Photos by Asia Morris.
As purveyors of an oftentimes overlooked art form, florists hide in the grey area between fine art and retail, in the cracks that constitute the difference between an institutional installation and mere decoration. Misconceptions of the job description often involve the image of a sedentary worker, using her dainty hands to prim and pluck delicate flora into low-maintenance masterpieces. In actuality, the job is much more demanding than it seems.
And when it comes to starting a floristry business, that’s a feat all on its own.
Brittany Sherman, a Long Beach resident and floral artist, has been waiting for the right time to strike out on her own with a small business she's calling Fern + Feather.
Sherman has jumped through the laborious hoops of the industry’s culture, starting out at the lowest rung of the ladder at age 16 with absolutely no knowledge or expertise. From cleaning coolers and buckets all day to her current status as an on-the-verge, independent small business owner, she compared her humble beginnings to the career path of a chef.
“If you want to be a chef you don’t walk into the kitchen one day and start being the head chef. You start from the bottom chopping onions, probably all day, and essentially that’s how I started: chopping onions, the equivalent of cleaning buckets... I did that for the first two years when I was working at a shop in Corona del Mar. By my fifth year I was the manager, I purchased all the flowers, did the inventory, did all the visual merchandising, took orders, routed the driver; I ran the shop.”
Eventually, Sherman developed her own sense of style and searched for businesses that accompanied her taste for a modern aesthetic. She found a shop in Venice whose style had veered from the quaint, outdated and sometimes-gaudy variety found in most floral chains' repertoires, pursued the idea and landed the job. Starting from the bottom once again, she learned in a fast-paced, high-stress work environment that there are two kinds of employees; the ones who are there for the paycheck and the ones who are pursuing their passion.
“You always start from the bottom because you just don’t know how they do things," Sherman said. "Then you get comfortable and the other employees start to respect you and then, finally, you just take on more responsibility, if you’re that kind of person.
"There’s the kind of worker that does as little as possible for as much money as possible and then there’s the kind that assumes responsibility, that takes it all on. I’m that way, but it’s to your own detriment most of the time because at the end of the day it’s someone else’s business. And you're taking all this on, but you’re not taking any risk so you’re not really getting any of the reward, just the responsibility.”
Take the experience, the responsibility, the creativity, subtract the fact that someone else owns the business and add a little risk and you may just have all you need to get started. “The risk is scary,” she said, “but the reward is great.” And there’s nothing like flying by the seat of your pants for the sake of your passion, even when that passion may provide a lot less than you think it’s worth.
“If you took what you actually made from the event and you split it into hours you’re probably better off picking apples,” she said with a sly smile, “but when you love something so much you just forget about all that. When you see the end result from an idea that you’d maybe written on a piece of paper, rewarding can’t even begin to describe it. It’s just...really fulfilling.”
Sherman has an impressive resume. She has designed, constructed and implemented installations for events big and small, as part of a wide variety of stints at multiple shops. One event in particular stands out. “We were covering chandeliers bigger than my living room with flowers,” Sherman said, “there were four of them. Each one takes about two hours if you’re working at a good pace, especially if the mechanics are already affixed to the the structure, but there was an earthquake. I was on a platform with about ten five-gallon buckets of water and I didn’t even feel it. The structure moved a little bit. Everyone had left the room and I didn’t realize why.”
As Sherman explains it, a florist must be inventive and mechanically savvy, able to find cost-effective solutions for projects that look simple once they’re finished. Being a florist oftentimes mimics the job of a set designer, someone who has to create a believable environment out of thin air.
“When I worked in Venice, we had to make these giant spheres of moss for the SAG awards," Sherman said. "You have to build a lightweight structure to place the moss on top of… I found that you can buy half of a styrofoam dome shape, so you would have to put the two halves together, cover them in moss, then hang them from the ceiling. They simply don’t make these things for the industry.”
Sherman is used to the surprise she gets from friends and inquirers when she tells them exactly what her profession requires. “You find yourself in some really funny situations that people could never imagine you doing with flowers,” she explained. “They think you just frolic around in daisies all day when I seriously can never keep a manicure, I’m always a mess, my space is always a mess, because it’s just a messy job and it requires a lot of heavy lifting. If you can’t lift more than 75 pounds it’s going to be difficult for you as a florist.”
Sherman has a fairly modern aesthetic and takes a creative approach to her work, but ultimately knows that it’s up to her client(s). “I do like a more up-to-date version of things,” she explained. “I think taking a fresh approach is better for the end result but I think that overall, the style is depicted by the situation or event or specific person or the couple that is putting on the event.” Sherman keeps an open mind when it comes to her design. She said, “I don’t like to funnel down into one aesthetic because you just won’t get to play with so many things, you know?”
She believes that Long Beach has room for all its florists. “Everyone has a different aesthetic,” she explained, “and I’m not always going to be able to fulfill that and same for the other florists, there’s always going to be enough to go around.”
When asked why she uses flowers as her artistic medium of choice, Sherman was confused. She said, “There’s no answer to that. Because... flowers. Why wouldn’t you?” She added with a laugh, “I’m totally OCD, so the idea of putting a whole bunch of things in a container is exciting to me.”
Sherman arranged a “lush pavé of crisp white roses” [pictured above] for our meeting and explained that a pavé is the French word for pavement. She explained that the compact style of her piece reflected the cobblestones of France.
While Sherman works out of her garage-turned-studio at home, she hopes to open up a brick-and-mortar shop when the time and place feels right. Working hard is not the only method to success, she finds, but having patience is also a necessity for growth. “I want everything to happen overnight but it just doesn’t,” she said, “and when you force things like that you tire yourself out and have nothing to show for it. My experience with starting my own business is you have to relax and you have to work smart and not just work hard… Last year, or even the year before that I wasn’t ready to do this, but now I am and I’m not going to stop, so it has to work out.”