Plenty of Chicagoans can relate to Taylor Amilas Bates’s pandemic story: The 26-year-old was furloughed from her full-time job in March, and suddenly, the future she’d envisioned for herself was hanging in the balance. But it wasn’t long before she refocused her energy and took a leap of faith that would send her career in a new direction.
Bates turned to floral design, a passion she’d ignited while working at Asrai Garden’s Wicker Park location from 2018 to 2019. It was there that she first learned how to care for flowers and arrange them into breathtaking bouquets.
“Once I wasn’t able to do it and wasn’t able to be around it so much, I realized it’s what I need for myself and my mental health,” Bates says. “That’s how I got started.”
Over the past 11 months, Bates has built a business from the ground up. Dusk Lily Floral is a small but mighty operation that deals in bold arrangements that are exploding with color and personality.
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“When I’m creating, I don’t have a method for the chaos,” Bates says. “The crazier the texture and color, the better. I want it to look more like an object than I want it to look like a bouquet.”
Bates achieves this by mixing fresh flowers with unexpected elements, like feathers and fans. When she’s stocking up on stems at the flower market, she reaches for both tropical and traditional blooms—think lush orchids, glossy anthurium, voluptuous roses and fluffy amaranthus.
“There’s something beautiful about dealing with something that’s living,” Bates says about her practice. “It’s more than arranging them. It’s processing them and taking care of them. The art of that is beautiful to me. They’re so fickle and fragile, but they can withstand more than what people think.”
Her signature in-your-face style is an outlet for Bates, who describes herself as shy and introspective when she’s first getting to know someone. Growing up, Bates says that her mother nurtured her creative side, encouraging her to experiment as much as possible. That freedom has given her confidence to color outside of the lines.
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“I still take so many methods and tips from what I’ve learned doing traditional floral design—there’s beauty in that, too,” Bates says. “But I’m always thinking, ‘How can we shake this up? We’ve seen this so many times.’”
Though Bates hopes to make Dusk Lily Floral her full-time job one day, she’s still juggling a part-time retail gig and occasional modeling work to make ends meet. She depends on help from friends and family to get to and from the flower market and make deliveries during the week.
“The hardest part has been trying to develop my own style and also the resources to get my business to where I want it to be,” Bates says. “The fact that I don’t have the resources makes everything 10 times harder.”
Over the summer, she launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise $15,000 for a truck that would allow her to tackle large-scale events, weddings and regular deliveries. The campaign is still active, and Bates is hopeful that she’ll be able to fund the investment this year.
When the world opens up again, she envisions Dusk Lily Floral eventually morphing into a brick-and-mortar space that doubles as a studio and a gallery—a place where she can work, gather and teach. But for now, Bates says she's grateful to be pursuing her dream.
"Living through a pandemic and not knowing what's going to happen, every day is kind of scary," she says. "I knew I needed to hone in on what I wanted to do and just go for it. I knew I needed to take the next step in my life."
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