Meet A Member: Kasey Riley

Meet Kasey Riley, co-founder and chief marketing officer of The Fat Plant Society. We recently chatted with Kasey to learn how she and her husband have turned their passion for nature into creating healthy working and living spaces for their clients through moss designs. 

When The Fat Plant Society first opened its doors in 2015, owners Kasey Riley and her husband, Morten Klinte, weren’t sure what to expect. Having just relocated to Kansas City from Copenhagen, Denmark, the pair was determined to start a business in KC involving what they both love: nature.  

Photo by Kyle Gammon

“My husband grew up in Copenhagen and spent every free hour he had outdoors, exploring the woods with friends, watching tadpoles turn into frogs. I grew up in Iowa with lots of sun and heat and didn’t experience the outdoors the same way he did, but our time living in Copenhagen, living near the ocean, and seeing Morten’s passion for nature was really what cemented it for me,” says Riley.  

Their company creates sustainable indoor plant designs using moss.  

Why moss? 

“We actually started out working with succulents, doing vertical planter designs for clients, but they [succulents] can be a bit unwieldy, and for folks who might not be plant lovers or have the time, they can be hard to maintain,” says Riley. 

A year into business, they were approached by a then local restaurant owner on the Country Club Plaza to try creating a wall panel using moss. Their first moss design measured 28 feet long, was four feet tall, and the rest, as they say, is history.  

Today, about 80 percent of their clients are commercial (the other 20 percent residential), and Riley says a lot of their projects come directly from architects and designers. 

Westside Flats, Kansas City, MO

“They understand that moss can be an acoustic solution in design and a way to bring greenery into a space with no watering, no misting, and no dirt substrate required – which appeals a lot to their clients,” says Riley. 

What also appeals to clients, she says, is the biophilic design element that their moss creations provide. Biophilic design is a term used to describe the practice of connecting people with nature indoors through different nature-inspired design elements. Biophilic design has been found to increase people’s cognitive function, physical health, and psychological well-being. 

“My favorite benefit and the one I feel I experience most is ‘attention restoration.’ It’s based on the fact that to be able to look up from a screen and see greenery triggers the brain into a more relaxed state and enables a faster restoration of attention. It can take as little as 40 seconds to lower your blood pressure and concurrently restore your attention.” 

Riley says they’ve seen more people embracing biophilic design in recent years, and despite a global pandemic, they’ve seen an uptick in jobs during a time they didn’t they think would. 

John A Marshall Company, Lenexa, Kan.

“When I think back to 2016 versus today – I don’t have to explain the concept anymore. It’s [biophilic design] something people have really latched onto. They understand it’s good for the building, good for the people inside, and good for the earth. Bringing nature indoors engenders greater environmental stewardship, period.” 

“When the pandemic first hit, we looked at each other with abject panic and mistakenly predicted that our business was going to take a big hit because people weren’t going into offices anymore. The opposite happened. It enabled office managers and designers to have more time and intentionality to office design.” 

Their designs primarily use American moss sustainably harvested from North Carolina, Kentucky, and Florida.  

“We take a lot of care in selecting our supplier to ensure that areas aren’t overharvested, so the moss has a chance to fully regrow for two years before it’s harvested again. It’s a process that’s done by hand, and a lot of care is taken to not damage any surrounding plants and trees,” says Riley. 

Their attention to operating in an environmentally sustainable way doesn’t end with harvesting. Once they receive the moss and before they can begin using it in their designs, they have to clean it – removing pine cones, florets and other natural debris. What’s removed is called their second sort. 

“We have never once thrown away any of our second sort. It’s become pretty unwieldy, and until recently, we had no idea what we were going to do with it, but we couldn’t bring ourselves to throw it away.”  

Riley says they are currently working with a company who wants to use their moss waste to create similar design pieces for commercial office settings, only more rustic-looking. It’s helping get their business one step closer to Riley’s ultimate goal of becoming a zero waste business. 

She finds inspiration for this goal partially through her involvement with the Green Business Network and learning about Bridging The Gap’s work in the community. 

“I love that GBN gives those of use that are involved [in business sustainability practices] an opportunity to collaborate with one another and promote one another. It’s an impressive list of companies, and when you look at it, we’re all doing different things. And BTG’s mission, all of the activities – I’m extremely impressed by the cleanups – those are things that make a huge difference in our community.” 

To learn more about The Fat Plant Society and to contact Kasey Riley, visit their website.