Mai Brand Hale Sows Seeds of Social Justice & Cultivates a Plant-Filled Paradise

It’s rare to find someone as integrated as Mai. She effortlessly blends her skills and care-taking finesse to nurture growth in her organizational work + her vast greenery collection.

Her love of plants not only informs her day-job, but it also relieves stress and has stoked her passion project: an Etsy shop aptly named iroot4you

Get ready for a look into a life that flourishes + some plant tips from a pro:

Tell us about what you do!

I currently lead revenue and partnership development for a youth justice organization called Exalt Youth based in NYC. We provide justice-involved young people opportunities to progress academically, avoid further justice involvement, and gain employment through our educational, internship-based program. Black and Brown young people from impoverished neighborhoods are too often overlooked and harshly judged by our systems. I’m passionate about moving the needle in the racial equity landscape. I believe communities thrive when opportunities are given to all.

My professional work has a profound connection to my love for growing plants and nature. At work, I cultivate meaningful relationships, and I take that same approach to grow and care for my plants. I put my whole heart and mind into it. 

One of my favorite plant activities is propagation, a process of growing new plants from plant cuttings, plant parts, leaves, and seeds. It’s so cool because it’s a sustainable way to grow plants AND it’s economical.

A few months ago I opened up my Etsy shop, iroot4you, which offers plant cuttings with roots ready to be potted for people to grow and enjoy. It’s so therapeutic to care for a small plant and observe its growth and beauty over time.

Tell us all about your plant collection! 

I have lost track of how many plants my husband and I have! I estimate that we have about 70-80. We live in an apartment, so you can imagine the indoor jungle we’re growing here, and we love it! Our window sills, corners, shelves, and floor space are all homes for our plants. We have everything from monstera, fiddle-leaf fig, pothos, rubber plant, African palm, cactus, to various other plants. We also experimented with growing herbs indoors such as lavender, rosemary, etc., and that was a success for a while. When we’re old and grey, we’ll open a plant & coffee shop so people can sip their coffee while shopping for plants. 

What is your favorite part about having plant babies?

When I make time to care for our plants, it’s “me time.” I center my thoughts to just be with nature and myself. Plants babies help me stay present and appreciate their new growth, roots, and color changes. I also love that our plants keep the air clean in our home, and I absolutely love the jungle vibes look. It is nature’s best decor! 

Have you always had a green thumb?

Yes, I believe so! I have always been drawn to plants and nature. It brings me serenity and gratitude, and I feel connected to the earth. My husband can attest to that I spend a lot of time observing plants. It’s actually humorous because sometimes, during my work break, I’ll just wander around our apartment looking at our plants and be completely in the “plant zone.” He will be like, “what are you doing?!” and we both laugh.

Where do you think your love for plants comes from? 

Ever since I was a little girl growing up in Vietnam, I have loved plants and all things nature. We lived a ‘farm-to-table’ lifestyle and grew our own food. It was not so much a luxury/hobby but a necessity. I was a curious child, so I watched everything adults did, like how my grandparents tended to their garden and how my uncles and aunts worked on the farm. Fast forward to when I was 22 and landed my first job in DC, I had my Pothos (Epipremnum aureum) in my tiny studio apartment. It was my first plant, and it’s a very easy houseplant to care for. I ended up giving that plant to a stranger when I moved. Since meeting my husband (and he is so supportive of me and my love for plants!), we’ve continued to add to our collection.

How often do you add new plants to your collection?

I try to be responsible and not go plant shopping too often, because eh, wow, it can be so pricey! Though I often visit plant stores just to look. I would say I plant shop every 2-3 months now, maybe even less, but my husband would probably disagree. I got a few gift cards to the Sill for my birthday, so I’m very excited to soon add different varieties to our collection. I do a lot of propagation, so that’s one way to produce new plants and save some money. 

What have you learned about creativity through plant parenthood? 

Oh, wow, so much! Plant propagation is definitely one way to apply my creativity through my plant parenthood journey because it truly is a creative science process! This led me to open up my Etsy shop, which really is a creative outlet. Of course, my IG plant account, iroot4you, which I started in May to connect with the plant community, admire other plant accounts, and share plant love. It’s also influenced my interior design preferences as I definitely lean towards green vibes. I’m constantly moving plants around our apartment to create the botanical haven that we seek. 

Do you have a favorite plant? (We won’t tell the others).

Ahh, this one is hard. I love them all! But I definitely have a soft spot for our cactus that we bought from a little nursery in Brooklyn in 2016. It brings back a lot of great memories. It has grown so much, and it’s sooo funky looking! It was literally thumb-size, and now it has blossomed into this big alien-looking plant. 

If you could only have one plant in your life, what would it be and why?

OMG! I would not be okay if I can only have one plant, lol. If I must, I would choose the monstera because it’s so beautiful. It’s a significant plant in that it can grow tall and big + the leaves are very dramatic looking. 

What’s the hardest part about keeping plants alive?

Not to over-water! 

What’s your favorite song to garden to?

I love all Leon Bridges songs, especially Bad Bad News.

Tips for the newbie plant parent? 

I have 3 tips for plant lovers: 

– Establish a weekly watering routine and use this time for yourself too! From my experience, it’s better to under-water than over-water. Of course, if you can, water at the correct level. However, it is easier to recover if you under-water vs. over-water. Once the roots rot from overwatering, it’s hard for the plant to bounce back. 

– Buy baby plants or plant cuttings to nurture and grow. Taking care, observing growth, and enjoying their beauty over time is so fun and brings joy. You also save so much money this way because big, full-grown plants can be costly.

– Turn plant care into a self-care routine. Enjoy the process. Put on some music. Be present. Center your thoughts. Make a cup of tea or enjoy a glass of wine. By finding joy in the process of taking care of plants, your plants will thrive, and so will you!

For more plant love, follow along with Mai on Instagram and her Etsy shop!

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