Pic of the bunch: Meet the millennial florists with a fresh vision
The rise of photo-sharing apps has helped breathe new life into the once middle-aged art of flower arranging, writes Sophie Donaldson
There was a time not so long ago when receiving flowers was a private pleasure.
The blooms would sit on a sideboard or in an entrance hall, to be admired solely by the receiver, and perhaps the other occupants of the house. In the age of social media, however, they have become one of the three Fs of Instagram - food, fashion and flowers - and simply too shareable to be admired by just a single household.
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Whether you're a blogger accessorising your #ootd with a bunch of peonies, or a brand installing a flower wall for selfies at an event, savvy users have become aware of the power of the flower when it comes to generating likes. So it stands to reason that Instagram has become an invaluable tool for a generation of millennial florists who rely on it to market their business. And it's ensured that the art of flower-arranging, once considered the preserve of the middle-aged, is thriving for a whole new demographic.
Florist Emily Lalor (27) started her Instagram page The Flower Witch last year, but she's been surrounded by flowers her whole life. "My parents own a nursery and garden centre, so I grew up surrounded by trees and flowers. We would go to all the trade fairs in Ireland and to the auctions in Holland," she says. "I'm also really inspired by the seasons and the idea of seasonality and celebrating what's available throughout the year."
For Lalor, Instagram isn't just a business tool, but a place where she can learn more about her craft from fellow florists.
"It's an amazing way to find inspiration, to connect and network with like-minded people. I have learned so much about different flowers, including how to grow them and where to find them, from people I follow. It's an invaluable app when used properly. So many people have ordered flowers through my Instagram."
When Steph Hutch and Claire Ryan, both 32, founded their Dublin-based floristry business The Crate in 2016, they quickly realised how useful the photo-sharing app would become.
"It enabled us to grow a following, test the market with our product and receive feedback from customers," they say. "We even sold our first bunches via Instagram in the first few months of the business before we had an online store."
Since founding The Crate, the pair have operated a busy florists from their Rathgar studio and worked with brands including Topshop and The White Group.
Irish florists Katie Smyth (33) and Terri Chandler (35) founded their London-based business Worm in 2016. Online photo-sharing has been invaluable for them, they agree.
"Instagram does 100pc of our marketing, which is pretty good as we don't have to think about a marketing budget," they say. "It's been that way since the start for us, and how all of our work has come about."
The pair now regularly work with brands, creating striking floral arrangements and installations - past clients have included Burberry and Marks and Spencer - and their work has appeared in publications such as Harpers Bazaar and Elle Decoration.
Instagram has been credited with starting countless trends - from avocado on toast to those tiny sunglasses everybody was wearing in 2018 - so in many ways, it's no surprise it's even influencing the flowers we like to buy. Gone are homogeneous bunches of red roses, or clutches of white lilies padded out with random green foliage. Modern floristry is all about seasonality, with customers increasingly interested in locally-sourced flowers.
"I think people are really eager to be led by the seasons, which is our favourite way to work. It's one of the first questions we are asked now when we are approached by a brand for an event or a shoot," says Smyth and Chandler.
Hutch and Ryan of The Crate also maintain a seasonal approach when it comes to creating their blooms.
"We select seasonal fresh flowers with an emphasis on wildflowers. Our arrangements are loosely arranged and wrapped in brown paper, making them stand out from traditional flower arrangements - this on-trend floristry is what millennials are drawn to," they say.
Lalor has even planted her own cut-flower garden with the ambition of growing enough to sustain her business. She also forages a lot of the foliage she uses in her work.
"The idea of making a living without taking anything away from the planet is my main ambition. Creating a space that supports my business and benefits flora and fauna is my dream. I love to forage, there is an abundance of wildflowers and foliage available throughout the year," she says.
The art of flower arranging has also changed for the Instagram age. Arty, asymmetric bouquets are the order of the day, while dried flowers are increasingly in favour given their green credentials. When it comes to events, the bigger the floral installation, the better, say Smyth and Chandler.
"People are seeing flowers as more of an art form and not just imagining them in a vase on a mantelpiece for events," say the pair. "Hanging structures have become really popular as they make a really good backdrop for photographs, which seems to be the biggest aim in this era of posting pictures."
A sustainable business ethos is something that's becoming increasingly important to many people, but there's no doubt it's a particular drawcard for millennials.
Smyth and Chandler believe this growing interest in sustainability is one of the reasons their floristry workshops, which they run alongside their main business, have been so popular with a younger demographic.
"Millennials are definitely our biggest audience," they say of their workshop attendees. "It feels like the whole DIY craft industry has really exploded in the last few years. People seem to be caring more about their carbon footprint and making things themselves and that's great."