In our brand new series of blog posts – Love What You Do – we chat with a variety of small business owners from the creative industries, those who have chosen a career path doing what they are truly passionate about. No matter what your niche or industry, we can all learn and get inspired by others; challenges and journeys will resonate, doubts and worries will be familiar, but we all have one thing in common – we love what we do.
First up with chat with floral designer Hazel Gardiner, who we are also excited to be collaborating with on this month’s Creative Session, where Hazel will be sharing her knowledge on video content – how to create it and utilise it. Details at the bottom of the post…
Having established a successful career in television production, a health-scare led Hazel Gardiner to reconsider her work-life balance and create a business following one of her lifelong passions, her love of flowers
Hi Hazel! Tell us about your work…
I’m a multi-material floral designer who creates unexpected visual stories using a mix of dried, silk and fresh. I’m focused on the relationship between colour, texture and depth to create a new narrative.
How did Hazel Gardiner Design come to be?
My mother is an incredibly talented gardener and many of my weekends were filled with horticultural adventures. I’ve always been drawn to nature, but a health-scare made me reassess my work life balance forever. After completing a four-week floristry training course I started the company and learnt lots on the job. My love for flowers is a combination of working with a product that is constantly evolving, but also fleeting, which pushes me to be inventive.
How did your career begin?
The skills I have from my previous roles have hugely benefited me in starting a floral design business. I studied journalism and broadcast at the London College of Fashion, which led to my first career in television production. I worked on large-scale live music events and documentaries. Following that I founded a vintage retail and event company specialising in 70s – 90s fashion and event production. After many years this came to a natural end due to a changing marketplace, personal interests and my taste evolving. I wanted to remain self-employed but needed more of a creative outlet.
Where does inspiration come from for you?
I find creativity in so many different things – from art and architecture to interior design and fashion. I like to travel as much as possible and see the world to soak up different cultures and see others’ visual language. There are certain museums that always either calm my mind to make way for creativity or ignite inventiveness, such as The Wallace Collection and the V&A.
How did you first discover your love for what you do?
I had a passion before I started, I think anyone making a second or third career change needs to know they are sufficiently passionate before taking the leap. Floristry comes in many different guises. I knew that I wanted to utilise all my experience and create scenes working on large-scale events, forward-thinking weddings and editorials.
How would you describe your style? I create dramatic arrangements with a strong sense of movement that embrace the natural form. I like to mix materials, and try not to put up any boundaries on how I get to my final designs. That said, I am a firm believer that you need to know the fundamental rules of floral design so you can successfully go against them.
What career would you pursue if you weren’t a floral artist and stylist?
Outside of garden design, which feels like cheating as it’s intertwined with what I do, I would love to be a make-up artist. I’m obsessed with skincare and beauty. I often get lost in YouTube tutorials. I find the process of make-up application therapeutic, it’s art.
Could you describe a typical working day?
The beauty of my business is that no two days are the same. This has shifted dramatically in the last 3 months [due to the pandemic]. My days now start with either yoga or high-intensity interval training followed by checking emails, working on proposals, and Zooms about exciting future projects. There is also a large dose of must-do admin, such as accounting and social media planning. I’ve just started shooting with brands again after the lock-down, which has been incredible. I have really missed collaborating with others.
What are the values underpinning your business?
Inclusivity, sustainability, and authenticity. To always be open to learning from your peers and in-turn share your knowledge with those that need it.
What has been the greatest hurdle in starting your own business?
Getting over my initial ‘imposter syndrome’. I wish I hadn’t berated myself for not immediately knowing every flower name or technique after training. Looking back, I was way too hard on myself.
Could you describe your work process?
There are many factors you can’t control in working with flowers. I like to be prepared, knowledgeable and ready for any eventuality, and I’m a fan of a robust planning and testing mechanics to minimise unnecessary stress. Day-to-day I like my surroundings to be in order, even if there are buckets of flowers in every corner. Also, music is important to me. When working with a team it keeps the mood relaxed and upbeat, and when solo, it helps me get in the creative zone.
What sort of space do you work in?
I work from home. Luckily, we renovated the year I re-trained, creating an open-plan living area and separate office. The garden also houses a marquee in the summer, which is perfect when working on events or weddings with a team of freelancers. I have outgrown the office and vases are bursting from every shelf, which is why a garden studio is coming this Autumn! I can’t wait to have a permanent studio space to create in at any time…nor can my husband!
Where are you based, and what is your local community like?
I’m based in Stoke Newington [London], which does have a ‘village’ feel but since lockdown I have met so many more neighbours. I also sell dried flower bouquets in a local homeware shop called Know & Love. Karen, the owner, has opened my eyes to even more creative talent as she only sells items crafted by local makers, designers and artists.
Has your work evolved since you began?
It absolutely has, I look back on my early work and it is much more traditional in style. I think every florist has a period of exploration. Finding your signature style only comes through experience. Once I had more confidence in my ability, I could trust my instinct to experiment with different materials, scale and placement.
Is there an element of your work that you love the most?
I get the most satisfaction translating a brand’s product or couple’s personality into flowers. Successfully encapsulating a mood, colour palette or even feeling is priceless. I thrive working with others and love nothing more than chatting flowers or learning from others in my industry.
How valuable is the online community to your work?
After the Black Lives Matter movement, I have been amazed at how much support I have received. I have met clients, collaborators, and friends on social media. It’s invaluable for expanding my flower knowledge. I don’t look at other florists’ work too much, so I keep ideas fresh and prevent negative comparison.
What’s been the biggest eye-opener for you in running your business?
My previous business experience has definitely made things easier. The biggest shock was learning how to work with a perishable product that fluctuates in price and availability.
How do you differentiate yourself in a creative industry?
By being true to yourself and having integrity in what you do. Embracing your individuality will naturally lead to you creating work with passion, which is always the most successful.
What are the joys and challenges of working as an independent?
I love being in control of my own destiny and workflow. This is also the hardest thing. During these times it’s definitely a struggle to not let anxiety creep in due to the uncertainty.
How do you approach marketing and PR?
I have always used social media to promote my business alongside generating my own content, rather than solely relying on showcasing paid commissions. The most invaluable activities are collaborating with like-minded brands. This can be in the guise of a competition, shoot, IGTV content or workshops. As a service provider it is often word of mouth too.
What have been your business highlights so far?
There are many – seeing my work in Liberty and creating a nationwide campaign for SpaceNK was incredible, especially seeing my work in the window and displayed in-store. The most rewarding work is with Us Programme, a project set up by the incredible Victoria Azubuike. Its aim is to help inspire and educate young women from disadvantaged backgrounds, predominantly in the BAME and LGBTQIA+ community. I will be running free workshops and speaking at events.
What’s one thing people would be surprised you do in your job?
I’m constantly in Wickes or collecting things from Toolstation. I must also be an engineer in this job! I often need to work out how to secure an XL hanging installation or create a backdrop in 30 minutes.
The most important lesson that running your business has taught you about life?
Balance, and boundaries. If you push your body or mind too far, at some stage it will let you know it’s had enough. Due to my past, I’m always acutely aware of this. I also don’t look at my phone after 7pm where possible. Having a digital detox and keeping in the moment are musts.
Any tips for independent creative businesses just starting out?
Be yourself, be adaptable, don’t get obsessed with the competition, ask for help, admit defeat and outsource things you can’t or don’t have time to do. And find a mentor and a really good accountant!
What does the next year hold for you?
I’ll soon be launching a dried flower bouquet service with a difference. Customers can tell me the colours they want, and I will customise an arrangement to match. It’s the perfect way to quickly personalise your interior. I’ve also just signed with a TV agent and I’m also currently working on something which I can’t mention quite yet!
Books I love:
I’m with the Band: Confessions of a Groupie by Pamela Des Barres
Grace Wales Bonner, Pat McGrath, photographer Alys Tomlinson
Shops I love:
City Pharma in Paris, ABC Carpets in NYC, Petersham Nurseries in Richmond
Mark Rothko room at the Tate Modern and Marianne North Gallery at Kew Gardens
Instagrammers I love:
I love spending my spare time:
Gardening, alongside reading non-fiction – often the life stories of artists or musicians
DON’T MISS IT!
We are thrilled that Hazel will be sharing some of her wisdom with us in our next online Creative Session, happening on the 19th August at 8pm. Hazel will be talking about VIDEO: HOW TO UTILISE IT’S POWER TO ATTRACT AND ENGAGE CUSTOMERS. Video content is becoming more and more important in the world of social media and marketing, so if you want to keep up, then this session is going to be invaluable! Grab your ticket here.