Meet the Maker: Stuart and Estee
This post marks the first of our ‘Meet the Maker’ series where we interview industry professionals to gain an insight into the type of work they do and some of their favourite things.
We would like to introduce our first guests - power couple, new parents to baby Mimi and directors of Austin Bloom: Stu and Estee Austin.
Without further ado, let’s jump into the questions!
Hi Stu and Estee! Our first question is - how many years have you both worked in the industry?
S: I’ve worked as a designer for a while but I’ve worked in the flower industry since 2012 when we first started the pop up in Balhannah on the side of the road of a local café in the hills called The White House.
E: Well when I started I wouldn’t call myself a florist. Initially it was an extension of the retail and visual arts training I had done, kind of a side hobby, but I can’t tell you exactly why I entered the floristry industry. I didn’t have any prior learning at other florists and I didn’t really understand what florists did but I liked the idea – little did I know what it entailed!
S: Yeah, we started the pop up in 2012 but it wasn’t until the end of 2014 where we decided to seriously pursue a future in the floristry industry and opened the first Austin Bloom shop in Balhannah.
E: During those 2 years, I spent time gaining skills under my belt, dabbling with wedding flowers and doing projects for friends and people that liked what we did at the pop up. I would say I was very inspired by a friend of mine, Annabel Kerslake from Fete Magazine who encouraged me to start my business. We had worked together at Balhannah by Design (now called Living By Design) doing visual merchandising.
What life events led you to flowers?
E: My journey to flowers started from my experience in glass and graphic design where I had my own glass jewellery business and studied a visual arts degree at university. I was so inspired by graphic designers, sculptors and glass makers especially, but glass design was not something I felt I could see myself doing long term. My dream was to be a world famous graphic designer as I loved the marketing and sales side of advertising but I wasn’t technical enough to tackle the computer work so I realised I would never quench my ambition in that way. When I met my partner Stuart, I found his technical mind complemented my creative mind and that balance helped us tackle projects together as a team.
S: For me, it probably starts from our block in the hills in Verdun which was populated with beautiful natives and I was doing horticulture at the time so I was very interested in flowers. But I think I have always been drawn to flowers, even when I was studying illustration and creating artwork, I found myself painting flowers so I think there has always been a strong connection.
E: I agree - I think that the progress of my design career into floristry just came naturally. Going back to my childhood, flowers were omnipresent. We had a property in Strathalbyn filled with beautiful flowers. My dad was very passionate about the garden and we would go for daily walks marvelling at the almond blossom trees and incredible roses. But the turning point for me was when I walked into a beautiful florist in Sydney called Grandiflora in 2013 and I said to Stu that we needed a shop of our own like that one. That sparked inspiration for me and set me on a path to study and research florists in Melbourne and Sydney about what could be achieved artistically and sculpturally with flowers.
What inspired you to both start Austin Bloom?
E: I guess I couldn’t cope with another 5 gerberas in a box. I couldn’t understand why there was no one in Adelaide pushing the boundaries of standard floristry and why people did not understand the dollar value of design. We wanted to change people’s perceptions and visions of floristry in Adelaide.
S: Austin Bloom was born out of a desire to create a business that had a strong design focus and pushed the boundaries of what could be offered with floral design. We found at the time that there was nothing in Adelaide with that kind of design focus so in that way, there was a unique opening in the market presented to us which we decided to take. Personally, I’ve always been very entrepreneurial and dreamed of starting my own design business so I think flowers were the perfect medium for us at the time where we could fulfil our desire to create and give to other people and help with our services.
Why are you passionate about flowers?
E: It’s pretty amazing how you can never create the same thing twice – after all my years in the industry, every piece you create is unique because no two flowers are the same. There is such a beauty in it’s natural form and each stem has its own shape and energy and feel and because of that, you can’t create an identical cookie cutter product, there’s always some new interest.
S: Flowers are an amazing medium. They’re completely natural and that’s what makes them so special and I find it an absolute privilege to work with them. It really connects you to the natural world in a way that other design mediums cannot.
How do you feel about the floristry industry?
E: Industry wise, it is a bit ridiculous in the sense that flowers can be grown in South Australia and sent around the country and back to South Australia again. Bigger chains have flowers sent from Adelaide to Queensland for redistribution and then back to Adelaide to go into supermarkets. From the grower to the seller, there is a ridiculous amount of kilometres spent in transit and you’re dealing with a dying product. Intense logistics usually mean flowers need more chemicals to sustain the journey. For example, we get roses from Ecuador but it seems crazy that we need to go overseas to get roses that last.
S: It is a hard and complicated industry and making consistently good products with a perishable medium while maintaining excellent customer service is a real challenge. It’s not impossible, but it’s not easy! The emergence and rise of big wholesalers and supermarkets also compromises the industry and to an extent, bastardises it as it changes the perception of flowers and the expectation to customers that flowers are cheap when in reality, good quality flowers are not. They are a perishable item with lots of steps in the logistical process and trying to educate people so that they understand the value of what we are selling is hard sometimes. Of course, there are good and bad quality flowers available but it’s about educating people so that they can look out for quality and make decisions for themselves. At the end of the day, I recognise that it’s a tough industry but I’m drawn to a good challenge and making it work.
Do you have a favourite flower and/or a favourite trend?
E: I have to admit that I’m not really looking at many trends at the moment but I like any styles that have an abstract shape and I really love the clustered look. Picking a favourite flower is hard but I think that the magnolia x soulangeana (flowering magnolia) at the moment is beautiful.
S: Style wise, I love the edgy sort of New York, London flower style that I feel we emulate when do some of our best work. That aesthetic and architectural form is what I enjoy most with using flowers. I love using non-conventional flowers or reworking traditional flowers in a non-conventional way. With trends, I think the key words are ‘expressive’ and ‘experimental’ when it comes to trends that I identify with. My favourite flower is bouvardia because of the geometric shape, I think they’re really cool.
What trends do you predict for the future of floristry?
S: With our future trends, we will be mixing mediums a lot, whether that becomes wide spread, I’m not sure. We’ve always tried to lead changes in perception of the public and experimentation with different uses of flowers and we hope to continue this into the future. I don’t know if traditional florists will always be around, but I don’t think they are going anywhere quick. There will always be a demand for real flowers and perishables but I wonder if there will be a move towards sustainable floristry, flowers and products that last and plant based design. A lot of the future trends will depend on climate and how we care for our environment.
E: And perhaps people will become less likely to buy the real thing and move to a more digital version online that isn’t necessary in the flesh. Do we need to satisfy that tactile sense? Are people becoming more conscious of the logistics involved? I’m not sure about the future of flowers, it’s hard to predict, the world is changing so rapidly.
What is the biggest misconception about the floristry industry that you wish customers knew?
E: It’s very physically demanding, it can be lonely, brutal and hard on the body. But I suppose it keeps you physically fit! There is a pretty common misconception about the time involved and the sheer physical labour and amount of work that goes into one bunch. The amount of time and energy required to grow even one stem before it gets into our shop and then the labour that goes on that… no one would understand the process and the costs.
S: It would be wonderful is customers knew the realistic costs associated with floristry. That would be an awesome starting point in terms of customer expectations and end product expectations and an appreciation for the hard work and the industry because our main goal is customer satisfaction.
E: We can’t control the flower’s life and how it’s been cared for. Sometimes the flower looks perfect when we purchase them but we don’t know how many times they have been fumigated before they arrive in Australia. A lot of blame is placed on us when flowers die unexpectedly which is hard because we do take it to heart when it happens. We are not always compensated from the wholesalers but we are left with the responsibility to refund the customer and have our reputation tainted over something that is so uncontrollable to us.
Where would you like the industry to go in the future?
S: We would definitely like to see the industry move towards an environmental and educational focus. There’s so much waste and it’s frustrating when you’re working with a natural good.
E: Knowledge is big for us as well which I think is essential for people having a greater appreciation for what florists do and respecting the industry. We want customers to have their eyes open and be happy to push the boundaries.
S: I think in some ways, floristry needs more recognition as an industry that takes a lot of hard work and an advanced skills set, it’s not something that you can pick up easily without training and practice. It will be wonderful to see the industry become more expressive and recognised for what it is and that starts with education for customers.
Thank you to Stu and Estee for offering us an insight into the story behind Austin Bloom and what drives their passion and creativity. We can't wait to see what you guys have in store next!
Team Austin Bloom x
Phone: (08) 7226 3287