Thursday 26 April 2018

'Having a baby that inspired me to set up my own business'

Claire Ryan and Patsie Wrafter of The Informal Florist tell our reporter about a life-changing move

Flower power: Florists Claire Ryan and Patsie Wrafter. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Flower power: Florists Claire Ryan and Patsie Wrafter. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Liadan Hynes

Liadan Hynes

It was having a baby that inspired Claire Ryan to set up her own business. "It was just really a year of change. I felt I needed something different," explains Claire, who now has two sons - with another baby on the way.

Previously, she had worked as a freelance journalist and television producer, and explains: "In TV, if you are out on site, you can't just drop things and go. My husband is a cameraman. We met while working on the same documentary. More often than not, he's late. If you have two people in the same family doing that job, it's virtually impossible."

But it wasn't just the practicalities that caused her to ring the changes in her career. "I think having Johnny really changed me," she says of her first child. "It gave me so much clarity. And more direction, more urgency. Suddenly, I really wanted to follow a path."

"Having a child can make you think about where you are in life. I started going back to stuff I used to really enjoy when I was younger. Design-orientated things. I think I felt a little lost."

The Informal Florist, now run by Claire and her business partner, Patsie Wrafter, is one of Ireland's most sought-after florists, but Claire is completely self-taught. What started as a sort of hobby culminated in selling flowers at a Dublin flea market, which was "really just for fun, but the first day I was there, two people asked me did I do weddings," she says.

"I believe when you're on the right path, the planets do align sometimes." That doesn't mean that it's not hard. You're on your own, and you're still learning, and it's still costly. You have to bear the brunt of that yourself: taking risks; signing on for a studio; trying to balance the increase in workload with home life. "Listen, like for any working mother, it's still 'aaaggh!'" she says with a laugh.

The aesthetic of the company, Claire says, is "kind of a relaxed look, but also quite elegant and luxurious. We don't work with oases at all."

They use what they describe as a 'slow flowers' approach, using as much local produce as possible. Two years ago, Claire decided it was time to move from the kitchen sink at home to a business premises, a gorgeous little studio tucked away in the backstreets of Stoneybatter. Claire and her husband, Andrew, do a lot of the childcare themselves, and while her unflappable manner makes the whole thing appear seamless, with two self-employed people on varying schedules the juggling must be tricky at times.

"There have been very stressful moments where Andrew would get a job the night before. And I'd have an event and would think 'who'll take my child?'" she smiles. The thought of getting sick the night before a job is the sort of thing that used to keep her awake at night. Now though - with business partner Patsie, who joined the company a year-and-a-half ago - she has found someone who she can trust completely.

Before meeting Patsie at a wedding magazine event, Claire hadn't given particular thought to going into business with someone else. "Not until she walked into my life and I knew that was it," she laughs.

Patsie had also decided on a complete career change - in her case, a desire to get into something creative was the catalyst, and she recalls: "It was in that time during the recession, where people were just throwing the towel in and starting new things."

After working for years in media, in 2009 she went back to college and studied fashion buying and merchandising. Almost immediately, she landed a job in Penneys' buying department.

"I just wasn't built for it. I've always been creative," says Patsie, who also DJs, and was originally taught by boyfriend, Hugh Scully - himself a DJ and events producer.

"I thought getting into fashion was the answer. But when you're in an office job it can be 90pc admin and 10pc creative."

Before meeting Claire, Patsie - who had previously worked in a florist - had done flowers for a few events and a wedding, and says: "I think, for the first time in my life, I was really putting myself out there - which usually I wouldn't. It's so terrifying, but it's so liberating."

"It's give and take," says Claire of their business partnership. "It was very hard for me, because I was on my own for three years.

"And then Patsie came in and she had to put her stamp on things. And then I got a bit precious. You can't help it - because you made all the decisions," she laughs

In the last year they have launched a range of 100pc soy and essential oils candles, having taught themselves the skill of hand-pouring.

"That ambition to take it from the kitchen sink is still there," Claire says with quiet determination. "It's lovely to be on that road with someone else."

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