green around me. Then I got into advertising as well, where I met Christan.
"From the beginning we didn’t want to be a mom and pop plant shop, we wanted to be a lifestyle brand with an opinion and a curation about plants and objects."
CS: We saw a vacuum in the plant world, especially in New York where there were a lot of plant shops but we didn’t see a lot of education happening. When we went to buy plants we didn’t see a curated aesthetic for plant materials and things like that. There’s a place in between the traditional mom and pop plant shop and the mass market and in that place there’s opportunity.
A lot of it was based on education and horticulture. Actually asking people questions. There’s so much about our brand that is about taking the time and really caring about the transactions we have with people. I really wanted to care about how we sell and the fact that plants are alive and making that a part of our language.
IPP: TELL US ABOUT YOUR PLANT TRUCK, TULITA.
CS: The truck came from the desire not to go from one place where we sat all day (in advertising) to another place where we sit all day. We wanted movement. Then we thought about not knowing where our customer would be. How do we challenge the idea of retail and also find our customer and do it in a way that is fun and innovative and different.
Then there was the astronomic price of a retail space. Those three things combined made us think how we could find a solution and the solution was the mobile aspect of a plant truck. There weren’t any plant trucks, it hasn’t been done before. It was something really different but it was also luck of the draw. We started looking for trucks and they were really expensive. So one day we took a walk and found our Tulita on the side of the road. Things happen when you get out and away from the computer!
IM: It was nothing like it is now. It was old and abandoned – I think its owner had tried making an ice cream truck out of it- he cut a small window out of the side but never finished it. It was dirt cheap and we called a mechanic and we started designing it. We cut off the rooftop and put green plexiglass to make it like a greenhouse, made the window bigger and put double doors in the back so it’s a very open space. It’s been great. And busy!
"People always want to take photos of the truck."
IPP: WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO INCORPORATE CERAMICS AS A PART OF YOUR PLANT COLLECTIONS?
IM: I feel like ceramics is having a boom. We hadn’t seen a lot of planters out there. A lot was either imported or geared to homeware. We started talking to ceramicists and then we started thinking about Tula and we really like the idea of having a final product. We wanted to have the plants set in their pot in the right soil so people could just buy and its easy. Initially we wanted our own line of pottery but then we thought why cant we just constantly change it and that’s where the collections came in. We’re in Brooklyn in this mecca of artists all around, we could find people to collaborate with us. So the first person we found was Jordan Colon. We thought it would be interesting to do terracottas in a different way with unique structures and lines, unlike the ones you buy at a mass garden center. Our first collection was called the Naked collection. We sat and drew the shapes with him and then he threw it and we loved it. The fall collection is by the same artist [Jordan Colon] but with stoneware using a wood-fired technique. It is called the Cromo collection.
"When you walk into a home, if you see a Tula plant it is recognizable."
IPP: WHAT'S YOUR SPIRIT PLANT AND WHY?
IM: Bird of Paradise. Whenever I go home to Miami, I connect to them visually.
CS: Gardenia. They hate to be inside and I totally understand that feeling.
THANK YOU TULA!