When Ashleigh Watts decided to take a leap of faith and leave her wig making job to train as a floral designer, she not only indulged her creativity but also fulfilled a dream she shared with her late mother: owning her own business. Now running a successful flower studio in Oxford, Rooted in Rosemary, Ashleigh puts her artistry into every single detail of her brand – from flower arrangements to Stickers.
We met Ashleigh to talk about her career 180, her inspirations and the ups and downs of being a floral designer (spoiler alert: the ups prevail).
Tell us a bit more about yourself. Where does your love for flowers come from?
Would I say I became a floral designer because of my love of flowers? I don’t think I would. I think I’m a creative first and foremost. And I know this is what so many people say, but it’s true, I always have been. Ever since I can remember, working on something that excites my creativity also excites me as a person, so choosing a career that follows an artistic path has always been an aspiration of mine.
I’m a creative first and foremost.
I have a fickle love of colour, falling for every new colour palette I create, and I’m not ashamed to say it! I’m obsessed with textures, I have a keen eye for detail and I’m an absolute perfectionist, sometimes to the detriment of my time (and my sanity). Couple that with a love to design, research and curate ideas, and being a people person who can talk for England, I suppose a love of flowers wasn’t so much a driving force but more of an outcome from taking the leap to try something new.
On a personal level, I’m a total ambivert, showing off my extrovert nature one day, but finding the need to take some time out on another. I thrive on being around family and friends, I love a party, and becoming a first-time dog mumma to my little fur-monster, Ralph, has been one of the highlights of the past 12 months.
Your career did a 180. How does one go from being a wig maker to becoming a floral designer?
Although the answer to my first question confesses my creative passion, I was actually a little late to the party when it came to following my lifelong dream of having a creative career. And transitioning from wig maker to floral designer wasn’t actually my first big career change either. At the age of 20, I quit my job as an advertising sales executive, went back to college, started uni, and got myself a degree in media hair & makeup. This was the beginning of my artistic career and I am so happy I did it. From there I went on to do some amazing things as a hair & makeup artist including eventually ending up as a wig maker, hair inserter and department supervisor at the Madame Tussauds studio in London. There, I met some amazingly talented people, honed a somewhat unique skill, and learned what it’s like to be around like-minded creatives with a passion for art.
I handed in my notice […] and set out to learn, experience and try all things flowers with the end goal of starting my own business.
However, sadly, in 2017 my mum, Treenie, passed away suddenly after being diagnosed with breast cancer for the third time, and this is where my journey to becoming a floral designer really began. My mum and I had always dreamed of owning our own business, with her ideas ranging from property development to owning a café that only sold jacket potatoes, soup and sandwiches (I didn’t say they were all good ideas). So after her passing, and realising that life really is too short, the rat race just didn’t seem to be my calling anymore. In January 2019, I handed in my notice, enrolled on a 4-week floristry career course at the London Flower School, and set out to learn, experience and try all things flowers with the end goal of starting my own business.
Now the cheesy part of me wants to say “and the rest is history” but I won’t. “The rest” is now, I’m a small business owner, muddling through a pandemic, learning as I go, and loving every challenging minute.
Did you face any obstacles on the way when creating your own floral studio?
I feel this is the perfect opportunity to say that owning your own business, as I’m sure you can imagine, doesn’t come without its ups and downs. Especially starting said business at the beginning of a pandemic, with little to no business experience and being a tiny team of one, a one-man-band if you will, means that almost everything you do is down to you. This is by no means a sob story, I love owning my business and my own time and wouldn’t change it for the world. It’s more of a flash of reality that without the hard work behind the scenes, things don’t get done, things fall behind and it’s not all Netflix and chill, however much you want it to be.
You are everything. CEO, designer, customer service, cleaner, administration, customer support, labourer, and delivery driver
Like a lot of first-time business owners, I took the decision when starting Rooted to complete pretty much everything myself from branding to building my website, marketing and social media. You name it – I did it. I spent hours googling how to build a website, learned the basics of Photoshop and Lightroom, pestered my partner to take photos of my work day and night so I could figure out my style, went through multiple attempts of designing a logo, business cards, and identity… and that’s just to get going. From there, you are everything. CEO, designer, customer service, cleaner, administration, customer support, labourer, and delivery driver – and it is knackering. Honestly, I spend half my time totally cream-crackered, and without the support of my partner, family and amazing friends, I’m not sure I would have made it. But once you’ve got your head around it, it’s totally worth it. I promise.
What do you find the most rewarding about managing your own flower studio? What’s the most difficult?
Ha, there are so many, but for me taking control of my own artistry is certainly one of the most rewarding and satisfying parts of the job. Having complete control of my own designs from concept to creation, showcasing the ideas in my head and making them a reality really is second to none for any creative. Of course, following a client’s ideas and brief is of paramount importance, but the joy of seeing your own work come to life brings a smile to my face every time. Couple that with seeing smiles on your client’s face when they see your work makes the long hours of hard craft completely worthwhile.
On a personal level, one of my goals when starting up was to make sure I manage my time to suit me. I’m definitely a night owl, often finding that I’m most productive late afternoon through to early morning, so a normal 9 to 5 job never worked to my strengths. As a floral designer, early mornings are a must, but I try to work my time to my advantage, often getting the necessities completed early, then taking the middle of the day as personal time and picking things back up, working late into the night on the more creative aspects of my work. This is perfect for me, and the freedom of working the clock to my personal advantage is a huge bonus to being your own boss.
Taking some “me time” is absolutely essential
But just like the positives, there tends to be a huge amount to complain about when running your own floral studio, too. When managing your business alone, it can seem like the world is on your shoulders. The to-do list continues to pile up, there’s never enough time in the day to get everything done, and taking time out for yourself can seem impossible. But in order to run Rooted in the best way I can, taking some “me time” is absolutely essential. Finding time to do this can seem like a mission but now I’m pretty strict with myself, and for my own sanity, I try to abandon reading my emails at least one day a week and give myself one day where I’m just Ashleigh (cheesy, I know). Admittedly, during lockdown its been more difficult to find things to do with that time, so they mainly consist of walking the dog and binging TV series after TV series (I’m pretty sure I’ve completed Netflix) but without it, I would have been a huge hot mess a long time ago. Taking that time for myself has been a lifesaver.
Weddings seem to be your speciality. How have you adapted during the pandemic?
With great difficulty. In December 2019, when I first decided on the concept of Rooted, I distinctly remember saying that the way a “traditional florist” worked was not for me and that owning a physical shop or doing bouquet deliveries just wasn’t for me. But *hello* 2020. A business in a pandemic is like no business we’ve known before. Starting up at any time was always going to be hard but beginning a fledgeling business in the weddings and events industry just before the start of a global pandemic is borderline insane.
Adaptation, resilience and perseverance were going to be the only way to get through.
As the months progressed, it was clear this was no longer a realistic business goal and adaptation, resilience and perseverance were going to be the only way to get through. And truthfully, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. It was time to rethink my day-to-day business and in April last year, we launched our first online shop selling a small collection of dried flower bouquets. In May, we began monthly fresh flower bouquet deliveries showcasing our florist’s choice across Oxfordshire and posting our signature eucalyptus and rosemary shower bouquets nationwide. From there, there’s been no turning back. We now offer shower bouquets on a weekly pre-order basis, deliver fresh flowers every Friday and Saturday across the county, stock small grab’n’go bunches in our local farm shop, and have just launched a new dry flower Pick’n’Mix collection for nationwide postage. And I love it. Honestly, although it’s been a difficult past 12 months I don’t think I would be where I am without the Muhammed Ali takedown of 2020 to force a splash of positive change our way.
How do you prepare for a flower design project? Where do you find inspiration?
Researching and designing are two of my favourite things to do. Not only do I love to spend hours scouring the internet and magazines, but I also try to apply inspiration from cultural influences such as music, art, architecture and fashion into my work. I believe a good working relationship is key to the success of my designs, so giving my clients a bespoke, personalized experience from start to finish is one of the most important aspects of the business. Hours, if not days, have been spent tweaking my design proposal template in order to portray each concept in the best way possible, with every design tailored to every client. To further help clients visualise the concept, I try to bring my designs to life before the big day with personalised mood boarding and hand-drawn illustrations for that custom-fit approach.
Prepare for the unexpected and nothing will be beyond your reach
As for preparation, in my personal life, it is definitely not a strong point, but when it comes to business the more prepared I can be the better. Understanding your client and their needs as well as cementing a good design concept is the first crucial step. Working ahead of time and having a great team behind you are the backbone to successfully completing a project to the best of your ability. Although officially it’s just me behind the name, I couldn’t do what I do without the support network and team of freelancers I have beside me to help. Teamwork makes the dream work as they say.
Lastly, every job you undertake becomes a learning curve. So more than anything prepare for the unexpected and nothing will be beyond your reach.
Rooted in Rosemary’s branding stands out compared to traditional florists. Can you tell us more about how you developed your brand identity? What do you want to convey with your branding?
This is so lovely to hear. All of my branding was actually designed by myself. I learned how to use the basics of Photoshop in order to collate my branding ideas and make them a reality. I always had a clear idea in my head when it came to how I envisioned Rooted in Rosemary to look. I wanted a personable, relatable brand with a contemporary minimal edge that could be rolled out across all platforms.
My branding is an extension of me
I feel my branding is an extension of me and my style, so it had to be something that I loved in order for me to feel comfortable with using it. I always knew what things in my business would develop and adapt as time went on. This included my approach and style with regards to my floristry, and I’ve always kept this in mind when it comes to my branding. The two need to marry, and if one doesn’t match the other then you will never be ahead of the curve. However, your brand is much more than just a logo. Finding out the answers to those key questions is so much more difficult than you would ever expect. Who is your ideal client? What are they looking for? How do they see your business? There are literally so many questions to be answered that will help you on the journey to discovering your brand identity, but I truly believe that you also have to be true to yourself. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t and my best piece of advice I could give is to stick with it. You’ll get there in the end, it just takes time.
How did you approach your promotion strategy as a flower designer?
So when answering these questions, I procrastinated for a long time over how to answer this one without sounding like a fool. But I think honesty has to be the best policy: I didn’t have a promotional strategy when I started and to a certain extent, I still don’t have one now. As a self-confessed creative, business strategy isn’t really a strong point of mine. It’s taken a lot of digging deep and learning to really get to grips with managing my business in a way that is effective and efficient but that works for me, too.
I started promoting Rooted in Rosemary with the basics, a large supply of business cards and a mobile phone. I also constantly took pictures of my work. Reading a post by Tanya Shaw from Oh Flora Studio, Sydney, in which she talked about her own journey into floristry, spending hundreds of dollars on buying in flowers for her to experiment with her style and stating that “the best investment you can make is in yourself”, really struck a chord with me. I suppose it led me to my main promotional “strategy” (and I use that term loosely). I immersed myself into getting creative, taking photos and posting on social media about my own floral journey. That’s it. It was that basic.
I have met some crazy talented people through social media, especially Instagram, and through these connections, I have managed to take part in some super exciting projects which have allowed me to connect with more people in the industry, create content and get the Rooted name out there. It’s only now, after 15 months of running Rooted, that I’ve really started looking more in-depth at how I can promote my business effectively. With the help of my partner, Simon (a technical whizz compared to me), promotion for Rooted has taken a step up. You would think after working in advertising sales I would know what I’m doing, but as we’ve both discovered, the world of marketing is a minefield and it’s one we’ve just started wading through, one cautious step at a time.
How do you use MOO to create a memorable brand experience?
I’ve used MOO for almost all of my marketing, promotional and stationery needs. Each one of my bouquets comes with a Business Card, gift message, care card and Sticker, and MOO has helped me with all of them and so much more. Every step of the way, it’s been easy to upload my designs, including multiple variations of the same item, and they make it so easy to edit and reorder previous items too. Again, it all comes back to making every Rooted in Rosemary purchase an experience. So from our gift message cards to the ‘Stay Safe’ Stickers we use on all our postal boxes, making every item that our customers receive that extra little bit special is so important – and MOO has helped every step along the way.
Do you have any projects coming up you’d like to share?
Not quite upcoming, but I am so excited to talk about our new Dry Flower Pick’n’Mix range that launched earlier this month. It’s a passion project of mine that I’ve been planning to get out for such a long time but for one reason or another, it’s taken until now to do it. And so far, it’s received such an amazing response! Unlike many other dry flower suppliers in the UK, The Pick’n’Mix range is a colourful collection of mini dry flower bundles, designed to give you the freedom to create the colour palette of your choice. We currently have 12 colour options for you to choose from, with each mini bunch consisting of one colour choice, allowing you to pick multiple bunches in the colours of your choosing and combine them (or keep them separate) to create the perfect colour scheme for you. Since launching, it’s been amazing to see people really connecting with the collection and it’s already got me thinking about new colour options that I could add to the range in the future.
It’s so lovely to be speaking to couples again and hearing the optimism and excitement in their voices
And of course, I couldn’t go without saying that with the new COVID “exit roadmap” rollout in place in the UK, one of the most exciting things I have to look forward to is the fact that weddings and events are now back on the horizon – and I cannot tell you how excited I am. It’s so lovely to be speaking to couples again and hearing the optimism and excitement in their voices. I know there’s still some apprehension but with a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, we’re back to doing what we love, researching, designing proposals, and planning ahead for what is hopefully a super exciting, wedding-packed future.
Any advice for people wanting to take the leap and make a big career change?
Do it. My life-changing decision happened as a result of the worst time of my life when my Mumsie passed away. But if I think back to before that, I still wasn’t happy. My lifestyle didn’t suit me. I hated the daily grind of travel, work, eat, sleep, repeat. I struggled to find time to sleep, I had two jobs to pay for the rented property I was in, and with the few hours I had left in the evening after squeezing in exercise, cooking, cleaning, and socialising, I was exhausted, burnt out and unhappy. Something would’ve had to change eventually.
I took a chance and did something about it
But it didn’t happen overnight. Even after my mum’s death, it took me a long time to discover that the way I was living wasn’t right for me. But once I did, I took a chance and did something about it. I think it’s worth mentioning that I was in a very lucky position where Simon was able to support both of us financially and this gave me the freedom to really focus on me and my journey but I understand everyone’s situation is different. As I said, I honestly think eventually, something would’ve had to give and I hope I would be on a similar journey to what I’m on now but just in a different way. A small business owner, working hard, treading the water to get my business off the ground and I couldn’t be happier.
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