–By David Drucker for FIU News
Whether they are being eaten, gazed upon or used for shade, plants have long held a soft spot in the heart of mankind. Two alumni have capitalized on this fact to create a new business: Dade Plant Co., a company that delivers tropical plants to customers.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the online store/pop-up plant shop has been well-received by Americans searching for a way to de-stress.
“People are spending a lot more time at home. They want to bring plants into their space because plants make them feel good,” says David Camargo ’05 MBA ’15. “They bring nature into a home. They relax stress. They clean the air. A plant gives you something nice to look at and something that is growing. People like to see progress.”
Camargo and Pablo Zepeda ’13 import plants from overseas, grow them in a garden in Miami and sell them at events locally as well as ship them to customers all over the United States, including Hawaii.
“I truly believe that plants make people happy. The positive effect that plants have on people, it’s simply incredible. That’s why you have so many botanical gardens around the world,” Zepeda says.
Although Dade Plant Co. may have been founded in 2020, its roots are cemented in a decade-long friendship started at FIU.
The two met at a party on campus the same day Zepeda learned he was becoming a father at 18. Camargo, who was dating Zepeda’s cousin, helped him deal with the news.
“I let it go. And David was like, ‘Pablo, that’s life!’ He went on this whole speech,” says Zepeda, who studied communication arts at FIU.
The friends’ ability to play off their strengths has helped them grow as people and prepared them to take on this new business venture.
“Pablo really helps bring me in. I really help bring him out. Our relationship has always been this way,” Camargo says.
Camargo is the more spontaneous partner. From a young age, he was confident in expressing himself. He took up breakdancing in high school and, as a teenager and later a psychology major, he and his friends frequently performed in the Graham Center pit.
“The pit is charged,” Camargo says. “If you spend your nights there, you are able to pick up that energy.”
Zepeda brings his own strengths to the business. Growing up, he was raised by a family with a rich appreciation for plant life. In the 60s, Zepeda’s grandfather immigrated from Cuba to Miami and took seeds with him.
“He planted a lot of sapote,” Zepeda says. “And now these trees are huge all over the house. We have been eating them for decades.”
His family would make an annual trip to Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales, Florida. When Camargo married Zepeda’s cousin in 2012, he joined them on their trips and fell in love with plant caretaking, too.
The idea for Dade Plant Co. came while Camargo was getting his MBA. An opportunity in the market made itself clear, he says: money was going into public green spaces, and tourism for gardens was thriving. Zepeda and he dreamt and planned for six years before launching their garden.
“During the quarantine, creating a business was democratized in ways that has never been done before,” says Zepeda, who made his living as an international textile purchaser before Dade Plant Co.
In 2020, consumers shopped online more due to the pandemic and e-commerce platforms boomed.
“Shopify became a phenomenal platform to allow ideas to flourish. As we explored, we realized buying plants online was a real possibility. We tailored a fine selection of plants, mixed with bonsais mostly grown by David, and we marketed the idea from there and it took off,” Zepeda says.
Dade Plant Co. began in late April. The business has had more than 1,000 sales and more than 7,000 followers on Instagram.
Camargo and Zepeda have chosen a rare monstera as their logo. It’s a plant that develops fenestrations, or natural holes, as it grows up trees.
“The holes allow light and water to go to the bottom of the plant, and the winds go through the leaves and don’t tear the plant,” Camargo says. “This is a cornerstone of what we are doing here, which is adapting to what life has to offer.”