Long gone are the days of stuffy florals associated with your grandma's floral-clad couch and accompanying potpourri. In recent years, florals have reinvented themselves, and with that have captured a new, much younger audience. Britt Stillie has brilliantly managed to infuse our love of botanicals with our need for constant connectivity (and the need to protect it). I caught up with Britt in her live/work studio to talk about how JUST B SMILING came to be, and how she's breathed new life into the forgotten art of pressing flowers.
"My parents have always been big into gardening and grown a massive garden, so my love of flowers started early. Before this, I never used to press flowers though, and I’m still learning— my mom is definitely much better than I am! Growing up, she used to press flowers and make cards. They were quite intricate, and I remember as a kid and being like, "I don’t really get this…” (laughs)
JUST B SMILING happened out of necessity. I was always dropping my phone and my friends were like, 'Just get a case already!' but I straight up didn’t like them and never bought one. When I finally got a new iPhone, I remember thinking how nice and new and fragile it was. So at the flea market one weekend my friend was like, 'Just get one of those plain plastic ones.' I ended up buying one, but I thought that it was just so — blah. I was talking to my mom about how I didn’t like my new case and she was like, 'Why don’t you try flowers? Pressed flowers to be exact.' I had seen people frame them in glass and loved the look. Then I started thinking, how would I get them to stay if I tried to put them on my phone case? I talked to my dad about it (who has a design background) and he encouraged me to give it a try and gave me some suggestions for coating it. I used my mom’s dried flowers that she had given to me years ago, and I made that first one for myself. I was pretty happy with it, but then my friends saw it and they started asking if I could make them one...and that’s really how it all started.
The duration of the pressing process completely depends on the flower, and can take anywhere between 1-3 weeks. Something like a hydrangea can take no time at all because it’s petals are so papery, which makes them fast to press; whereas if you’re pressing something with a little more moisture in it, it can take up to 2-3 weeks. I had never really pressed flowers before, but now I have books and books around my apartment with flowers pressed between their pages. I use old encyclopedias or thesauruses and I also have one flower press that’s really nice, but other than that it’s just books-on-books with bricks stacked on top for weight.
When I started, I knew that winter was going to come and that I would need to have a lot of flowers stocked up. Through the summer I made a point of collecting and pressing a lot so I could build my collection and since then I’ve gotten really lucky and made some great connections with local florists.
Something I have learned from this process is to just use your imagination, and just go with whatever pops into your head. After the designing is done, I coat them which takes another few days to dry and then they get tagged and they’re ready to be sold. My tags are made out of seed paper that I get from a Canadian seed paper company. They have a two-year shelf life, and contain wildflower seeds. You can plant them wherever! The tag you receive with your case should contain enough seeds to grow a full bouquet of flowers. It’s really rewarding to receive pictures from customers of the flowers they’ve planted from their JUST B SMILING tag.
One Woman SHow
I think the hardest part about starting a business is you don’t really know anything, you’re totally on your own. I’m always like, 'Is this okay? Am I doing this right?'. I didn't know anything about business going into this; I have a psychology background. So for me, it’s kind of been figuring it all out as I go along, and with that has been knowing when I’ve reached my threshold. You want to do it all, but sometimes you just have to listen to your body and reason with yourself that whatever it is can wait and you can pick it all up again tomorrow.
People have always said, 'There’s not enough time in a day' and now I actually get that. (Laughs) There’s not. You are just one person. You’re doing it all— you’re learning to make something, buy all the supplies for it, take photos of it, market it, sell it and then do accounting on top of all that. There are so many components. But at the same time, it’s really rewarding and I love doing it. Sometimes things get tough, but I can always seem to find a positive in it all.
Just Do It
I’ve really learned to trust myself. There’s so many creative people out there doing things that are so inspiring, and it’s easy to be like, 'Woah, that’s so cool I should do something like that. But, mmm I don’t know, will people like it?' — Just do it. Because people just might like it! Try not to think so hard about what people are going to think and just do it for yourself. I find that kind of confidence radiates from your work and people respond well to it. Don’t spend time thinking about or comparing yourself to others, as ultimately you’re just wasting your time. Those people are going to continue doing what they’re doing, and you just have to put your head down and do you."
Interviewed and photographed by Tianna Grey on 02.03.2016; photo's otherwise marked.