bodega rose is making planters out of nikes

26-year-old plant designer Olivia Rose on her basketball and Air Max planters.

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May 10 2018, 5:10pm

New York plant designer Olivia Rose says there are some people who like plants because of their beauty and others who are interested in their botany. But neither of those reasons are why plants fascinate her. She’s interested in them because of how they work in social environments, or as she likes to put it “How people see plants and how plants see people”.

At 26 years old, she started her brand “Bodega Rose” just over a year ago, and has already collaborated with Nike and Gypsy Sport. Inserting plant life into objects that youth culture idolizes, like basketballs and sneakers, she wants to create “plants with a purpose”. Her main mission is to make plant life accessible to everyone. Something she feels the younger generation in particular is searching for, an oasis away from 9 to 5 jobs and concrete buildings.

Olivia was born and raised in New York, something that is evident in her designs. She’s also every bit as cool and effortless as her work. She spoke to me at her pop-up in Canal St Market, where it became easy to see what she means by plants having a conversation. “How would this plant react if it was a person?” She asks me. “How would a plant from Bushwick be verses a plant from Harlem? They’d be different. They would have totally different interests.”

Olivia thinks about plants differently, and in turn her plants become different. Taking on a life of their own, her creations are fashionable but not snobby, completely strange but accessible. A world apart from the houseplant your mom would hassle you to water, Olivia’s plants spoke to us and then we spoke to her.

Firstly, is your last name really Rose?
What a coincidence. Rose is my middle name. It would be too perfect. But I came up with the name Bodega Rose because I wanted a name to explain the mission. Bodegas are part of the New York fabric and the plants I speak to have the urban New York point of view. Then there are the flowers from bodegas. You might see bodega flowers more than you would see flowers on the road or in the park.

Have you always been fascinated by plant life?
I’ve always been drawn to the contrast that plants bring to an urban environment. To me, the plant is almost more of the built environment now. If you see something growing, so much effort has been made. So I’ve always taken notice.

What’s your favorite type of plant?
There are a lot of new plant breeds and hybrids coming out with the popularity of houseplants. They now are making crazy variations of ordinary houseplants with different color waves. It’s crazy because the correlation between fashion and plants is so similar. It will have the same silhouette but maybe it will be a pink variety because pink plants are fashionable.

How did you begin working with plants?
I went to University at Cornell and I studied Landscape architecture. I came back and worked for different companies and people but I didn’t like the practice where you only work for certain types of clients. It’s very elitist and a little cookie cutter. I was just playing around on my own with plants and trying to make more of a voice about how plants look and feel in New York. I wanted to make plants more accessible to a large demographic of people and activate a community into plants that maybe weren’t into plants before.

Your designs obviously appeal to young people, is that the point?
Plants haven’t really been tailored to this huge group of people who are different to our former generation, maybe more sensitive and looking to connect on a different level. I really just wanted to target the things that I know youth culture is already interested in and then insert plants into it. That’s the first level of getting that interaction. Keeping it simple and easy to understand.

Is that why most of your designs reference youth or street culture?
There’s such an obsessive culture we have over shoes and street wear items. I think that this generation and probably younger generations are probably looking to get more fulfillments out of their lives, extending from just materialism that we are always in and out of. It felt like using systems and products that are already in the culture and familiar and turning plants into that would create conversations. The reactions people have when they see it the first time are very instinctive. It just gets a reaction. And that’s the point. To make plants get a reaction.

You got a reaction from Gypsy Sport and Nike. Tell me more about your collabs.
My collab with Gypsy Sport was with soccer ball planters. It’s really interesting that both our moral missions are very aligned. Immediately when he asked I was like “Oh we will have them on the runway as handbags”. They’re not plants now they’re handbags, they’re purses. For Nike, I did a basketball and planter workshop in Soho. And I made those shoes for Air Max Day in March this year. I’ve also collaborated with Take 2 Interactive (the publisher of Grand Theft Auto) and, most recently, The Horticultural Society of New York, who have plant therapy programs in prisons and a similar point of view about using plants as a healing tool.

What’s coming up this year?
More installation-based work is coming out in the summertime, in the context of performance art. It will be really cool. I’m also doing a pop-up in Japan in June. Japan makes so much sense. They really have taken urban plants to a next level. They love pop art and I’m very much inspired by it. So it’s a good match.

Lastly, what’s your advice for someone who’s never successfully managed to keep a plant alive? (Asking for a friend).
Don’t be afraid to touch your plants. Feel the texture of the leaves, learn when they need water, and when they need more light. Put your finger inside the soil. Is it dry? Is it damp? You can learn a lot through touch.