Inspiration and Education

How Silk Flowers “Grow” – My Visit to a Silk Flower Factory in China

By Sarah Botchick

Since my parents started Pioneer Wholesale Co. 3 years before I was born, I have been around silk flowers my whole life. I am sure I have looked at hundreds of thousands of artificial flowers in my life. However, on a recent design/purchasing trip to China, I got to really SEE silk flowers for the first time. This time we hesitantly asked the factory owner if we could tour the complete production facility. I was nervous – I didn't want to insult him or have him think we were mocking their conditions. Much to my surprise, he proudly showed us his facility and gave us a long, detailed tour, stopping so that we could take pictures of every step. I am in absolute awe about what it takes to create even one silk flower bush. I hope the below chronicle will help you all to understand how the artificial flowers that you use regularly “grow.”

Arriving at the factory
Arriving at the factory in industrial China is not like pulling into our offices. Every factory has a locked gate, with one or more gatekeepers. Up above you will see the dormitories where the workers live.
Outside storage at the factory
No fancy storage systems here.
Fabric pressing
The first thing we saw was the fabric for petals and leaves being fed thru a pressing machine.
Leaves stamped out of material
As the material comes out of the press, a worker pushes a cutter into the fabric, much like we would use a cookie cutter, to cut the leaves.
Tiny petals cut out of material
As you can see, depending on the size of the petal or the leaf, the "cookie cutting" will be done over and over and over. This is part of why products with many small flowers/petals (like Hydrangeas) are more expensive - although they use less material, they require much more labor.
Close-up of petal/leaf stamp
There are many layers of petals/leaves cut at once. Later they will be all be separated and used individually.
Plastic beads for stems
We now move on to pallets and pallets full of bags (approximately 55 lb bags) of tiny plastic beads. These tiny plastic beads are melted down and turned into the basic stems. As you can see some of the beads are yellow and some are green. This governs the end color of the stem. If stems need to be a lighter green, more yellow beads are used. If they need to be a darker green, more green beads are used.
Basic stems
After the beads are melted down, they are formed into these basic stems.
Stems bent/cut
The basic stems then go into another machine that folds/cuts/molds them into their end style. For example, rose stems would have the "thorns" added here.
Petal/Leaf molds
The molds are the heart of any silk flower factory. We will soon see how the molds turn fabric into flowers. Each mold is hand chiseled by a mold craftsman and can cost anywhere from $300- $2000 US, depending on its size and intricacy. Between petals and leaves, each silk flower bush can require many different molds. One of our more popular bushes requires 50 different molds to make!!
Hundreds of flower molds behind a wire fence
Since molds are so expensive, and are the heart of a silk flower factory, they are kept in a locked room. This room is as important to the factory as a vault is to a bank. Without it, the factory has nothing.
Petal in a mold press
Here is a mold in use in a machine. You can see that the fabric is set in the mold, and then the press comes down on top of it to press it into shape.
Molded petal being removed from a press
The press is raised and the now formed petal is removed.
Finished molded petal
This is a finished molded petal. Many layers of these petals are put together to create a single artificial flower.
Leaf mold
Leaves are made in a mold the same way flower petals are.
Leaf mold
Leaf Molding Part 2
Leaves with stems
After the leaves are formed, stems must be added to them.
Long strings of petals in different colors
No, these are not leis. These are petals stored on strings.
Woman assembling flowers
Layers of petals are attached to create a flower. Along with the type of material used, the number of layers included determines the quality of the flower. Of course it is also a determining factor in the price.
Man between two large piles of flowers heats a flower
Once the flowers are created, a torch is blown over them to heat them. This helps prevent the edges of the fabric from fraying.
Finished rose
Finally - a finished flower! But we aren't done yet!
Woman assembling a bush
All of the components, flowers, leaves, and stems are then combined to create a bush.
View of port
After bushes are created, they are boxed, then loaded on rail containers and transported to the nearest port city, where they are loaded on to ships, and then take a 3-4 week journey across the ocean, and finally land in the USA. In port, they are fumigated, inspected, and loaded onto a train to Cleveland, OH. Once they arrive in the Cleveland rail yard, they are put on a special kind of trailer (like a semi truck) and driven to our warehouse. Then they are shipped out to you!
Sarah and Dave Bothchick in factory
Really - I didn't make this up! My dad, Dave Botchick, and I on the production floor - my bad hair from the heat and humidity proves it!

For me, this was a life changing experience. It made me appreciate my life and my job. It made me appreciate what it takes to keep your company, our company, the business of our vendors, all afloat. We are all connected. What affects one of us affects us all. We are all dominoes, trying to keep standing. We all need each other, we all need to understand what the other is going thru. I now know why I can't necessarily have the exact flower that I think we should sell or that a customer might ask for. I now understand why the shading might be a little off from time to time. I understand why the samples or the shipment might run a week or two or three behind. I understand my vendor better, he understands us better, and hopefully my readers all have a new perspective. Thank you for reading. I hope you have enjoyed this journey. This is just a fraction of what goes into making the artificial flowers that you use (we didn't even talk about the design process!) Please let me know if you have any more questions!

Sarah Botchick | Pioneer Wholesale Co. | srbot at pioneerwholesaleco.com