Just as their is love in the plant community and love in the Black community, there is love in the Black plant community. That's the message of Shanel Kennedy, a stay-at-home mom of two who launched a new plant accessories and apparel business in November 2020.
Based in New Jersey, her e-commerce store Ayva & Avery was inspired by Kennedy’s two children (the names of her five-year-old daughter and two-year-old son). She wanted to build something that her kids could be proud of and benefit from down the line. “Plants will be part of my legacy in a huge way. Everything about my business is very personal," says Kennedy.
With a degree from the Fashion Institute of Technology and experience in the fashion industry, she’s been able to transfer her skills from her corporate career to her own business. “I have tried my hardest to have my shop and products represent who I am as genuinely as possible," explains Kennedy. When you shop with me you will notice a mixture of plants, fashion, culture, and a little bit of sarcasm and inappropriateness.”
Q: Tell us about Black Love & Plants. How did it start?
Shanel Kennedy: I started posting about Black Love & Plants because I noticed that we spoke a lot about self care and plants in the plant community, but I didn't see much about how plants affected our relationships outside of ourselves.
As I was collecting plants and building relationships with them, I began to notice that I was learning things that I could apply to my real life relationships with my family and others.
For example, I realized that I can't care for all plants the same way because they all have their own unique set of needs. I was able to apply that to my relationship with my children. I realized that I couldn't care for my son the same way I had cared for my daughter because they were two individuals with different needs. ... Plants have helped me strengthen my communication skills with my husband, because what's harder than trying to communicate with something that can't talk?
I figured that I wasn't the only one who had experienced this. So I decided to explore it. I started a series on Instagram to talk to other Black plant parents about all things relationships and how their plants have affected them. I will be chatting with couples, parents and children, friend groups, and individuals about how plants taught them lessons they use in their relationships, relationships they found because of plants, how plants have strengthened their relationships, and even how their plants have shown them the beauty of just letting go of relationships that no longer serve them.
I'm excited to continue with this project and shed light on the types of love in the Black community. There seems to be this narrative that Black Love doesn't exist in our community, and I'm happy to help make it known that that is very far from the truth.
Q: How many plants do you have?
SK: As of right now, I have about 80 plants. That's not including the countless amounts of propagations in random jars and bottles scattered all over my house. Or the ones who decided they just didn't want to fight the fight against this ridiculous winter with me anymore. May they R.I.P.
Q: Which plant is your favorite?
SK: It's hard to pick a favorite but I would have to say it's a tie between my hoya 'Krimson Princess' and my philodendron 'McColley's Finale'. I just get joy when I look at these plants. The 'McColley's Finale' gives me these huge, red leaves almost every other week, and I'm just so in love with it. It's drama-free and grows so quickly. The 'Krimson Princess' is so hearty and easy going as well. I love trailing plants, and the variegation and pink tint in the new growth makes me smile.
Q: When did you start caring for plants?
SK: Plants have always been a part of my life, just not in the huge way that they are now. My grandmother was the family gardener, and whenever I think about her I can see the bag of Miracle-Gro that was always sitting next to her bed. She raised me until I was 12 and was the first to introduce me to plants.
If you ask anyone that knows me from my old office jobs, they'll probably tell you that one thing they remember about me is that I always had some kind of plant on my desk. Those plants were always in rotation though, because they hated being in those offices as much as I did and kept dying on me.
Like a lot of people, I started really collecting plants starting in 2020. It became a routine to go out and bring home a plant because for a while there wasn't much else to do. Next thing I knew, my house was full. I went through a period of depression at the end of 2020, and unfortunately almost all of the plants that I had collected died. So I started over in the beginning of 2021. I had way more plants, but I started to realize that I gravitate more towards low-maintenance, easy-care plants. I ended up getting rid of a lot of plants that just didn't spark joy for me. And narrowed them down to the ones I have now.
Q: What’s your favorite thing about caring for plants?
SK: My favorite thing about caring for plants is being able to see the fruits of my labor. When I see a plant that wasn't doing so well before it started to thrive, it makes me happy and makes it worth it. I also like that plant care allows me some moments of calm. My life is super hectic with two kids, my spouse, running a business, and just regular life things. It feels good when I can just take a moment to focus on caring for a plant and tuning everything else out around me.