Last summer, we launched our Community Connection campaign – a global initiative where we swapped French for ‘Community’, supporting and celebrating our local and wider communities during these strange times.
A year on and community continues to be more important than ever. So this season, as a branch of our Community Connection campaign, we’re celebrating and putting the spotlight on creative talents, artists and inspiring individuals, from Europe and the US. We will be sharing their stories, talents, passions and give a behind the scenes look into their industry and life, forming our French Connection community of creators, #FCCreators.
Introducing our next #FCCreators, Margate based husband and wife team, Natasha and John of Appreciation Project. After launching in September last year, Appreciation Project has bloomed, so we caught up with the duo to discuss their journey, passion for creative floristry and all things dried flowers.
Natasha & John, tell us a little bit about yourselves & how the Appreciation Project was born...
John: We’re a husband and wife team from completely different industries (technology and fashion design respectively) that slowly realised our skills might be complimentary – so began researching some ideas we’ve had in the fire for a while! AP was born from Natasha’s love of fresh flowers but hate of the waste in the creative industries, in this case both from the short-termism of the flowers themselves but also all the plastics and non-recyclables in the chain. Taking time to say ‘Thank You’ or ‘I Love You’ or ‘Congratulations’ is both underrated and underused and we want to change that. Also embracing the creativity in arranging the flowers yourself is a huge part of our approach, especially in the crazy times over the past year or so.
Lovers of all things fancy, what made you fall for dried flower floristry?
Natasha: When we lived in Hackney I spent nearly every Sunday at Columbia Road Flower Market, I loved the bursts of colour and would come home with armfuls!! It just made me happy. Then one night when I couldn’t sleep I got up and as I sat in our lounge, it occurred to me just how many dried flowers I had dotted around. Then it hit me - I could be playful with all the colours and textures just as I have been as a Fashion designer. The more I delved into what was available, I found a real lack of colourful yet tasteful dried flower arrangements. We wanted to create a modern take on the standard ‘brown paper and round sticker’ look that is everywhere, and create something a little more luxury. I also loved arranging and thought perhaps if I could encourage others to do the same, they might also share this joy and take time away from social media, kids, general madness of life and find a little peace in doing something creative. This has really become a strong part of our brand message.
All the throwaway, single use plastic in the flower industry also really bothered me, particularly in the supermarkets. The more I researched the more I became aware of how damaging the fresh flower industry can be to the environment because of the wastage from actual flowers themselves once disregarded, after events, weddings and so on. With dried and preserved flowers we realised that it’s a far more sustainable and cost effective way to buy and send flowers.
Following a challenging 2020 for creatives and small businesses, how have your overcome this & kept motivated?
Natasha: We launched AP in September 2020 and that meant the majority of the plotting and working out for the business was done during the various lockdowns we were in; and with 2 children under five years old at home, this was an almighty challenge! But it pulled out every last bit of creativity and determination in us, challenged us to think of the bigger picture and more importantly how to make it reality.
John: We’re lucky in that our business hasn’t been directly affected by the challenges of the pandemic as we’re strictly an online shop. Brexit has caused some challenges that we’ve overcome (we hope) and built into our business model. Above all else though, seeing the changes the world is going through is definitely a motivation to carry the message of appreciation through.
The dried flower industry bloomed last year & became a lockdown interiors trend, how has this impacted you? And has this influenced your creative thinking?
Natasha: It really pushed us to find our place within a growing market! How can we make it more than just a passing trend? I think there was also a huge boom of houseplants about 5 years or so ago and that’s still thriving now and I don’t see why dried and preserved flowers will be any different. I think what people like about dried flowers is that you get the same thrill as you do buying fresh but they last far longer. They are also far closer to an ornament in terms of people consider which colours would suit a specific room, then finally they won’t wilt….and you can’t kill them!
What are your inspirations & creative processes when putting an arrangement together?
Natasha: Music! I will blast out Frank Sinatra, Alexis French or Whitney (much to John’s dislike because I play things on repeat!) I love to shut the door and be absorbed in my creative world. I love experimenting with colours, textures, heights and composition to make something dramatic, fun or just beautiful. I might see pictures from artists I admire such as David Hockney or photos from Wes Anderson and Tim Walker that inspire the mood or colour palette. I also think about people’s homes and ‘what style would he/she really want?’.
How important is sustainability to you & your business?
John: Integral. We moved to the coast a few years ago from London and being by the sea every day has definitely shifted the way we view what we purchase and where we purchase from. It was always part of the model to ensure responsible sourcing, with eco-friendly and recyclable packaging included even though not always the cheapest option.
Natasha: We weren’t keen just to create yet ‘another’ business, we always came at it with if we are to offer something then it needs to come from a good heart, a good place.
What are the benefits of buying dried flowers over real ones?
Natasha: From a practical standpoint, longevity is a huge benefit. Forgetting to water them is also no longer an issue! We think they are just as beautiful as fresh flowers and because they last such a long time, they are a fantastic investment and can be styled in many different ways in your home, business or event. The flexibility really is a huge plus point.
Most people think of pampas grass and eucalyptus when they hear dried flowers. Can you tell us about the other types of florals you work with?
Natasha: Hydrangeas are my favourites! They are absolutely stunning when preserved and feature heavily within our arrangements. Bunny tails are a big hit too and especially in the bright and fun colours, they offer a more playful element. Some of the softer grasses such as feather or stipa add a beautiful tactile quality to the arrangements that I always love.
What is your favourite flower combination? Is there a particular colour/type/texture you love working with?
Natasha: I like a whimsical and bright colour palette. To me that is an immediate mood enhancer, alongside a rich jewel-like combination which can also be very powerful.
Your dried flowers arrangements can last up to a year, what tips do you have for ensuring they’re looking their best for longer?
John: Avoiding the elements such as direct sunlight, extreme hot or cold temperatures, moist environments such as bathrooms or utility rooms or touching too much will make sure they look fresh for as long as possible. Also keep your eye on dust!
What are your top tips for creating the perfect dried flower arrangement at home?
Natasha: Firstly decide what vase they will go in and where you would like it to sit. Next I’m a big advocate of arranging the style and tying it in place to secure it. Start with the foliage such as eucalyptus and create different heights, add groups of the flowers by types, you don’t have to add individual stems at a time. Then once you have tied them, pull some stems higher, perhaps others lower and don’t be afraid to chop the stems to fit the vase! Also if you don’t use a glass vase and it goes wrong you can add tissue or card to the bottom to push them up and no one will see! But mainly just have confidence and have FUN! Try not to just plonk them into a vase and you will have a much nicer result.
What’s next for the Appreciation Project?
We want to expand our home and tableware collection to both include more partners but also grow our own line. We are always looking to collaborate with like-minded brands and would love to stock in stores across the UK and Europe in the not too distant future – watch this space! The message behind AP is really is focused at appreciating yourself and others, taking the time out to declutter and unwind. If we are lucky enough to continue spreading that message and deliver beautiful products to wonderful people, that’s enough for us.