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Stories of family, culture inspire alumna’s floral bookmark business

After learning to weave flowers from her maternal grandmother, alumna Rosalva Isidoro launched @rosalva_floralmarks to support her education and community. She creates handmade artistic bookmarks from woven, pressed flowers that all tell stories of their own. (Courtesy of Rosalva Isidoro)

By Zinnia Finn

Feb. 10, 2021 4:11 p.m.

Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly stated Isidoro was inspired by seeing marigolds in her great-grandmother's back yard during childhood. In fact, Isidoro did not visit her great-grandmother's back yard until later in life.

This post was updated Feb. 12 at 2:47 p.m.

Rosalva Isidoro’s bookmarks hold pages and tell stories of their own.

The UCLA alumna began selling artistic bookmarks through her Instagram-based business @rosalva_floralmarks after meeting her maternal grandmother for the first time two years ago. On that trip to Mexico, Isidoro said she learned how to weave flowers – a cultural tradition of intricately twisting the stems of flowers into compact bundles of blossoms. Cherishing the moment of her grandma’s teaching, she turned this skill into a floral bookmark business that she said currently aims to support her education and community.

“I wanted to just bring (the flowers) back because I wanted … to keep the memory alive,” Isidoro said. “So I just placed it in my book.”

(Courtesy of Rosalva Isidoro)
What began as an effort to save a memory transformed into Isidoro’s intricate “floralmarks” that she now sells on Instagram. Customers like Tanya Lieu said the business is also a way for Isidoro to share her family traditions with her customers. (Courtesy of Rosalva Isidoro)

[Related: Alum’s Instagram serves to uplift Black community, destigmatize darker skin tones]

After returning to the States, Isidoro said she needed a way to preserve the pressed, woven flowers, so she searched the internet and decided to set the flowers between two pieces of packing tape to use as a bookmark. This sparked a new hobby, which quickly became a business through support from her friends and family. Isidoro said her “floralmarks” initially began as a way to give away her bookmarks for free, but once her customer base grew and shipping costs increased, she started to ask for donations that soon evolved into a price tag.

Despite her small business growing larger, Isidoro said she has managed to keep her bookmarks close to home and her heritage. Some of her biggest inspiration comes from her mom, who Isidoro said suggested using a thicker tassel to adorn the bookmark tops and brainstormed her brand’s bestselling baby’s breath design. Isidoro said similar to how the flowers in her original bookmark are associated with her grandmother, orchids remind her of mom, while marigolds make her think of her great-grandmother’s backyard. She said these memories with flowers are both integral to her history and just moments in time.

“It is part of my culture,” Isidoro said. “But, at the same time, I feel like it was just one experience.”

Experience and memories run deep in her customers’ experiences as well. Tanya Lieu, one of Isidoro’s close friends and graduate school classmates, said an important aspect of Isidoro’s bookmarks is that she can share her family’s traditions with her customers through every product and petal. But Isidoro’s personal input may be met with equal output – Lieu said the orange and red flowers in her bookmark match the warm golds and crimsons that remind her of her Chinese and Vietnamese heritage.

“That’s really the core of a small business,” Lieu said. “Being able to bring your culture and your individuality to light, and share it with other people.”

An infusion of individuality and culture is something Isidoro’s cousin Saúl Nolasco also believes is a hallmark of her floral bookmarks. Having assisted during the business’s infancy, Nolasco said they shared an Excel spreadsheet with Isidoro to budget, harkening back to when the two would help each other with math in high school. Profit aside, Nolasco said they feel that every bookmark Isidoro creates is a way to not only connect back with her culture but also build bridges that reach beyond her grandmother and immediate community, branching out even to strangers.

“It’s an extension of her family going around,” Nolasco said. “Being, not famous, but just existing.”

(Courtesy of Rosalva Isidoro)
Flowers aren’t just found in Isidoro’s products. Floral symbolism is also a part of her family with dahlias and poppies found on the family crest created by her cousin. (Courtesy of Rosalva Isidoro)

[Related: Student uses YouTube channel to showcase her family’s Korean recipes]

Like Isidoro, flowers are ingrained in Nolasco’s idea of family as well – their mother’s middle name is Flores and they’ve always seen flowers as a rooting source amid uncertain times, they said. After transferring to UC Santa Barbara, Nolasco said they started to feel out of touch with their culture, which led to personal research that returned again to stems and seeds. This research culminated in the immortalization of flowers another way – Nolasco designed a family crest tattoo that incorporates the blossoms that are most important to them. On their arm, Nolasco said they have tattoos of a dahlia, the Mexican national flower, a poppy for California and a bird of paradise, the city flower of Los Angeles.

With the crest signifying Nolasco’s family, their bookmark serves as a more specific reminder of Isidoro.

“It just reminds me of when we were younger and had more time together,” Nolasco said. “But it also makes me appreciate the fact that we’re still really close, and are able to make time to talk and catch up.”

Isidoro’s connection with her customers and growing community is a sentiment she feels is a cornerstone of her business and something she intends to expand on in the months and years ahead, she said. In collaboration with one of her old coworkers, the funds from one of her recent bookmark collections will compensate the artists in MoFundamentals’ upcoming film, “RESILIENCE,” which highlights the stories of foster and adoptee creators amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Isidoro said she hopes this is just the start of wielding her business toward the greater good – a commitment which she hopes will culminate in establishing a scholarship that supports Latina women who want to pursue graduate degrees.

“Through my small business, I think something that I’m really grateful for is not only the support but also how I can support other people,” Isidoro said. “I’m always excited to just put my artwork out there and know that it’s going (toward) a big cause.”

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Zinnia Finn | Daily Bruin senior staff
Finn is a senior staff writer for Arts & Entertainment and PRIME. She was previously the Lifestyle editor from 2021-2022, an Arts reporter from 2020-2021 and a member of PRIME’s first intern class from 2019-2020. She is a fourth-year neuroscience and public health student from San Francisco, California.
Finn is a senior staff writer for Arts & Entertainment and PRIME. She was previously the Lifestyle editor from 2021-2022, an Arts reporter from 2020-2021 and a member of PRIME’s first intern class from 2019-2020. She is a fourth-year neuroscience and public health student from San Francisco, California.
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