I RECENTLY RECEIVED A BUNCH OF BLOOMS to my Sydney Office. Simple, fresh & non fussy – with packaging to match. Attached by a little wooden peg was a chic logo ‘Willow + Bear’. Before I even put the stems in water, I jumped on to the companies Instagram & Website, & shot off an email to the founder, Aimie Ryan, requesting to interview her. Thrilled when she agreed, because I loved her work so much, and thought her concept & simplicity of business model where genius; 3 sizes of bunches on offer + blooms change weekly + chic floral design. What I didn’t realize at the time, was that like me, she was completely self taught. I have much admiration for the ‘self-taughters’ out there – maybe its because I know exactly where they have come from, or more so, when people tell me that I was ‘brave’ to start my own business, what I really was, was 21 & naive. It is the women who are starting their own companies (especially being self taught!), leaving comfortable careers, in their mid 20’s & beyond, or also in Aimie’s case, with a 2 month old son (!) who are the brave ones. So if you’ve got a dream, but letting the fact that you are self taught hinder you from chasing it, then Aimie’s story is for you…..
NAME: AIMIE RYAN
COMPANY: WILLOW AND BEAR
TITLE(S): FLORAL STYLIST / DIRECTOR
How would you describe yourself in 5 words? Honest, Intuitive, Spontaneous, Dreamer + an absolute Perfectionist (...which I hate to admit)
What is the long version of how you got to where you are today? Ever since I was tiny I had a love for flowers, during my school years I remember always picking flowers from the playground garden and putting them in my popper for my desk. in hindsight I should have realized then, that this was my calling but after graduating I went on to follow my other passions of Interior Design, Fashion Styling, Advertising + Events.
I dabbled between the creative industries over the years, which took me over to Europe living for several of them, but after being caged up in the corporate world for way too long I decide to make a change.
It came when I had my son, Bear 2 years ago, at the time I found that a lot of florists were very traditional in their approach to floristry, on offer were beautiful blooms in a store window, which don’t get me wrong those window fronts were to die for and so was their work, but I always felt the florists that I were inspired by, I also had to sell half my house in order to get a small bouquet. The ones that were doing it cheap were doing it cheap for a reason, tacky imports with no quality of life to them & style definitely didn’t count; this is what pushed me to create Willow + Bear.
I found myself spending endless hours between feeds & nap time making my dream becoming a reality. Bear was all of 2 months old and I was already under way building the website, renovating the studio, hitting the flowers markets at 4am, & introducing myself to the growers trying to build relationships & study this beautiful industry of flowers.
My whole aim entering the world of the flowers was about making blooms more accessible to the consumer. Our motto ‘Minimising the cost, preventing waste + keeping it local’ we were able to achieve this by being based purely online and by working out of our studio, this therefore meant less overheads, by coming up with the concept of only offering two different arrangements per week meant there was less waste and keeping it local is just about supporting the growers of Australia, which is really important for the future of our farmers. From weekly blooms, to subscriptions, to events we had found our niche in the market.
We have no plans to open a store in the foreseeable future, we love the personable nature of working from a studio, I have clients come by just so they can play with my bulldog Ralphie, others like to know they can come by any time of the day whether it be 7am before they head off to work, or 10pm that night. I am always here. Those who are not local are thrilled to learn we deliver Sydney wide. Yes we may not have the foot traffic but we prefer to do blooms for people that are passionate about our approach. It has never been about the money, but about sharing what I love with others who can appreciate it. Our clients love nothing more then the idea of flowers being readily available to them, the concept of having new flower designs hitting their news feed each week on social media excites, and inspires them. For me I couldn’t ask for any more!
I think it is really important people can explain their main message in a concise paragraph – if the above is the full version - What is you elevator pitch on what you do? Willow + Bear is all about making blooms more accessible, I aim to conquer the world by minimizing the cost, preventing waste and keeping it local without skimping on quality or style in the name of all things floral.
Are you doing what you thought you would be doing 10 years ago? (If not, what did you think you would be doing?) I definitely knew I would be within the creative industry but doing what, I had no idea! I knew I definitely wasn’t made for a desk job, though that’s for sure.
What does ‘success’ mean to you, and do you consider yourself ‘successful’? I don’t measure success by the amount of money a business turns over, but by the achievement of ones goals. In this day in age I admire anyone who has the courage to follow their dreams, go out on his or her own and achieve greatness doing what they love. The joy I receive on a daily basis doing something that has being a lifelong passion, will beat any job paying the big bucks.
What do you still want to achieve (personally & / or professionally)? I continue to strive for a work, life, balance. I love the fact that I am my own boss, which allows me to write the rules. I hope to be able to continue to inspire others through my work and be inspired by the love from my family making the most of each and every moment cherishing the good and bad and continually growing as a person.
Did you study anything specific for the career you are in? I studied in Interior Design + Fashion Styling, so have been within the creative arts, however I am completely self taught when it comes to the world of flowers.
What have been the most rewarding things in your career to date? Just the general overhaul of love that is received on a daily basis, there is so much self doubt within the creative process that to receive recognition through clients, the industry and editorials is just beautiful. It helps to clarify in your mind that you are doing what you are meant to be doing and I pinch myself every day with just how lucky I am, nothing cant beat that.
Tell us about your workspace (Office / café / couch / aesthetic) what inspires you about your workspace? I am a complete minimalist at heart, anything raw or natural blended with black, white + grey. My studio has a real warehouse feel to it, flooded with natural light, the brick walls are painted white, Concrete wash basin, Pine workbench, Fibre Clay pots with greenery everywhere and black and white artwork covering the walls. The flowers are what inject the studio with character and colour each week.
What are some frustrations you have experiences on your career journey? I would say when your creativity has a relapse, being a one man team sometimes you find yourself doing the role of 5 people, so you have days when it all gets too much and your brain is literally fried. You can 2nd guess your designs and worry that what you are putting out there won’t be well received. I always like to take 5 when this happens, A downwood dog, Coffee break or a quick dip in the ocean normally shakes off any spider webs.
When was the last time you where overwhelmed & cried from something provoked by work / work load? It was a lot more recent then I'd like to admit unfortunately, I am a complete blubbering mess at times especially when sleep deprived. At least once a month I am bound to have a mini breakdown whether it be due to workload, my creative juices not flowing for me, or simply just overworked/overtired. I think it is good to let it out though, we are woman that is what we do. After letting it out 5 minutes later you feel like a million dollars again, I'd rather do that then sweat on something all day long and feel miserable. Ha!
Would you say you put pressure on yourself? Has this gotten more or less as you progress in your career? I am totally and utterly my own worst critic, it is well known that self-doubt is part of the creative process and when you are a one-man team it is really hard at times having no one to bounce your ideas or designs off. I have slowly managed to gain more and more confidence in what I am putting out there and it starting to pay off.
If you are a business owner – and you often can’t just check out / have a week off when you are dealing with personal things – how do you keep on keeping on with your business when things get tough? I think just overall time management. I've never been my own boss before and starting my own business I have found myself being more than one person. I am the florist, the bookkeeper, the PR chick, the delivery driver, and the cleaner.
Gone are the days of working 9-5pm, now my days start at 3.30am & sometimes don’t end till 11pm at night.
Luckily for me I have the best Mum & Hubby in the world, who without them Willow + Bear wouldn’t be what it is today. My dearest Mum sleeps over the night before every market to be there for my son, Bear when he wakes in the morning, once fed and dressed she then cleans the entire house & has the studio all set up for me ready to get to work for the day, (she is my token water lady filling up all the buckets). She then drops Bear off at daycare, finishing her day off by doing a few flower deliveries for me on the way home from work (yes she still works full time too).
My Hubby Luke is the yin to my yang, when I've had a frantically busy day, he has a wine ready for me & dinner served on the table & when it comes to the bookkeeping he is my little Accountant, sitting down with me each month and going through everything with me so I don’t miss anything. Math’s was definitely not my strongest subject in school that’s for sure.
Times when I haven’t stopped which sometimes can last months throughout wedding season, I simply take the time off. Again another perk of being your own boss, right?! I know a lot of business owners struggle to find the balance and there definitely is a lot of planning involved to book the right dates to ensure your mini break doesn’t fall right before a huge event (I've made that mistake before went I spent the entire time we were away on the phone organizing everything, it definitely wasn’t much of a holiday) but it is so important to make time for yourself, Luke and I just finished booking a week up in Noosa, and I will lap up every bit of sun and relaxation that little piece of paradise can throw at me, don’t you worry!
Has your career affected your personal life / relationships? If so how? I always felt working out of our studio from home, I would have all this spare time on my hands, no commute to/from the office, no out of hour business meetings but in reality I actually find myself working harder and longer hours then ever.
There are times when my days start at 3.30am from the moment I head off to the markets, followed by a full on day working in the studio on online orders and events, finishing off the day with quotes, bridal appointments, ordering, book keeping etc and most days will find myself not finishing till 11pm that night. It definitely can take it’s toll on you both physically and emotionally, but the fact that I have a doting husband who supports me, and I love what I do helps me get through it. When we have these crazy times we always make sure we put some much needed family time aside for the weekend and really treasure the time we have together when we can get it. Physically the fact I have my masseuses number on speed dial definitely helps.
Has your journey at times felt lonely? How? Before working in floristy I was in the advertising world, agency life was wonderful. I was surrounded by so many young, amazing and creative people with some becoming life long friends, I definitely miss the buzzing industry, there were so many social benefits. Nowadays the only form of communication I have is with my growers at 5am every morning, apart from that I have my dog Ralphie that keeps me company during the day in the studio. Which don’t get me wrong I love him to bits but sometimes miss that human interaction, I'm sure he thinks I am mad.
What causes you anxiety / sleepless nights? Working on big events can be rather crazy at times, there is so much that goes into the planning process, and sometimes I find myself second guessing the quantities of flowers I have ordered from my growers. There are many sleepless nights right before market day that is for sure!
If you had your time over again, from when you started your career to right now, would you do anything differently? No never. Don’t get me wrong there are some things that worked and some that didn’t but everything is a learning curve which made Willow + Bear what it is today. How boring would life be if we were perfect right?!
What advice would you give your 21 year old self? Be original, work hard, stay true to yourself, surround yourself with good people and find time to take a dip in the ocean.
Who are some women in business you admire & why? Lisa Messenger – Started off with no experience within the magazine world and since built an empire, everything she touches turns to magic and is truly an inspiration. Jessica Alba – Mother of two gorgeous girls, a global entrepreneur, businesswoman and a huge advocate for charity, she is the ultimate mover and shaker.
What traits do you admire in people you surround yourself with? Honest, Warm, Caring, Fun, Drama free and loyal
Work life balance… Does it exist (I don’t think it does!) and how to maintain it, or a sense of it? Yes 100% it exists we just need to believe in it, most of us tend to work ourselves to the bone but at the end of the day they are not the memories we will hold dear when we hit 80 years old and are looking back on our life.
I think it is so important to make time for your family, yourself and friends. Those moments of laughter shared over a wine or two with your girlfriends, the day your child walks for the first time, that gig you caught last Saturday night. All these moments you will cherish and never forget. I’m sure we will never look back on and remember that day how amazing it felt to get back to 150 emails waiting your response. We are all guilty of it, especially me, and it is definitely a work in progress but with baby steps I am slowly getting there.
Have you ever thought about giving up / quitting? If so, does that feeling hit from the same triggers? Why haven’t you quit? Very early on in the piece I definitely questioned myself whether I was out of my mind for setting up Willow + Bear, the world of floristry was entirely new to me. Competition was becoming stiff with more and more young entrepreneurs flying the flag for florals, no one in the industry wanted to help or mentor an unknown. There were a lot of florists who tried to take advantage of me, and others who simply closed their doors. In hindsight it was the best thing for me though, I was able to adapt into my own and steer clear of those that were in it for the wrong reason.
What is the biggest misconception about what you do? A lot of people think all we do all daylong is play with pretty flowers, in reality I spend the majority of my time in front of a computer screen doing quotes, planning or bookkeeping. If I am not there I am either, cleaning, stripping stems, delivering blooms across Sydney, or setting up at events. A lot of early starts, damaged hands and not to mention heavy lifting, the whole process of putting pretty flowers together is literally about 15% of my actual workload.
What advice would you give someone who is starting out in your industry? Find that gap in the market and succeed by staying true to yourself. Collaborate as much as you can, so you are constantly developing as a designer.
If you knew what you know now, about how much work was involved to get you to where you are now, would you do it again or do something different, if so, what? I would do it all over the exact same time and time again.
I like the quote ‘Don’t just have a job, have a purpose’ - What do you want your legacy to be? I simply hope to inspire others and bring smiles to faces
The SAMANTHA WILLS FOUNDATION is about bringing women in business together – why do you think this is important / (why did you want to be involved in this interview)? Sisterhood is so important within this buzzing world we live in, full of entrepreneurs, Working Mum’s and Aspiring woman trying to kick butt in their particular field of work. We are all so relatable, each day going through the same waves of emotions and struggles, this is such an amazing platform to unite as one and support each other through our stories.
What are some of your favorite quotes?