Tuesday, January 20, 2015

on flowering for Louis Vuitton and growing pains

Well into my third week of isolation at the farm, I had the chance to reflect on some of the projects we worked on in 2014...a few of which were with Fiona Leahy for Louis Vuitton. Fiona is one of those women who can wear fringed capes like it's nothing and who, when she posts videos of herself hoola-hooping in gold snake stilettos poolside, inspires me to be a better woman like that.

These photos are all by Belathee, one of only a handful of photographers who really knows how to shoot flowers. I am grateful for her prowess in low light scenarios.

We don't typically do a lot of fashion work, I think for one thing we were pigeon-holed some time ago as wedding florists - hashtag brooklyn hashtag romantic - and arguably weddings are where we can really make some of our best creative work - #wild #organic #seasonal #local #obama ... But occasionally I think it's nice to test the waters in other stratospheres of the NYC event world. It keeps us on our toes, and admittedly one can only make so many 'beauty and the beast' weddings, as our breakdown crew apparently calls them (much to my horror).

These pictures are from November 7th when Louis Vuitton hosted 150 of the fashion elite in a glass house fabricated in the garden of the Museum of Modern Art. The production took a week, hundreds of people and the logistical wizardry of Prodject of whom I am in great awe of. I love logistics but these people obsess over them. It was fun to watch this come off.

Hi it's me, I'm just fixing something here...

These next photos are from back in September when we flowered with Fiona for LV at Saks Fifth Avenue. Again, so different from what we usually do, but interesting to struggle with the simplicity of single stems in Fiona's collection of gold tube vases. Not as easy as it looks.

[Rest assured that an entire section of my upcoming flower tell-all memoirs will be on the incongruity of my city/farm experiences. Leading up to this event, there was a day that started with a messy sheep wrangling scenario and ended with a Louis Vuitton meeting in midtown.]

Right now we're working on a new mission statement at Saipua. We've actually never had one, and when a business gets as top heavy as ours we realize we desperately need one to refer to as we say yes to somethings and no to others. We've been in a period the last few months of saying YES to everything which has taught us (or reminded us) about why we are good at some sorts of things, and bad at others.

For example, we are bad at making money on small events. In fact, often we loose money on small events. Because we have built a machine geared towards producing large events, we unknowingly apply those practices to small events. For small weddings now we tend to overbuy flowers and materials, over hire staff. We take too many taxis or spend too much on lunch out of habit....

In December our team hustled so hard saying yes to everything: deliveries, events, photoshoots... all these little things swarming the studio every week. Come January I had a depressing meeting with our bookkeeper and accountants to learn that all that work resulted in *zero* profit. Money was coming into the business and leaving just as fast. More importantly, saying yes to all the little things meant that we were not focused on the events that we really want, the ones that we're good at. For us now, the sweet spot -- where our business really works (meaning we have the right staff, the expertise, the right infastructure) are events with budgets of (and for those of you outside NYC, remember this is a bubble market) $25-$150K. That's what we've grown to do well. Over that and you get into construction elements that we're not equipped for, under that and we don't profit or worse, loose money.

These last few months I've been struggling with how to make Saipua profitable again so I can start sending resources to the farm. I've become a money-head which I fucking hate. Money is so boring; it feels like the absence of creativity. When my bookkeeper (who - lets be honest - is my mother)(who is also our soapmaker) calls me to talk numbers my eyes glaze over and I get confused. But the reality is that you need the green to do some things in this world. Like build a farm.

I want to finish our barn already and get moving on building the farm into the creative mecca it's destined to be.

So I'm working around the clock starting at the beginning -- writing the goals of Saipua both BIG (to fund a farm that can become a non-profit floral nerve center where people can come learn not just about flowers and farming, but also explore the juncture between general creativity and the natural world) and small (to have more excellent coffees, and less shitty ones -- i.e. open my coffee shack on the beaver pond.)

So that where I'm at; where Saipua is right now. Wish us luck chickens, we need it!!!


daffodil*parker said...

While my budgets don't compare (Madison, WI), we have the same problem, especially in the off-season. Saying no can be challenging when you like the client.

Anonymous said...

You'll find the right road to get there. I'm sure though it's a twisting winding road when you want to merge the little farm with the big dreams. I hope you share every bit of it with us!

Michelle said...

Thank you, as always, for being so honest with your words as your images can often make us think all is perfect in your world--not that I wish anything less for you but for some reason it helps to know there are similar struggles at all levels of this business. Always appreciate your transparency!!

Brittany said...

As someone who is just getting their toes wet in the floral world in Brooklyn I really appreciate your openness and honesty. Running a small business here is really really tough. The city doesn't make it easy!

Rony @ catbird said...

this honesty and openness is so refreshing

monica said...

Man! You are soon ready for this class! I'm so glad you're doing it!!! It's going to be great for all of us!!!

Alyssa Rainville said...

A few thoughts.

Those gold tube vases are fit for modern royalty.
Mission statements are tough.
I took a double take at the 25-150k sticker price.
Good luck with it all, chickadee!

Oh, and I hope to see the beaver pond coffee shack one day. The image in my head is pretty spectacular.

http://blog.belathee.com/ said...

Loved working with you, Sarah. Thanks also for the compliment!

(Belathée Photography)

Anonymous said...

You look so pretty in that photo. Miss y'all.

K said...


I do not know you, (but I read your blog) but I'd happily run your coffee shack in the woods for a week or two. I play guitar also. Can just imagine a little dugout in the ground with a tiny bunsen burner boiling water for pour over with some open tunings wafting in the breeze.


trouble said...

as usual, such original ideas so purely transcribed.
i love to read your thoughts. and say hello to that racoon on your fire escape from my occasional racoon in jersey city

Anonymous said...

I am so unimpressed with those lucite chairs. Your farm and mine are in the same stage of growth - waiting for money so it can explode with growth and I can finally just be THERE! One thing I've noticed about not having money for large projects, and the little ones, too, is that the longer I have to wait to get the money the better the end result. While I was waiting for money all I could do was think and dream and plan and research. The time spent waiting caused me to make better design, purchasing, planting, whatever... decisions. I still angst for money, but I know it's coming (never know how...) and I know the wait will be beneficial. I think you're doing great, Sarah! And your designs are the most beautiful, and engaging, of all, coast to coast. xoxox

Anonymous said...

I was at a class in NYC last year you were there also talking about your pricing you had to repeat it a couple of times to some of us as we did not get it. I think your pricing is all wrong and you need to rethink it. Yo will find a happy medium one day it just takes time. good luck flower friend. With age comes wisdom ~

Unknown said...

Thank you for this post Sarah, it bring clarity and and a way to relate to the "big guns" - who are you in my mind, to what my and all of our struggles are as floral designers in a world where you have to sell yourself, your soul, and your talent. Its what I love so very much and struggle with sometimes- the business end of things- hoping I'm actually making some profit in the end. You are an inspiration and in whatever way, your struggle and success makes me fell less alone.

count buckula said...

I read a book called 'Essentialism' by Greg McKeown recently which you may find handy. l8r

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Unknown said...

Ive been following you since 2008. I took a few years off to have babies and I found you on IG all grown up!. I'm taking on a few weddings this year and love how loose and garden like the style is. And I know you've had the look since I found you back in 08! So excited for 2015 and designing again!

Unknown said...

Ive been following you since 2008. I took a few years off to have babies and I found you on IG all grown up!. I'm taking on a few weddings this year and love how loose and garden like the style is. And I know you've had the look since I found you back in 08! So excited for 2015 and designing again!

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The Lit Fig said...

I just want to say, I hope you do it all. I love your work and your honestly and the grit you seem to throw into all of it.

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