In the sixth installment of our Creative Personalities series we talk to Anya Cluer.
The former fashion and textile designer is the founder of floral design studio 'Bloom East', based in the Greenwich area of South London. Named one of Tatler's best florists, Bloom East creates stunning floral displays for large scale luxury events and weddings as well as selling arrangements from their shop and website.
We caught up with her on a warm spring day to talk about how she got started in floristry, what her job involves and the colours which inspire her.
Read on to find out more...
Hi Anya, how would you describe Bloom East’s style?
I would say we are quite natural in our style but with a design eye. I think this is because I trained and worked as a designer for many years before starting the business.
When and how did you start your business? Is there anything you wish you’d done differently when you were starting out?
I started Bloom East in 2016 from my kitchen table!
Before that I had been working for over a decade as a textile designer in fashion and homeware. My job had become very much about travelling with buyers and working to targets and had slowly become less and less creative. I felt disconnected from the creativity I had been so enthusiastic about when I studied at art school.
The big leap came after I had my son; I started to think about retraining and was drawn to the idea of working with flowers. It felt like the perfect antidote to the mass production manufacturing and retail world I had been working in. The idea of being immersed in nature and creativity made me feel that enthusiasm I had been missing.
I retrained with a florist in Hong Kong and then I just went for it! I built my own website and took all the pictures myself. At first it was very small, I started out with some subscription flowers to my local community. I would go up to the flower market on the MTR (underground), come back with just a few wraps of flowers in my arms and make up bunches and deliver them with my son in the back of the car. I then got name-checked in Tatler and started working on bigger events and it grew from there.
After the birth of my second child, we relocated to London so I had to start completely from scratch again which wasn't easy as there are so many great florists in London. I took on a shared studio in a railway arch and I focused only on weddings and events as I felt this was something I could work around with two young kids. I purposely grew things quite slowly at this stage because my daughter was so little and needed me a lot. As she and my son have got older and more independent I have been able to give more time to the business.
As things grew, I hired other florists and started to build a team which is something I think is so important for any business.
When covid hit we suddenly saw all the event business disappear overnight. However, I decided to try adding some retail bunches to our website and it was a runaway success. Our retail arm grew and grew from there which has enabled us to reach a new customer base and build our team of talented florists.
Last year we moved into our own bricks and mortar studio where we have retail and workshop space. I am so excited about how the business has grown so much and can't wait to see what comes next.
If I was to do anything differently, I would say I might have decided to leave my textile design career and start Bloom East earlier. I was scared about leaving behind a salary and security but I think if I had the chance to speak to 2010 me now, I would say "go for it". I thought I needed investment and a business plan which always stopped me but in fact I just needed to get on with it. It probably would have been a bit easier if I'd got things going more before the babies came, but I guess it's easy to say that with hindsight.
What are the best (and worst!) parts of being a florist?
The best part, hands down, is the joy we get to bring to people day in day out. Be it a full wedding set up which takes the guest's breath away, or the smile we see when we deliver beautiful flowers from a friend or relative, we are part of bringing that love and happiness which is just the best feeling.
Another good thing is the slow, mindfulness of flower arranging. It can be very therapeutic and certainly was for me after such a busy past career.
The worst is all the bucket cleaning we have to do to take care of the flowers - the state of my hands is just the worst! And the early mornings..... although there is something magical about being alone in the quiet mornings with flowers before anyone else is awake.
Which flowers are in season and at their best right now?
Peony season (May and June) is just finishing, that is always a time people get very excited about flowers.
As we go into summer it's sweet peas, dahlias and garden roses that are the stars with pretty nigella, ammi and scabious which are very dancey flowers. Summer flowers are all quite showy and fluffy, they are like the bold sister to the more subtle, clean lines of spring flowers.
Do you have a favourite or signature colour combination?
Oh, it’s so hard to choose one! I would say we often get colours to sing when we combine complimentary colours from the opposite sides of the colour wheel. I am currently loving lilac and coral as a combination but in the spring I often go for dusty blue with a subtle sandy colour accented with sharp orange.
What’s involved in preparing flowers for a big event?
It starts with designing, this might be a large installation or could just be simple table flowers but for me it always starts with designing. If it's a big installation I need to quote for a client, then I will create drawings and visuals to show them what is in my head.
In the weeks just before the event we will be ordering flowers. Then in the days ahead we will get flowers delivered and also go up to the flower market to choose what is available. From experience I have learnt which supplier is best for foliage or British flowers and which for certain flowers so we always choose suppliers based on this. Timing is key with event flowers so for roses and peonies we need to get them in with enough time to open up for the event, for other flowers we might get them closer to the time so that they are very fresh on the day.
When we get flowers back to the studio we have to "condition" them which basically means we strip off all the foliage, cut the stems and place them in water. We need them to get really hydrated and ready for arranging.
We make up the flowers the day before the event unless it is for big installations which we have to do on site.
On the day of an event we normally start as early as possible, I like to make sure we have enough time to get everything done beautifully so we can make sure the vision comes to life.
One thing that is not often talked about is the clear up. For a really big wedding we will spend a day or two clearing down and washing, disposing of flowers etc. We try to encourage the clients to take as many flowers as they can and then we donate as much as possible to a great charity called Floral Angels; they rearrange leftover event flowers and take them to care homes to be enjoyed.
With weddings and events at the weekend do you find it difficult to take a break from work?
Yes definitely, especially in the early years when I felt like I had to say yes to everything just to build up a client base. I am trying to be more boundaried now and take one or two weekends off every month. Because I work a lot of weekends, I try to make time for myself during the week, like meeting my husband for lunch, getting my nails done with friends or swimming and yoga when I can squeeze it in.
I also try to get to the coast whenever possible. I miss it a lot after 10 years living in Hong Kong when we could go every day to the beach if we wished. My favourite beaches close to London are Camber Sands, Whitstable and Botany Bay. To be honest, I will take any beach really!
What’s next for Bloom East?
We are planning to expand our retail later this year with more online options and nationwide delivery. We also want to work more with brands and on corporate events so watch this space.
Where can Emily and Fin customers find out more about you?
Our Instagram channel is the best place to see our daily updates and a lot of behind the scenes of what we get up to every day. If you want to find out more about online offers, you can also sign up to our mailing list on our website to get emails about new products and seasonal bunches.
Anya's floral edit from our latest collection 'Wish you were here.'