11/17/2014 11:31 am ET Updated Jan 17, 2015

Women in Business: Alix Astir, Founder of Trellis Fine Florals

Alix Astir launched Trellis Fine Florals in 2011 after being schooled in the Parisian avant-garde style. Alix's floral arrangements combine English and Flemish order with Park Avenue elegance and Parisian abandon. Drawn to petals all her life, she became one of few American disciples at the elite L'Ecole des Fleurs in Paris' Hôtel de Crillon--100 years after its founding, where she learned from the experts while developing her own refined taste. Ms. Astir then studied at the New York Botanical Gardens, incorporating a distinct New York flair into her design aesthetic.

With her team of designers, Ms. Astir has developed her business into a highly respected and sought after brand in the industry. Her enthusiastic client reviews have led to her name becoming synonymous with the best in the floral industry. She has also developed a following as the "Rose Queen of New York," reflecting her unparalleled eye for finding the perfect blooms and her passion for creating flaw- less arrangements. When she's not designing astonishing arrangements for New York City's elite, Alix travels the world, discovering the best a region has to offer.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I grew up dirt poor and started working as a teenager because my family needed it. Sometimes the money I earned was the only money we had to buy food. I've never forgotten how I felt the first time I got hard earned cash in my hand; I had never, ever before felt such an overwhelming feeling of pride. One lucky day I made $100 in tips and I went into the bathroom and just kept counting it over and over again. I was in disbelief and I will always remember the feeling of pride I felt after getting rewarded for hard work. I always try to learn from every experience and I often wish I had several lives so I could learn even more because so much interests me. I'm highly driven and ambitious. I'm never satisfied and I always want more - part of what makes me a leader is that I always want to better myself, my employees and my projects. There is always room for refinement.

How has your previous employment experience aided your ownership at Trellis Fine Florals?
I started from the bottom at a catering company when I was 13. I was paid under the table and I did the most menial jobs no one else wanted to do, working at dinners and events until well into the early morning. But I loved it. While I worked there, I watched everything and soaked it all in. I watched how the florists arranged the flowers, how the chefs chose and prepared the food and how the staff styled the rooms. I loved it all and I loved the festive atmosphere while it was all coming together. When I got older, I worked at The Barefoot Contessa store in East Hampton for Ina Garten. Once again I learned how to refine style and make things elegant from her. When you watched her you knew you were watching an artist. I absorbed every drop I could from her. All of this has helped propel me to hone my skills as a businesswoman. You learn from the best out there and those are things you can't learn in any classroom. It is invaluable to learn from industry leaders or artists in their field.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Trellis Fine Florals?
Creating something that is mine, my baby, is the greatest highlight for me. I have met to meet some really cool people through my work, like Denise Rich and The Duchess of York, who are both lovely, warm women. The challenge, is being responsible for so many people as a business owner. It is scary realizing how much depends on you. It can keep me up at night. You know, in business things happen very quickly and you might not have an immediate answer to solving problems. At two in the morning, when you are up fretting as you search for an answer it can be stressful. Part of being a strong businesswoman is staying tough and knowing that you will create effective solutions.

How do you see yourself contributing to the big changes in the lifestyle industry?
I definitely see myself as a disciple of Martha Stewart as she was the pioneer in that industry and has always been an arbiter of good taste. However, tastes have greatly evolved and gotten more sophisticated. My true purpose and mission is to create a place where beauty and botanicals intersect by creating my skincare line Vendome a Paris. The line will include home and hair care products that will not harm the environment. We are also developing a line of products "Feeling Good + Doing Good" that gives 5% back to causes we have carefully selected. Consumers these days are greatly evolved with their consciousness and concern for the environment and we love that. We believe in taking a little from the Earth to make what we need but we believe in giving back even more than we take. It's incredibly important.

What can you offer women who are seeking a career path similar to yours?
Two things: 1- You can never do enough research so you can be honest with your customer and yourself, 2- Be careful with your finances as it's important to keep your business financially solvent, especially during the first few years, and 3- Don't judge a book by its cover. I do not like to sugarcoat the challenges and most people will not tell you the truth. Truth tellers aren't loved because sometimes the news isn't as rosy as you want it to be. Sometimes I have to discourage women because they assume I'm swaning around, delicately pruning roses when I'm not. In reality, I'm up at 3 AM hauling five gallon buckets of freezing water and physically exerting myself until I'm shaking. Floral designers are covered in cuts, scrapes and frequently get ringworm from handling natural materials. This is a really tough job. If they are still enthused after I tell them all of that, then I know they really love flowers. Only someone who doesn't mind all of that loves flowers as much as I do. Nature is everything to me.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
It is tough. I have a very, very hard time disengaging my mind from work and refocusing on my home. I've been known to let the house fall to seed just to see how long until someone notices. It works. I tell my family: "I'm only one small woman- I cannot do everything, although I wish I could." I don't get upset anymore or feel imperfect because I'm not "doing it all." Why should I? Do men feel guilty if their house isn't perfectly clean? No, so why should I?

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Being taken seriously. We really need to work twice as hard to get respect, credit or admiration. It's also necessary to draw a line in the sand in terms of how people speak to you. Women get asked absurd, ridiculous questions that people would never dare ask a man. I see these questions as a soft tactic to immediately discredit you and set you up in a subordinate role. I usually just ignore the so-called polite questions and continue on with the business at hand. Look at it this way: when Warren Buffet walks into the conference room, do you ask him how his kids are? No! If he's walking in the room, he's an expert in his field and I want to pick his brain. I view myself in the same way. I'm an expert in my field. I have a wealth of knowledge about my industry, so when someone starts asking me personal questions that have zero to do with the matter at hand I think its rude and condescending. This behavior is almost exclusively reserved for women in the workplace and it drives me crazy.

How has mentorship made a difference in your personal and/or professional life?
It has made a huge difference, but finding a mentor is very difficult. You're lucky if you find that one, rare person that will take time for you, believe in you and encourage you. I dug for ten years to find my mentor but I never, ever gave up. The bottom line is even if you never find that person SHOW UP FOR YOURSELF! Believe in yourself! How are you ever going to sell anybody on you if you aren't buying you first? You are your own best salesman and your own best mentor.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Helen Gurley Brown. I really admire people that come from nothing and I really relate to her. She came from Alabama to New York and carved a very great niche for herself. The following quote from her literally changed my life: "If you have some daily anguish from some cause that's not really your fault -- a rotten family, bad health, nowhere looks, serious money problems, nobody to help you, minority background, rejoice! These things are your fuel!" If you really think about what she's saying, it is very profound and a healthy way to turn your personal pain around. Everyone has a story, everyone has a personal pain that drives them and it must drive you, because if it doesn't your personal pain will steamroll over you and you can't let that happen. You've got to find a way to make it work for you.

What do you want to accomplish and why?
In the next year I will be launching my botanical based skincare and cosmetics company: Vendome a Paris. It's a very exciting time for me because I'm creating something I've been working on for years. I've worked with florals and botanicals all my life so these products have been refined and refined over the course of my lifetime and I really feel that both women and men will really respond to them. I have taken my formulations to the best and brightest scientists in the world so we will be bringing out some of the finest and most sophisticated products on the market.