Inside the blossoming business of floral art

Undercutting has forced many independent florists to close, but some are pruning their craft into something more lucrative: botanical art and sculpture.
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It hasn't been all sunshine and roses for independent florists lately. With the rise of online floral hubs and supermarkets selling bouquets for pocket change, many traditional retail florist stores have been forced to close. In the UK alone, the annual net change in independent florists fell by more than 80 stores every year between 2015 and 2020.

But the next generation of florists are looking beyond the traditional bouquet, designing floral art for runways, music videos and museums – less floristry, more botanical artistry and radical sculptural design – while grappling with the industry's less-than-green credentials to ensure there's a future for flowers.

‘I can't make a £20 ($24) bouquet look good,’ says Kaiva Kaimins of My Lady Garden, a florist who pivoted to a floral design studio last year. ‘Give me a £30,000 ($37,000) budget and I can create something that has intention and thought behind it.’ Kai's style and the costlier types of flowers she now uses make it difficult to replicate the smaller budget work she took on in the past.

Growing pains (and gains)

‘Inflation remains a big challenge for the flower industry, primarily through the higher energy costs incurred by growers,’ says Aron Gelbard, CEO and co-founder of flower subscription service Bloom & Wild. ‘The cost-of-living crisis is undoubtedly putting pressure on discretionary consumer spending.’ Kaiva from My Lady Garden estimates that her costs have gone up by at least 30%. 

Bouquet-making makes considerably less money, plus florists work harder to serve customers making smaller-ticket purchases. For installations and brand collaborations, on the other hand, B2B clients put huge budgets aside – tens of thousands of dollars – and give the florist a considerable amount of freedom to express themself.

Take Brrch, a floral artistry project by Brittany Asch in Los Angeles, whose textural and candy-colored displays are a frequent backdrop for runway shows; London's Sage, a studio creating quirky bright bouquets for events from dyed and fresh flowers; and Melbourne-based Hattie Molloy, whose swooping sculptural installations have been used for major magazine shoots. Social-media friendly floral arrangements like those of Harriet Parry – whose creations reimagine famous artworks through flora – are driving more people to consider floristry as a career.

Bloom where you're planted

But those in the shifting floral industry are having to get creative in other ways – particularly when it comes to the environmental impact of shipping a seasonal product. Estimates show that flowers flown into the US from Colombia around Valentines Day produce 360,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide – equivalent to 78,000 cars being driven for one year. In the US, 80% of cut flowers come from abroad, mostly from South America. 

‘Our industry is very unsustainable,’ says Katie Smyth, co-founder of creative floral design studio Worm. ‘Businesses like Worm are trying to buy more from [independent] growers as much as we can. This is less to do with costs and more to do with trying to be as sustainable as possible.’ 

For florists pivoting into floral studios, only working on planned projects means dramatically decreasing the number of unused flowers that end up in the trash, as exact amounts are ordered. B2B clients also have more budget to break down floral sculptures, and sculptures can be repurposed into bouquets so that the flowers can have a second life. 

And for an industry that thrives on creativity, it offers another avenue to innovate: Bush only works with seasonal Australian botanicals, sourcing rare and unusual native flowers and foliage. This helps to move away from being dependent on faraway flower markets such as the Netherlands, which accounts for 40% of international trade in cut flowers.

A version of this article was published in the Courier Weekly newsletter. For more useful stories, tips, tricks and simply good advice, sign up here.

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