Nestled between micro-boutiques on Victoria's well-known Lower Johnson Street and across from the golden gates of Market Square, you'll find Rook & Rose. Stepping into Erica's flower shop is like walking onto the set of a styled photo shoot, fireplace and all. It's hard to believe that each night the well-curated display of fresh florals is disassembled, just to be resurrected the next day fully refashioned to greet the coming day's patrons. Despite all the effort, it never feels pretentious or unwelcoming as there's always a helpful girl behind the counter there to make your floral dreams come true. Today, I'm not here to oogle the shop (though it's impossible not to), but rather to find out more about the girl behind it all.
Flowers: From crafty to cool
"The thing that I’m most excited about is just to see the industry arrive to the place I kind of always hoped that it would get to. I’m going to date myself here, but when I first started out there was no Pinterest, no Facebook, no Twitter, no Instagram. There were no wedding blogs, no styled shoots- none of these things existed. When I first started working here in North America, I was the youngest person at that shop by 40 years. It was me and a bunch of my friends’ grandmas. That’s the way that the floral industry was. It was kitschy, it was crafty, and it was tacky. It was a weird time and, I mean, some of those shops still exist but when I first started that was all that there was. Having lived in Australia prior, I noticed they were a little bit further ahead and there were some really cool young florists. That was so inspiring to me, to see girls I looked up to finding a career within this industry. When I moved back to Canada I kind of hoped it would only be a matter of time before we caught up and now, finally, I think flowers are a recognizable trend and… are kind of everywhere. Girls come in to the shop all the time now and ask how I got started. There’s no college courses, or clear career path. It’s one of the last industries where people don’t know how to tackle it. You really have to carve your own path. But it’s continuing to get cooler, and younger and easier to break into.
sharing is caring
Our apprenticeship program just kind of happened by accident. I started out as an apprentice, and there's something kind of old school traditional about apprenticing that I really like. It’s logical to me because it gets you hands-on experience right away instead of just focusing on the theoretical part of floral design. You’re starting at the bottom obviously- you're scrubbing buckets, you’re sweeping floors, you're doing… whatever anyone tells you to do, but you’ve always got one eye on what’s going on around you. I apprenticed under an amazing florist when I was living in Australia and, a decade later, I got an inquiry from an Australian girl named Merrin who wanted to apprentice under me! I was just so flattered. I also really liked the idea of everything coming full circle. I had no itinerary for her, no curriculum, no idea what I was doing but in the end it was such a positive experience for both of us. She took to the business right away- a total natural and I was so proud of everything she designed. She eventually moved back to Australia but we still keep in touch and I learned that she recently opened her own flower shop! In the past 5 years, I think we’ve had maybe 10 or 12 apprentices. It's been amazing, whether they've decided that the florist industry is for them- or not. I think all of them walked away with a lot of really useful information and the confidence to believe in their artistic abilities.
own your style
When it comes down to it, owning a business really forces you to grow up quickly. With that there's a huge amount of personal growth that happens, especially when you’re starting out. If I think of the way that I did things in the beginning vs. how I do things now it couldn't be more different. I think it was also challenging in the start to stay true to who I was as a designer and not allow myself to be swayed too too much by the client. But that said, it takes time to build a reputation where people come to you because they know your style and there’s a trust in what you do. In the beginning you don’t have that so you’re taking a lot of direction that maybe, creatively, you don’t necessarily believe in, but you do it anyways. Clients' requests are now so synonymous with our design style, and that’s a really nice position to be in. And to have that trust from people and that creative freedom, I feel like you can really see it in the work.
I think people used to be intimidated by the idea of buying flowers. Maybe they thought they had to spend $100 on a bouquet? That it had to be a special occasion? I feel like people didn’t think that they could buy a single stem and spend less than $5 and just give it to a coworker who is having a shit day. I feel like when you take away all the fluff and the filler and the bows, its just a little flower wrapped in kraft paper which is way more approachable. It’s super simple, it costs the same amount as your afternoon coffee and it feels really good to have fresh flowers around. A sort of new appreciation for simple, beautiful things and it doesn’t have to be gaudy or extravagant or a big deal. It doesn’t have to be a wedding, or an occasion at all. It’s a really European mentality, the "just because” kind of flowers.
Personally my biggest challenge has been being the boss- I don’t like being called the boss, and I don’t put myself above the people that I work with. I've come to realize though that while you don’t have to be bossy or bitchy, someone does need to be the one to make the tough decisions and that person is me. And the more that I tried to resist it or tried to be laid back, like "there's no boss here "and "I just sign the cheques"- it just wasn’t doing anyone any favours. It was a struggle to dig deep down and become comfortable within an authoritative position and find balance in that. I’m slowly realizing that although I didn’t ever set out to be the boss of anything, that I’m actually really fortunate to be in the position to motivate the people I work with, to be the person they look to for answers, and to hopefully inspire them in their career. I share ridiculous stories of mistakes I’ve made and reminisce on how daunting I remember this industry being in the beginning. I also let them know where I see their strengths and their potential and try to point out the growth I see in them over time.
keeping it fresh
I get really excited to see what people are doing everywhere- from San Francisco to Salt Lake City, which is a real mecca for flowers right now. I do sort of keep one eye on that but without too much thought or focus. I’m careful not to get what everyone else is doing too far in the forefront of my mind because I think it really inhibits the ability to be inventive. I think the best thing for me has been to be inspired by little things here and there across the board- a really wide spectrum, but always keeping in mind what has been done, what needs to be done, what makes me happy, what works for this moment, and what our customers will respond to. Because sometimes you can think of a genius idea but if the marketplace isn’t ready for it and people aren’t going to get it, then you’re just wasting your time.
There isn't one singular moment that I'm most proud of… but I kind of like that. When I look back on my career, whether it’s the last 5 years of running the flower shop or the past 12 years in the floral industry, it’s been more like a series of small sentimental moments and mini victories. And I think its these mini victories that kind of keep you going. If it was just a bunch of mundane, tedious shit day after day in exchange for only one big amazing moment- that would be really tough. It’s those smaller moments that are really important. When you have those super tough, stressful days at least you know that another mini victory is just around the corner."
Interviewed by Tianna Grey on 07.05.2015, and photographed on 07.05.2015 & 09.27.2015