Anyone trying to turn a side hustle into a full-time job will find hope in Kelsey Ryder’s hard work. Starting off hawking plants in thrift store pots, her online store Hello Happy Plants has blossomed into a full-grown business where she sells a variety of handcrafted planters (air plants included) that take the shape of troll dolls, beer and soda cans, chip bags, cigarette boxes, and much, much more. She ships to customers and wholesalers all over the world, in big part due following she’s gained on her colorful, playful Instagram page. So I wanted to sit down with Orlando’s plant lady extraordinaire (and my close friend) to see how it call to be. Enjoy.
matthew warhol: I know we’ve been talking about doing an interview for a long time. And I like, I think it’s not only because you do super cool stuff that’s really successful, but also because you and I have had really good conversations in the past.
Kelsey Ryder: Because you’re a Virgo, and I’m a Virgo Moon. Did you know that?
matthew warhol: No I didn’t know that.
Kelsey Ryder: The majority of what I am is Virgo.
matthew warhol: So what does that mean for us?
Kelsey Ryder: It’s because we are very like … you like things a certain way. I like things a certain way. We’re driven. Leo’s and Virgos get along because they are kind of alike when it comes to being critical, having an ego, and being set in their ways. But like, Leo’s need Virgo friends to show them how to be that way but with a little more tact and grace and a little less of an asshole vibe. Virgos need Leo friends to remind Virgos to let that opinion be heard and not take shit too serious. Virgos and Leo’s are bonafide hustlers.
matthew warhol: I’m so glad we were meant to be friends! So I wanted to start at our last real one-on-one, which was at the Always Nothing show like a year-and-a-half ago, because so much has changed since then. At that time, you had just gotten your job at Home Depot. I remember talking to you and everything was up in the air. You were like, “I want to make this my full-time job,” but you hadn’t yet. So do you feel better now? Are you more confident in what you’re doing?
Kelsey Ryder: Oh my God, I feel so much better. I have so much confidence in myself and Hello Happy Plants, but every day there is doubt. I literally wake up and walk 10 feet to my studio, and I paint all day long. It’s like, “Is this for real?” There’s definitely doubt in it, but I feel like I’m not supposed to be working for someone. I don’t ever mean to sound ungrateful, but I can’t have a boss.
matthew warhol: When did you get to the point where you felt like you could leave your normal job?
Kelsey Ryder: I don’t know if I ever told you about Home Depot. They totally tricked me, man. I was supposed to go to the Garden Center. When you work at Home Depot they have you start as a door greeter. I think I was a door greeter at Home Depot for almost four months. And I realized the first month I was there, “They’re not switching me to the Garden Center. And even if they did, I don’t want to be here.” So I busted my ass. And it wasn’t really about the money. It was about the connections I needed to make. And when I made those connections, the money would come. So when I felt like I was at a certain place with what I was doing, I was out. They didn’t want me anymore either. They knew I hated it.
matthew warhol: So now take me through the process of making a new planter. Because I saw a video on Instagram where you go through it, and I know a lot goes into it. And how do you even find what you want to make?
Kelsey Ryder: I think I definitely started down a path of snack foods. It’s something I’ve always related to and it’s what my friends liked. Yeah, my first mold ever was … well, it was a terrible shark. But the second one was a little troll. And I kind of just thought, “Trolls are so hard to come by now days. Let’s try to make a mold.” It is silicone mold making. You pour wet silicone into a cast with whatever you want to make and let it harden. The process takes kind of a bit, but you can take anything and make a bunch of it. So I made the troll, and I was like, “I kinda want to make a can.” And I can do so much with a can. I’ve made some cool molds. I’ve made some wonky ass molds. I’ve made some molds that I thought everyone was going to love and everyone was going to want one, and they take me five hours to make.
matthew warhol: What was one of those?
Kelsey Ryder: I had a lot of hope in the garbage bag. That shit never sells.
matthew warhol: What’s something that surprised you? That sold more than you thought?
Kelsey Ryder: The La Croix! Oh my God, it’s insane!
matthew warhol: You hit that right when it was becoming a thing.
Kelsey Ryder: Who knew? I literally made that for my grandma, because she hit me up one day like, “There isn’t a lot of things I would want in the house.” And I’m like, “Oh my God, she loves La Croix, that’s her drink.” I never knew anyone liked it before that. The first time I put one up, it sold and I got five messages immediately. “Do you have more?” And I’m like, “Hell yeah, I have more. Give me a day.” I sell a lot of those. Certain shops that I whole-sale with will buy 30 La Croix. It’s so strange, but I’m about it.
matthew warhol: So I know, Instagram is the biggest place you’ve amassed your following, because you have almost 10,000 followers, right?
Kelsey Ryder: Let’s have a party soon!
matthew warhol: Yo, 10K. Because then it’ll turn to “10K,” right?
Kelsey Ryder: I’ll get a “K.”
matthew warhol: I know you’re looking forward to that.
Kelsey Ryder: Hell yeah, I am. I’m a fuckin’ Leo. I want 10,000 followers. I’m done feeling weird about it either; I want that.
matthew warhol: So how did you get into a groove with that? You don’t have to reveal all of your secrets …
Kelsey Ryder: No, I genuinely will give this advice to people who are looking for a way to broaden their horizons with customers. I’ve sent probably over $2,000 worth of stuff to people. Sometimes they post it. Sometimes they don’t. Two years ago, I made a list of every person that I was inspired by — in any way. And I wrote out a message. I would make it personal to why I loved them, but I sent a message out that was like, “I’m tryin’ to get my business boomin’. I can only imagine that your following is as cool as you are.” And that has gone over well. I think a lot people would think that that was begging. But I’m sending someone something I made special for them.
matthew warhol: But on your Instagram, you’re not just posting pictures of your planters. You’re building scenes and doing stop-motion pictures do. So where did that come from? Because that’s what huge brands do, that’s what Taco Bell does.
Kelsey Ryder: I think what my planters are … Them being chips or something, it’s easier for me to be able to spin and make it be more realistic. I don’t know if you remember this, but it was one of my last days at Home Depot. I knew I was going to be leaving, and everyone there thought I was a freak. But one day I was like, “Fuck it. I’m going to make this video that I knew I wanted to make.” I brought the chip bag mold in with me, and I pretended that I was pressing all the buttons to get this planter out of a vending machine. And that video ended up being huge. I got a shit ton of followers, and so I was like, “Woah, I could totally run with this.” So I started doing it with the Slurpees planters at 7/11, having the people working there pretend like they’re scanning the planters.
matthew warhol: You’re treating it like if it were real. And people at 7/11 know you as that person. They love you! The people at Home Depot thought you were super weird, but I think you make these people’s day.
Kelsey Ryder: I don’t mind, but they all look at me like, “What am I doing right now?” I made this giant foam Slurpee cup — it was like three feet tall. And I asked the guy if when I started a small cup if he would tell me, “No, no, no, stop.” And he went around the back and brought me this humongous cup. Things like that they’re like, “Yeah, sure I’ll do it.” And they have no clue what I’m doing or what they’re doing, but they see how excited I am. I never worry about making a fool out of myself.
matthew warhol: It’s just who you are, though. Hello Happy Plants is you. It’s your style, your personality.
Kelsey Ryder: I’m kind of a poseur now.
matthew warhol: Why?
Kelsey Ryder: Five out of the seven days in a week, I’m like no carbs, no sugar. So everything that I make, I don’t ingest. It’s my vice now.
matthew warhol: Do you ever get tired of looking at it?
Kelsey Ryder: Well, I don’t smoke cigarettes unless I’m really buzzed. So I’m like, “Can I get behind this?” But I see how happy things like snack foods make people. Maggie loves her chips. Bear loves his Red Hots at night. I watch that and I know they like it so …
matthew warhol: What do you think you’re tapping into with that?
Kelsey Ryder: It’s stories that people have with each other. Once a day, I have a message that comes along that’s like, “Oh my God, me and my best friend have gone and got Slurpees every Free Slurpee Day for years.” That’s cute to me. It is nostalgia for sure. I think the majority of what I sell is gifts for other people. And I’m all about that. I remember certain times of going to a certain gas station with friends and getting this candy, this chip, this beer. I think a lot of what I’ve made is drawn from those memories.
matthew warhol: And now you’ve expanded into t-shirts.
Kelsey Ryder: I’m Jersey Shore-ing it up! Got my heat press.
matthew warhol: Do you have ideas of stuff you want to do in the future?
Kelsey Ryder: I want to build a skate park one day. I want to work with cement on a really big scale.
matthew warhol: Really?
Kelsey Ryder: I love cement. I think it’s really cool. Some of Bear’s friends build skateparks. I don’t skate at all, but I think there’s real beauty in the way cement forms and the way we can use cement. It’s beautiful, big structures.
matthew warhol: That’s so interesting to me, because you were talking about how you are the only one of your friends that only has their AA and all that, but you’ve made yourself into an industrial designer. The way you talk about materials is the way I hear my friend who is in school for that talk.
Kelsey Ryder: This circles back to working with your hands. But I started with the troll doll. I never knew you could make a mold of something with silicone. Who would think? But you can, and it is cool as shit. So you’re like, “What can I do with this? Can I use porcelain? Can I use resin?” But as for the future, I want to get things dialed in before things get bigger.
matthew warhol: Do you have a big goal?
Kelsey Ryder: I would kind of like to have my own shop one day. Somewhere cool and just have it be plants and my shirts and stuff. There’s a lot of really awesome stores I’m fortunate enough to be in, but I feel like … what’s a plant store that you know in Orlando? I feel like we need to make plants cool again. We need to bring them back. And that’s in no reference to “Make America Great Again.”