An interview with

Brittany Asch

Floral Designer, BRRCH

I think people tend to assume that if you work with flowers you’re a florist but you’re actually a floral designer, how does that differ?

It’s a more artistic approach than the stereotypical ideas associated with a florist, where you’d go and buy something that’s already made. It’s a little more custom working with a designer.  The designer has a vision in mind and really likes to meld that with the client.

Were you interested in flowers growing up?

I grew up gardening with my parents and my friends always say “it makes so much sense that you ended up working with flowers because you always had them in your hair and were always picking them”.  I don’t even remember that (laughs) but I guess there was always this underlying current and flowers were always a part of my life.  I was always too preoccupied with other endeavours that I never considered it until it was rammed right in my face.

When did you first get introduced to floral design as a career possibility?

After school I wanted a break to figure out what I was going to do. I wanted to take a departure from what I had studied, I realized that the lifestyle wasn’t really something that felt in-line with the course that I wanted my life to take.  It was kind of like a pause. I picked up a job at a restaurant and there was this girl bringing in flowers every week and after seeing that more and more and seeing the flowers changing and seeing flowers that I hadn’t seen before it really piqued my interest in a big way.  I went home one night and said to my boyfriend “I’m going to be a florist”.  I took a course to sort of see if I had what it takes, obviously wanting to do something and your actual skill set don’t always match up. That gave me the confidence to pursue it further.

Brittany Asch (Photo by David Land)

Is taking a course a good way into the industry? What’s the traditional route for most floral designers?

It’s sort of different for everyone but there’s a lot of art students that end up working with flowers, a lot of people that worked at a flower shop in college that wanted to stick with it, and people like me or people who discover it later in life after having had a professional career already in another field.  There’s so many courses and workshops available.

I think that was my biggest problem, I wanted to learn this so badly but I didn’t know where to start.  I went on YouTube and all these other sites and searched quite a bit. A lot of botanical gardens offer courses and a lot of florists offer classes.  If there is a particular florist that you’re fond of just shoot them an email and they’re pretty willing to share.

Did you start BRRCH right away or did you start with entry level jobs?

My first job was actually off of Craigslist.  I thought immediately that I would start my own thing even though I was not equipped to do so (laughs) just fresh out of my 5 week course of learning really outdated techniques.  I saw a posting “landscape designer looking to collaborate with a florist on a wedding” and I replied and got the job.  I started freelancing for a lot of local florists and working on events with them and I gained my experience that way.  Working with two florists turned into working with ten florists and my whole schedule was booked up.  I did that for about two years.  My friends started asking me to do things once they realized that that was what I was doing.  It kind of forced me to start my own businesses because it became so demanding of my time.

So what did these florists have you doing?

They had me in for an interview and had me make an arrangement and then based on what they saw they’d say “start here and we’ll see how it goes”.  Some people would throw me into the big stuff and it was like “okay, I guess I have to figure this out now” and some people would set up samples and have me duplicate it. I started to gravitate more towards the people who were giving me more responsibility because there is a lot of discovery in that. I liked the challenge and I felt like I was learning more.  I did an internship two days a week for three months and that helped me learn some more of the business side and some more of the flower vocabulary, which was helpful.

Photo courtesy of BRRCH

It really seems like a whole other language to me.

There’s a lot of names (laughs).  I’ve always enjoyed having something held in front of you and being like “wait, what is that?” but it’s quite beautiful to learn all the names.  It’s definitely like learning another language . . . only it seems easier to me than learning French (laughs).

Working with flowers seems crazy to me. Sometimes they’re alive, sometimes they’re dead but then they can be more dead. When you’re doing something like a wedding how do you plan ahead and prepare?

There’s definitely a lot of preparation and planning that goes into it. It depends on the size of the wedding but it can start as much as a year in advance when you’re just designing it.  Typically when I’m doing proposals I’m sort of designing everything and then as it gets closer to the date I get a better sense of the products that are around and what I’m going to use. It’s sort of all consuming, you have to be paying attention to everything. The week of you’re going to market everyday. You do all of your hard goods one day, like candles and vases and everything that’s non perishable.  If you have a cooler you can start to make all of the arrangements three days in advance and if you don’t everything is done the day before the wedding so that everything looks its freshest.

Where do you get your flowers?

Different cities have different options.  The big flower markets in the US are New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles and there’s a lot of little markets in-between.  Then there are a lot of local growers.  People should just look up their local farms or go to their local farmers markets.  Then you can also go to your local florist.  If you want to be a florist you should go see what other florists in your neighbourhood are doing to source their flowers, a lot of people ship but if you’re near one of those big hubs they’re getting shipments daily.

Photo courtesy of BRRCH

I spoke with food stylist Niklas Hansen and he said that when he was starting out he only had one set of tweezers and one brush and over the years he’s added to it. How did you build your kit and what are the basics everyone should have to start out?

I work with clippers, some people prefer knives, so I’d say have the option of both, a set of clippers and a knife.  One of the essentials for me is a holster for my clippers because if you put them down they’ll get lost and if you put them in your pocket they’ll rip your pants. Having the holster is essential.  Tape, clear tape and green tape.  Chicken wire is a great basic tool.  A staple gun is one of my favourite things in my toolkit and a hot glue gun is always good to have.  Some fishing line.  Those are my go-tos.

I was looking at your site and there are so many different ways that you arrange flowers.  What are some of the more challenging ways to arrange flowers and which way to you enjoy the most?

I really like making bridal bouquets, that’s my favourite part of doing wedding work.  Aside from weddings I really love doing installations, that feeds me the most, I find that the most creatively inspiring and challenging. Having people see flowers as art I think propels the appreciation of nature in a different way.

I noticed you’ve been doing a lot of installations with magazines, what’s that process like?

My first one was a referral and they didn’t really tell me anything (laughs) they told me what colours to work with and they sent me a mood board of the clothes.  I sort of went in there not having any idea of what was going to happen and when I got there everyone was doing their own job so I just started making an arrangement.  The photographer came over to me and she didn’t speak english that well so she was just using hand movements and saying “big!”.  I didn’t bring any vases with me because it was my first shoot and I didn’t know I was supposed to.  I found a sauce pot in the kitchen and made a huge arrangement in that and they ended up loving it, but I had no idea what was going to happen, there was no pre planning. I think that’s the way it goes for most shoots, a lot of times the photographer is focused on other things and you have to take the initiative to do what you think is appropriate and will look good.  It’s kind of fun in that way, you have to prepare as best you can.  If you’re going to be a florist you have to be resourceful and quick on your toes.

Sunday Suppers Instillation (Photo by Karen Mordechai)

How does that collaboration differ from collaborating with couples on their weddings? They hire you because you’re skilled and they like your work but at the same time they have their own ideas of what they want their wedding to look like. How do you collaborate and plan something that everyone can get excited about?

A lot of times I find that they have certain details in mind, a colour, or maybe a few flowers that they really like, but mostly it’s a mood they want to evoke or an aesthetic. Because I’ve been exposed to so many more weddings and they are coming to me to show them the realm of possibility. So I’ll ask them to show me some things that they like so I can get a sense of their taste and from that I pull from my resources and say “taken from this how do you feel about this?” or “seeing this made me think that this would be a great idea”.  Trying to tailor it all to the space and the couples personality.  It really is a collaborative effort, they tell me what they want and I say this is how I want to represent that.

How did you learn to manage business side of BRRCH?

I think I learned by doing it wrong a lot of times (laughs) and realizing I didn’t charge enough. Definitely in spite of doing it is how I learned. You can work for other people but working for yourself is a whole other beast. The learning curve is so much faster.

I’ve found that a lot of people undervalue themselves when they’re starting out and maybe aren’t confident enough in themselves to charge more or there is this guilt people give them where it’s like oh you’re lucky to even have this job so you should be grateful and do it for less.

It’s so important. It’s different than a 9-5 job because our jobs are in chunks so you have to think about how many hours you’re putting into it.  Sometimes when I’ve broken it down it’s really dismal to think about how much time I’ve invested in something compared to how much profit I’ve gained.  I think it’s really important that people value not only their time but their talents and themselves. It took me a minute to realize.  For me it was fear that people don’t’ know me cause I’m new so how are they going to pay me what I want to charge? But you have to put that all aside and just charge what you’re worth because people will pay it.

Photo courtesy of BRRCH

If you’re working in chunks what would a typical day look like for you?

I don’t really have typical days, it sort of changes all the time, I get a lot of last minute jobs where I’ll get an email, sometimes the day before, saying “hey, can you do this tomorrow?”.  Sometimes you’re able to and sometimes you’re not.  Last season I had a wedding almost every weekend for a good two months straight so that meant that I was working everyday with no days off and very little sleep.  I learned from that to book less weddings and be a little bit more picky about the jobs I was taking so that I could focus more on them and not tire myself out.

What kind of jobs do you get in the winter?

In the winter I have weekly accounts.  Those typically happen once a week and I have a resident office account that I do once a week.  In between there are deliveries and shoots and maybe a winter wedding.  During the summer there is a lot more activity, a lot more people out, a lot more parties and events.

Would your weekly account be a job like the girl you saw bringing flowers to the restaurant you used to work in?

That’s exactly what it’s like.  It’s great, I suggest a weekly account for someone looking to get into this because for her it was great exposure and great practice because you’re getting to work with flowers every week.

Photo courtesy of BRRCH

Do you work by yourself or do you have a team now?

I have a rotation team members, a lot of different freelancers that I’ve met along the way and people that trust and who know my aesthetic.  It’s like having an extension of arms.  I head up the design and they help me execute it.

What resources do you turn to when you’re coming up with ideas?

So many different things. It depends on what the client likes.  I’ve had clients come to me and say “I’m really inspired by Dutch still-life paintings” so I’ll research them and try to study the elements and figure out how to fit it into modern day.  Then I’ll have another client who will say “I really want this to be a tribute to where my father came from in Italy” so I’ll research that place.  I typically don’t look to wedding blogs or anything like that, sometimes there’s something where it’s like “oh that’s pretty” but it’s not you and I think the best work comes from something that is grown from inspiration that is found elsewhere.  I am super inspired by nature, I know that sounds kind of hippy-dippy but when you actually take a step back I think I was more passive in my appreciation before I started working with flowers. Now even a bare tree I’ll study the shape of the branches and the angles.  If you look around at everything like that there is endless inspiration.  I get inspired by colour pallets.  I get inspired by food (laughs) all sorts of things.  People, sometimes a person just screams a certain flower.  I use all kinds of things and just being in tune with yourself and what gets you going.

You can see that in your work where the things you do have more of a natural look instead of a manicured bouquet in a perfectly symmetrical shape.

That feels so painful to make.  That’s not how flowers, in my opinion, should look.  That’s just not how they look.

Photo courtesy of BRRCH

Spring is coming up, do you have any advice for the average person looking to spruce up their home or office.

If you don’t have any plants you should definitely get some plants.  There are tons of resources online for finding the best plant based on the lighting, it’s different for different apartments.  A lot of city dwellers have taken to air plants and succulents because they are really easy to maintain.  If you live in a place that’s not a city my advice would be to go out into your yard and clip some things you like and put them in a glass on your kitchen table or next to your bed.  That’s what I would do if I had a garden.

I guess you can’t really have one in New York.

No (laughs).  A lot of people here get flowers at bodegas but they have the same thing all the time and it’s not the best quality.  For city dwellers I’d say the farmers market is a really great option to spruce up your home.  There’s local vegetables, there’s local fruits, local plants and flowers.  You want to support those people too, they really love what they do.

Do you have any final advice for aspiring floral designers.

The most helpful thing for me has been to just trust in your innate sensibilities and trust your eye.  Get your hands on flowers as much as you possible can and the more you do it the more things will happen.  And don’t do it unless you really love flowers, it’s one of those things you can only do if you really love it.  You can’t fake it, it’s like music, don’t do it if you don’t really love it because it’s going to be rough.

Date: November 27, 2014 • Category: Uncategorized
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