How a blossoming floristry is promoting diversity

Interview by Grace Cook

Iona Mathieson, 27, and Romy St Clair, 30, established their contemporary floristry studio and shop, Sage, in 2018. Based in south-east London, the duo creates sculptural, seasonal arrangements, and has worked with brands including Gucci, Harrods and Paul Smith. Last year, they launched FutureFlowers, a free, three-month mentorship programme that offers fundamental access and training to non-white people.

What inspired FutureFlowers?

RSC: Floristry is a difficult industry to get into. There’s no money for people just starting out – you’re expected to work for free, or for very minimal wages, and you do the most basic types of work. The alternative for those wanting to learn is to pay for a course that costs thousands of pounds per week. Even for us, as two capable women who had previous careers [St Clair in healthcare and Mathieson in hospitality] and some money from previous jobs behind us, it was hard.

IM: We have always tried to hire a workforce that reflected us and our friends, but we couldn’t find any florists who were black or brown or Asian. We realised that there were very real barriers for people getting into this industry; we wanted to open it up and make it a more diverse place. We started promoting the programme on Instagram; people can apply through our website, and we have a waiting list for placements. It’s been a huge success.

What do candidates learn?

IM: Everything from the basics like building and wrapping a bouquet to creating wedding installations, but also how to run and market a business. It was important to us that we equip people with the skills and knowledge to be able to launch their own businesses or become a freelancer. We started Sage after career changes and we want to teach our students everything we wished we’d known at the time, so they know it’s a viable career path and not a hobby.

Is there a gender gap in the industry?

RSC: It’s really asymmetric at various levels. Most florists are women, but market traders, who we buy the flowers from, tend to be men. And the business owners on the whole are men. There’s very little representation of women in the places of influence, but we are the majority workforce. There just aren’t enough female business owners; I think men just feel more confident taking risks and going for it. We don’t run Sage in a cut-throat way, we’re very empathetic. We hope it inspires women to give it a go.

What about work-life balance?

IM: It can be quite difficult for a woman to have a family and a career, and we should never have to choose. I’ve just had a baby, and floristry can be really good option for women who want both as the hours can be quite flexible; it’s not always nine-to-five, it can be 6am to 2pm, or overnight. It’s important that women work in an industry that they feel is supportive and accommodating.

By nurturing new talent, what changes do you hope to bring about?

RSC: These people that are exposed and trained properly are going to bring a completely new perspective and shake up the narrative of the industry in 10 or 15 years’ time; they’re not just going to be creating pretty bouquets of peonies in the Cotswolds. Their concepts and how they express themselves through flowers are going to be different. It’s exciting.

sageflowers.co.uk

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