Yael Alkalay '97

Yael Alkalay
Job Title: 
Founder, Red Flower
Area of Interest: 

To know the story of red flower is to know the origin of its founder, Yael Alkalay. “While I was at Columbia Business School, I went skiing in the French Alps,” Alkalay explains. “I was very high up in the Alps, and while skiing, I had an accident which caused me to have a stroke. I lost use of my right arm and could not speak. It was Christmas day on my second year of business school.”

The incident was life changing and formative. The healing process allowed Alkalay to think about what is most important in her life and renewed her respect for her senses. “I have always had strong senses – a strong sense of smell - but I took it for granted,” she said. During her recovery, a close friend came to visit her and washed her hair. She remembered how the very minty smell of the shampoo, and the touch of her friend’s hand, revived her. She began to rethink the small things that we do for ourselves and how being more present makes life abundant and beautiful. The whole experience became the catalyst that gave birth to her life’s mission.

“The sense of smell is powerfully restorative. The broadest way I could think was to engage all the senses, and more importantly how the immediate sense of smell can change or alter one’s attitude.” It was this realization that led her to think about a business that empowers people to live a full life; that helps them turn an everyday habit into a ritual and value the simple basics of life. “When you can’t speak or use your arm, you learn to consolidate and rethink things very quickly. I learned the fundamental power of scent to heal and restore, and how using everyday things in life can shift your attitude.” She sought to empower others with this knowledge.

Back at Columbia, Alkalay cultivated her curiosity about how things work and how they come together. She knew she wanted to get a business off the ground and the concept of red flower evolved while at business school. “The name ‘red flower’ came to me as I was looking for an iconic, powerful yet simple word to represent what I was trying to convey with my brand. I thought ‘red flower’ was perfect; without flowers there would not be life. It is amazing to me that life comes from this beautiful and humble source. This was something I can stand behind with all of my being.

Alkalay credits the support of the Columbia Business School community for her success. “Being at a top school that encourages you to work on your idea and allows you to think like an entrepreneur was instrumental to my success,” she said. “I would not have launched red flower if it wasn’t for the support of my professors, the alumni network and the Lang Fund.”