Thank you to Othman Altalib for answering our questions! Check out Othman’s business GardeLina Flowers here. Learn more about the Loudoun Chamber’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Accessibility (DEIA) Committee here.
Where were you born and raised and, if it was someplace else, when and why did you come to Loudoun?
I was born in Mosul, Iraq but my parents, two older brothers, and I came to Northern Virginia on a summer trip to visit family in 1990. However, while we were here with just a couple suitcases of summer clothing, the first Gulf War started and we had no ability to go back to Iraq. No ability to go back to our home, family, schools, friends, and life. Therefore, my parents had to make the toughest decision of their lives which was to stay in a new country where they didn’t know the language, had no jobs, no status and they built themselves up from nothing except the support of family. After getting their citizenship, my parents chose to make Loudoun County their home when they were fortunate enough to buy their first home in 1996 right in the heart of Loudoun. This courageous decision to move out of my grandfather’s basement where they were raising 4 small children and move to a house of their own not only set the course for the rest of their lives but also set the course for my life. My wife and I have lived in Loudoun County since we got married and our three beautiful boys are growing up and being raised in this same County!
When did you launch your first business and how did you get into your current line of work?
GardeLina Flowers bloomed (pun intended) in 2015. Launching a flower shop was never in my long term plan but a beautiful opportunity presented itself and I couldn’t be happier. We are a family owned business because my mother-in-law, Lina, was working at a flower shop in Dulles Town Center until they announced they were selling. Working at that flower shop really changed Lina’s life so we decided it would be a great opportunity to buy the shop and create a brighter future for the entire family. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial drive and this was a great opportunity for me to put that drive to work. I actually have a full time job in addition to GardeLina working in Sales Strategy and Operations at Google, however, my partners are full time florists at the shop and they are AMAZING!
Have you had any special mentors or inspirations that influenced your career?
I’ve been very fortunate to have a number of mentors and influential people in my life that have not only guided me personally but that has translated into my professional life. My parents have always encouraged me to do what I love and what I have a passion for, rather than doing what will make the most money or what others want me to do. This has allowed me to make very different decisions in my career that are motivated by passion and interest which has not failed me yet. So I thank my parents for giving me the freedom to make those decisions and love and support me through them. My in-laws taught me that no matter what life’s challenges are or what struggles people go through, take the time to smell the flowers (literally). Seeing the happiness on my in-laws’ faces when they create a special bouquet or arrangement for a client and then they read how that arrangement made the recipient feel puts such a huge smile on their faces because they literally build every arrangement with love and passion. That work ethic and passion for their creative work has been truly inspiring for me to see.
What is the best part of your job and why?
Honestly, the best part of owning GardeLina Flowers is sharing in all the joyful, happy, sad, difficult, and challenging times everyday people like us go through. People use flowers and arrangements to express all kinds of emotions for all kinds of occasions. Being part of our client’s lives in all of those moments is so impactful on us as individuals and as a company. We read people’s love for each other which makes us value and appreciate our loved ones, we read people’s sadness when there is a loss in the family which makes us reach out to our loved ones and tell them how much we love them before it’s too late, we read people’s pain when someone close to them is sick or going through a tough time which makes us feel that sending an arrangement that expresses that same sense of emotion is a responsibility on us as though we were sending that arrangement ourselves. That’s why the best part of my job is being able to share in life’s moments with every one of our GardeLina family members!
What is it like owning/running a business in Loudoun?
It has truly been amazing launching and growing GardeLina Flowers in Loudoun County! Our clients, our vendors, our management team all have deep connections to this community which makes it that much more meaningful to us. I’ll be honest, when Covid-19 started a couple years ago, I didn’t know if we would survive the economic impact of it. However, Loudoun County was such an amazing location to be in because we only saw an increase in people wanting to spread love and goodness to their family and friends which gave us hope that we will not only be able to survive the impact but we will thrive in Loudoun.
What does Arab American Heritage Month mean to you?
I am a huge proponent of celebrating the contributions of all members of our community, especially the under-represented and marginalized, on a daily basis. It is great that we have certain months where we drive more awareness and recognition for certain members of our community, which Arab American Heritage Month is privileged to have. It means a lot to me that Loudoun is making an effort to recognize and profile examples of Arab Excellence and it is a great honor to even be in that conversation. As I described above, my parents came to this country with the intention of visitors but had to quickly adapt to the mindset of making America and Loudoun our home. Seeing their struggle to learn the language, find jobs, adjusting to the culture, raising young children to maintain their identity and values, all of those struggles make our celebration of Arab American Heritage Month that much more special. To recognize our immigrant community that chose to make this country and county their home, despite all their difficulties and challenges, in order to build themselves up from nothing to be great contributors to the wider society is definitely something worth celebrating. Therefore, it means the world to me that we get an opportunity to provide glimpses into these stories of people we may be interacting with as neighbors, business owners, classmates, and coworkers so that we can appreciate what it means to be part of a diverse community.
What are some of your favorite things to do when you are not working?
I love anything outdoors! I love hiking and backpacking, especially when I can take a couple of days alone out in the backcountry. I love any competitive sport: I play in a softball league, basketball league, tennis league, and occasionally some ultimate frisbee on the weekends. I’m currently training for the Chicago Triathlon, so I am definitely excited about that new challenge and looking forward to an amazing experience. All of these activities allow me to stay active enough to keep up with my three boys who are just as wild and energetic as me. Coaching their sports teams on the weekends has become something of an enjoyment for me as well.