The women behind the flowers
The versatility of flowers allow them to be presented as decorations to spruce up any event space, expressions of love & affection towards loved ones, housewarming gifts & even a form of goodwill to the unwell, the grieving. So, what does it take to work with nature’s blooms?
We took this chance to speak with our in-house florists to get a better understanding of what it’s like to work with flowers daily – is it really as glamorous as we think?
Speaking with us are Sophia (62), Wei Wuan (34) & Winnie (32) who, altogether, pocket more than 20 years of experience in the industry.
Why did you join this industry?
S: *laughs* I picked up floristry because I wasn’t good at academics & my father referred me to his friend who was in the floristry industry.
Win: It started as an interest and when I decided to take up a floristry course, the interest grew as I learnt!
WW: My sister was the one who introduced me to this industry about 14 years ago! Back then, we didn’t know that this industry existed but we came across a company who was looking for those without any experience & decided to give it a try. Since then, I’ve stuck around because I enjoy what I’m doing!
How does one become a florist, are courses necessary?
WW: Though it is not necessary, it is always better to learn whether from a floral school, workshops or on-the-job training, especially for wedding and funeral related arrangements before becoming a full fledged florist.
I personally think it’s better to learn on-the-job in a flower shop as you’ll meet real life problems that challenge your problem solving skills and you also gain exposure to a wider variety of floral arrangements. Schools are good too but they do not provide you with the opportunity/exposure to a wider variation of styles and arrangements. An average course in a school could be approximately 2 – 3 months while workshops are usually 2 – 3 weeks long.
S: It’s good to get some experience beforehand, even if it’s just a little bit. Back in my day, I learnt from an experienced florist who taught one-on-one home based sessions. It wasn’t as costly to learn back then, the materials were all included & I could bring them back with me after each session!
I took about 10 classes before joining a flower shop. However, box arrangements, congratulatory and condolence stands were things I self-studied from books – the height, proportion, colours, shapes, etc. Every flower shop has different standards, some are more flexible, some are more strict (ie. how much ribbon, flowers etc. that can be used for each arrangement) so that is something to consider if you decide to learn on-the-job.
Win: I personally took up a course in a flower school before starting full time as a florist. Though the learnings from school were minimal in comparison to what I’ve learnt on-the-job, they are definitely still relevant and applicable for the day-to-day.
What’s the difference between working as a florist in a retail shop & in the funeral industry, is working with funeral flowers what you expected?
WW: There’s a big difference! While there isn’t much difference in terms of working hours for both retail florists & those in the funeral industry, their difference lies in the job scope. In a common retail shop, the job scope mainly consists of customer service and arrangement of hand bouquets. For floristry in the funeral industry, we have to deal with regular design changes and larger arrangements. We also have a shorter time frame to do up multiple arrangements as most are made-to-order and have to be delivered within a specific window of time. So being a florist in the funeral industry is more demanding, as we have to balance both orders from funerals and retail (e.g. walk-ins, online sales, seasonal sales like valentine’s) but we learn more because we have to deal with more changes.
S: Both are very different! I like doing funeral flowers most, especially things like wreaths! Before arriving onsite at wake locations, I would be afraid but upon reaching, I’d no longer be scared. While arranging their flowers onsite, I would ask them to take care and also pay my respects to them). I feel like there’s more meaning to doing funeral arrangements.
Win: Honestly, I didn’t think i would be working with funeral flowers *laughs* so I didn’t have much expectations. However, since working with them, I’ve realised they all have their uniqueness.
How do you design the floral set up for weddings & funerals? What are some things to consider when designing?
WW: Overall, we consider the freshness of the flowers to be used, the time needed to do up the arrangements, and whether they will be exposed to natural elements like sun, wind, heat and humidity. We also have to be aware of the market trends and what shapes would complement the setting the arrangements will be placed in. For weddings and events, our designs are based on the client’s requests, taking into consideration whether their requests match the location.
For funerals, we consider the durability of the flowers used (as wakes are commonly held at void decks, exposed to natural elements) as well as mixing both modern and traditional elements in each arrangement.
S: We have to pay attention to which flowers are more lasting and durable, especially in our climate. The difference in wedding and funeral arrangements were more apparent in the past – most weddings incorporated lots of reds which were generally avoided in funerals. However, as times and trends change, wedding and funeral arrangements now have more similarities (reds are seen in funeral flowers and weddings often sport an all white theme).
What are some flowers commonly associated with funerals/weddings? Are there any florals to avoid for funeral floral arrangements?
WW: Chrysanthemums are usually reserved for funerals in Asia. Based on the climate in Singapore, funeral flowers must be suited for the weather. Most European & American flowers are not recommended for Singapore because of their durability (need to be in an air-conditioned environment).
Wedding floral arrangements commonly sport phalaenopsis, hydrangea while funeral florals largely incorporate baby’s breath, leaves and chrysanthemums as these flowers are hardy enough to last through the course of a few days in our natural climate.
Do you repurpose the flowers after a funeral? Why / why not?
WW: The vast majority of the Chinese community in Singapore are more superstitious. It’s seen as inauspicious to reuse funeral flowers as they have been offered to the dead. Apart from superstitions, the weather also affects the freshness of the flowers and most are left in conditions that render them non reusable.
S: In some of the previous shops that I’ve worked at, flowers that were still in good condition were reused. However, we do not practice that here at Flower Story as we aim to maintain a standard of freshness for all our clients. The reusability of funeral flowers largely depends on the boss’ attitude and thoughts towards superstitions.
Why are wedding floral arrangements more expensive than regular ones?
WW: Actually wedding flowers are generally priced the same as flowers used in funerals. However, flowers in the context of weddings may seem to be more costly as weddings themselves include large expenses and flowers seem to be an added luxury. A funeral on the other hand, is the last event of that person’s life and family members may be more willing to spend on such an occasion.
Bridal bouquets are priced differently from retail ones as a better grade of flowers are used. This is because it is a major life event. Most regular hand bouquets are forms of tokens of appreciation. Of course as florists, we still hold our works to a specific standard! Every bouquet needs to be presentable and fresh before leaving our doorstep *laughs*.
S: Wedding florals are priced slightly higher because they have to be the freshest of the batch. Many eyes will be on them! *laughs*
What are some of the challenges that you have faced at work?
WW: A big challenge would be during seasonal periods like Valentine’s. We have to manage our time very carefully. Time and manpower are split between an influx of walk-in orders, online orders and funeral orders. These orders come in concurrently so teamwork and communication is very important!
S: As someone who enjoys learning and working, there aren’t any challenges that are too difficult for me. I’m someone who can’t stay home and has to constantly be moving!
Win: I definitely didn’t think it would be as tiring as it is *laughs*. The biggest challenge for me at this point would be the speed of things. As I’m fairly new, I have trouble keeping up with the speed of those who are more experienced. Though nobody has explicitly told me that I am too slow, I do want to push myself to keep up with their pace!
*all photos posted here were taken pre-Covid
This article is part of a series of interviews with our colleagues in the various departments of our company. Keep a lookout for our next interview with the Operations Department that will be released on 31 October 2021. Meanwhile, check out our Funeral Insider page to get an insider’s view on what life is like in the death industry! Funeral Insider page to get an insider’s view on what life is like in the death industry!