NEW YORK — This Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we’re introducing you to a Filipina business owner who tapped into her roots to grow a multimillion dollar business.
As CBS2’s Lisa Rozner reports, it all started from a desk in Manhattan’s Chinatown.
“Having something like this brings a lot of joy to the environment,” said Eliza Blank, founder and CEO of The Sill.
Blank prides herself in being a plant parent. She grew up surrounded by all kinds of horticulture in western Massachusetts. Gardening, she says, was the way her mother stayed connected to her native Philippines after she moved to the U.S. for a nursing exchange program and ended up staying after meeting her dad.
“She came to the states in her early 20s. She’s a nurse, and she’s a career-long nurse… So in a way, her therapy was her garden,” Blank said. “Those plants really made her feel more connected to where she was from… I think for her, she’s always been trying to adopt not only to the culture but the literal climate.”
So when Blank moved to New York City in 2012, she needed a connection to home.
“I was moving from one small apartment to the next, wanting to buy house plants and just having really terrible luck, not only finding them but taking care of them.”
So at 26, she quit her branding job and began building The Sill out of a desk in Chinatown. A small business loan intended for women and minorities enabled her to open her first store in the same neighborhood.
“The community itself has so many entrepreneurs, and a lot of them are first-generation, and some of them are second-generation. But you’re seeing this incredible community thrive, based on entrepreneurship and hard work,” she said.
So did she. Fast-forward a decade later, there are six stores nationwide, as well as online, carrying some of the tropical plants her mother grew up tending to.
Blank says there are many types of orchids in the Philippines, and she sources planters in all of her stores from Southeast Asia.
She adds, to this day, her mom is still the most talented plant person she knows, but it’s her journey that’s been an inspiration.
“What I get from my mother is my work ethic. She came here and was really out of her comfort zone, and really worked incredibly hard, and really valued education,” she said. “I do believe that representation matters. I understand that I have a responsibility to do things in a way that I believe inspire other people like me to start businesses and know that there’s a support system.”
Now she’s sharing that message with her own daughter.
She adds her mom recently retired from nursing but always joked she would open a plant store. She says her mom still takes such good care of her plants, a lot of them are older than she is.