Meet the Peckham duo challenging the stale and pale state of floristry with unusual arrangements and barrier-breaking initiatives.
Over the past few months, we’ve witnessed many of our favourite florist vendors being forced to shut up shop due to the pandemic. Two savvy Peckham florists, however, have managed to keep their flower shop alive, adapting to the backbreaking mission of creating heaps of colourful bouquets behind closed doors every day for home delivery.
Iona Mathieson and Romy St Clair are the owners and founders of SAGE Flowers, the South London florist shaking up the industry with a vibrant pick and mix selection of unique and contemporary floral designs. Adored by the likes of Rihanna and Stormzy, and by bloom-lovers across London, these young horticulturists made it to the top of their game without any formal training. In fact, it was exactly their unconventional route into floristry – as self-trained beginners who started selling their bunches out of a pop-up in a Peckham car park – that defined them as stand-out florists, setting out to debunk the traditional ‘rules’ of classic floristry one unusual arrangement at a time.
And now, the 20-somethings are using their blooms to challenge not only the staleness of floristry but its paleness too. Wanting to see the industry blossom into a more diverse field, the pair set up FutureFlowers last year, the country’s first diversity-focused flower school. The free, three-month course trains aspiring florists in the basics of floristry and business.
Separated in lockdown from your sweetheart this Valentine’s Day? SAGE has got you covered – they’ve just announced that they’re also launching a national delivery service just in time for the special day. We caught up with them below talking lockdown adaptation, boundary-pushing arrangements and quirky inspirations.
Check out the interview below…
Hi Iona and Romy – how’s lockdown been for you? And how has it impacted your work and creativity?
Hi! Lockdown has completely changed our business. We went from doing flowers for multiple events a week, to a very busy bouquet delivery service. It’s a complete change, and has taken time to adapt to and perfect, but we’re pretty much there now! Working on smaller scales and budgets with the delivery service does make finding ways to be creative more difficult – but we’re trying to keep it interesting by using seasonal flowers and changing the designs weekly.
Can you tell us first how you both met, and how the idea for SAGE Flowers came about?
We met through our partners at the time. We both were pretty frustrated in our professions and wanting to move into floristry. They put us in touch, we went for a coffee and SAGE was born.
Your influences – which range from art, design and subcultures – and incredibly unusual installations have set SAGE apart from other florists – how are you trying to push the boundaries of what is achievable in floristry?
Thank you! I think it’s mostly about unusual combinations, either of flowers, textures or colours, testing peoples’ perceptions of what they like or what they believe belongs together.
And neither of you are formally trained – do you think this has allowed you to push the boundaries without any mental restrictions of what is achievable?
Yep, neither of us have had any formal training, we learnt on the job. It definitely helps develop your own style – it’s hard to let go of what you’ve been shown and told is correct! Sometimes, it’s hard figuring out how you’re going to make it work, and it does make you doubt yourself!
Can you tell us the most unusual or niche place you’ve found inspiration for an arrangement or installation?
Hmmm, different for both of us. Iona did some arrangements based around her walk down Rye Lane (in Peckham), the local shops and their offerings, from hair products to produce bags. Romy found inspiration from the colour palette in the iconic Hype William’s film Belly.
What shocked you both about the sexism, racism and lack of diversity rooted in floristry and horticulture? And even the classist aspect, as flowers have historically been considered a “luxury”? Could you talk a little about this?
I guess when we first started, we were shocked by the lack of diversity as most creative industries, particularly in London, are much more diverse. Sadly, florists mostly consist of white women, and flower traders mostly consist of white men.
The racism and classism you mentioned is deeply rooted in colonialism, how flowers were discovered by explorers and brought back to their homes as an exotic, rare, luxury good, and named after the discoverer, removing the connection to its origin.
Flowers are imported from South America and Africa for the richer to enjoy. There has been some work on establishing fair trade in floristry, but there’s still a long way to go to make the industry a diverse and equal one.
Can you tell us how your work with Rihanna’s Fenty project came about? Was there a brief in mind? Did you guys get to meet her?
We were introduced to Rhianna’s team via our client and friend Metallic Inc. The party was on a Monday the first week of December, and we found out about it on the Saturday. Flower markets are shut on Sundays, so we weren’t able to plan at all! To make things even more complicated we were already booked to do Christmas installations throughout Sunday night. So, we worked all Sunday night, got those done around 3am, went straight to the flower market and around noon on Monday we were installing for the party on no sleep. We had different colour themes on each floor, representing different parts of the collection. We were invited to the party, and would have LOVED to have met Rhi Rhi, but we really needed to go to bed by that point.
After the Black Lives Matter protests, you guys incited an amazing conversation about the market’s lack of diversity during British Flowers Week – how did it feel to have all those countless responses and feel like you were doing something positive as well as changing the landscape of what the industry looks like?
There was a really positive response within the general public, unfortunately it’s not converted into much change, so whilst we’re proud to have started the conversation, we certainly aren’t giving ourselves any credit, there’s still so far to go. We hope to keep the conversation going, and doing our part to bring about some change.
Where did the idea for your diversity-focused flower school: Future Flowers, come from? And why is it important to remove the barriers for POC to enter the floristry world? What’s the nicest or most surprising feedback you’ve had from a student?
We know two of the major issues for getting into floristry for POC are (1) feeling welcomed and (2) being able to afford the training. We set up FutureFlowers to address this, we were finally at a point in our careers where we had the time and resources to do it! Flowers are for everyone, and we really believe it will be a far more exciting and creative industry if all backgrounds can participate.
The nicest outcome of the course is the value the students tell us they got from it. Some of them have done floristry courses at college and were not given any of the practical information around setting up your own company or promoting your services. Our course hopefully empowers the students to be business savy as well as florists and sustain themselves whilst creating their art.
You’ve worked with the likes of Fenty, Asai, Stine Goya and Gucci – what has been your biggest pinch-me moment so far?
We loved Fenty, Glossier was great too. They’re known for their support of florists, and you really get to do your own thing.
You guys have just launched national delivery which is amazing in the pandemic, and it seems you’re always considering new ways to expand – what is your five-year goal for Sage?
Thank you! Yes, we want to think much more broadly about what we can offer and how we can grow. In the next five years we’ll be looking at ways to bring SAGE to other countries, as well as expanding our educations programmes, and investing in research, documenting the origin and meaning of flowers.
Discover more at sageflowers.co.uk