We’re all familiar with the phenomenon: When the going gets tough, your neighbors bring you a casserole. Be it a hospital stay, a funeral, or a natural disaster—whenever you’re hurting, your community bands together, with lasagnas and flowers in hand.
Sarah-Allen Preston knows this all too well. In 2017, she and her family were living in a rental after their Kansas City home flooded. Her newborn son, nicknamed Boss, had a heart defect and needed surgery. “It was a very confusing and traumatic post-birth experience,” she explains.
During this time, her friends and family began dropping off gifts from local shops; toys for her older two sons, hospital clothes she could wear. Preston was blown away by all the love and support.
“It wasn’t the things that meant so much to me,” she says, “but it was the thoughtfulness of the gifts that were signifying, like, I have people here for me. People care. And it really gave me a lot of strength.”
Then in 2019, she and her husband separated. Preston was once again flooded with gifts and support from her community. She began to consider how she could return the favor.
“I was like, ‘okay, there’s got to be an easy way for me to send my gratitude back into the world and show people how much that meant to me,’” she says.
She wanted an easy and convenient way to send thoughtful gifts back to people during her limited time as a single, working mother, but couldn’t find what she was looking for. So she decided to develop a new gifting app, called afloat.
The service is now available in Kansas City and Dallas.
“I personally am obsessed with Dallas,” says Preston, who attended SMU and started her first business, Preston Paper, here in the naughties. The afloat mobile app connects users with local businesses and brands for easy gifting. Think home goods, clothing, children’s and lifestyle brands like Support HerStory, Sur La Vague, Miracle Milkookies, Madre, and more.
The affiliated companies curate a list of giftable items for users to scroll through on the app, with new products on sale every week. Once you find something you like, all you have to do is click “give this gift,” and fill out your recipient’s name and address, plus a note from you, your payment info, and whether you want same- or next-day delivery. (Afloat is partnered with rideshare company Alto for swift deliveries.)
“My favorite feedback that we’ve gotten was, ‘I just sent a gift and under a minute, this is dangerous,’” Preston jokes.
Keeping brands on the app local was paramount, she says. It was easier for quick shipments—“delivery is in our DNA now”—and Preston’s whole manta is about connection and communities supporting each other.
That celebration is at the core of the app and its name. Preston’s friend came up with it in 2019 after a walk. They had mulled over Preston’s desire to create a “celebratory supportive space.” The next day, the friend offered up afloat.
“I truly felt like I’d been hit by lightning,” Preston says. “Afloat in itself is just a happy, uplifting word. Whether it’s you’re gifting for a happy occasion, or those uncomfortable moments, you—sympathy thinking of you a breakup, a kid having a heart surgery—there’s so many things that it applies to.”
As the app grows, Preston hopes to feature more pop-ups and partnerships with local bloggers and influencers (for Valentine’s Day, Food Life Love blogger Rachel Hutchinson curated a special gift guide). User features will expand, she teases, and she’s continuing to build out the tech side, but for now, Preston is content to grow her community and stay afloat.