Hitomi’s journey in floristry is fascinating. Initially drawn to working with flowers, she quickly realised that she would have to find a way to develop her own style of design. She longed to find a way to incorporate her love of art into floral design. We discovered how she managed to not only achieve that but also become an iconic figure in the world of flowers.
1. How did you first become interested / involved in flowers?
My deep interest in studying Art was discouraged by my very academic-minded parents so I switched to Landscape-Horticulture. This led to a career in specialised growing (I owned a self-start farm/greenhouse business) over 300 varieties of Fuchsias, growing spectacular hanging baskets in season. To keep the income flowing through the winter, I opened a retail plant shop which a couple of years later turned into a flower shop.
The interest in Art evolved serendipitously into the flower shop where I had a daily opportunity to add artistic touches to my designs. I could not have planned my career better.
2. How long have you been professionally involved in the flower industry?
42 years. I was a late starter with floral designing. I was in my late 20’s playing with flowers, DIY in my plant shop when I took on my first small wedding.
3. Do you see International Women’s Day as important and, if so, why?
It is definitely an important observance to reflect on how far we have come… within our lifetime. Also, to recognize and bring to the attention those inequities that still persist in certain sectors.
4. Do you believe that being a woman in the flower industry is more challenging than if you were a man?
Floristry has always employed more women than men, flowers have always attracted women to this profession. Yet at the more high-profile level, the profession was dominated by men. When I came into floristry in the 80’s, 90% of the elite designers and competition winners were men. In my early years after I won some competitions, people were quick to credit my success to whoever built my good structures and props! It took me being on the road to prove that I had built all my own structures. Strong designers were always assumed to be men. It was thought then that women would generally design soft, sweet and pretty arrangements. In order to stand out … you had to design bold, clean and architectural pieces like a man. I chose to design like an artist. This was the non-gender solution for me to that situation.
The exquisite garden style that so many female designers, farmer florists have popularised in the last 15+ years have made it possible for women to lead more freely today and to be recognised for their set of talents and their aesthetics. Social media has allowed that gender line to fade in floristry.
5. Do you recognise some common challenges that women face in this industry, and have you encountered some personally?
I had a reverse experience to gentrify my art style to connect back to the popular style choices in order to stay relevant and to teach more effectively. This is still an outcome of the history of gender inequity in floristry… to excel in the pre-2000 world of floristry dominated by male designers to what it has become in the last 20+ years. The gender inequity I think came from lack of participation by women who could contribute more to the discussion. I found my voice as I started to evolve into an educator, and I ended up as an academic florist after all (my parents finally did recognise my worth). I was too timid in my early years to speak out. To appeal to today’s students, you must be well-versed in their way of designing and their mindset, and then teach them what they don’t know yet… how to add artistry, craftsmanship. tension and distinction.
6. How did you go about overcoming them?
I started to speak out about what I know, what I have studied from the first half of my career… to formulate and follow my instincts and vision that connected me to the world around us… not just within our profession. To be holistic instead of insular within the industry. To reach out to work with other great minds. After I sold my retail flower shop and became a full-time educator. I became more holistic instead of just existing in the world within that shop.
Words are the most important companion to Art. The ability to speak the artistic language is one of the most important assets a florist can have, man or woman. It is how you present on stage… it is also how you present to your clients to win a contract. Showing confidence in your own talent is how you best hurdle those challenges.
7. What is your advice for young women starting out in this industry?
An enduring career comes from knowing your strengths and showing them! And also recognising your weaknesses and constantly working on improving them. To be the best you can be…
Find yourself in amongst like-minded creatives (men and women) and share your knowledge openly… it will help you to rise within yourself and others to continue to evolve.
I recommend having a good balance in your life. While working hard… take time to nourish your mind and body in healthy ways.
8. What do you love most about your work?
As a teacher today, it is important for my work to be relatable. My job is to be able to grow my students from where they are to where they can be. That is my greatest passion… seeing students become confident with their skills and to begin to excel. Teaching is my greatest joy. I am doing exactly what I love!
I am doing this today with my son, Colin, as my working partner. To see him blossom on the technology side to add that element to be able to host good education is amazing. Before the business was dependent on me to succeed… but that is quickly changing to Colin as the talent that I count on. I love that!
9. What are some of the more significant milestones in your career?
Starting to compete 2 years after taking my first small wedding was a game changer for me… it motivated me artistically. I found the ART that I was missing in my diversion away from it.
- Inducted into AIFD in 1986, a pinnacle of achievement at that time, followed by a Silver Medal at the Great American Design Competition. (North American Finals)
- Gold Medal in 1987 and my first Centre Stage appearance at the AIFD Symposium.
- 1994 published ‘Earth Man Spirit’ with John Haines – proudest of this book!
- 1998 was honored with AIFD Design Influence Award
- 2008 Best of Show & Gold awarded at the Singapore Garden Festival (International)
10. Can you briefly describe some of your more special or most appreciated moments?
Over 20+ amazing years that I was privileged to partner with John Haines AIFD with book projects, teaching together, brainstorming together as friends and colleagues… I value special collaboration, working with other brilliant minds. I covet everything we did together.
Working on my botanical art installation ‘RISE’ honouring achievements of great women in history at ‘Les Fleurs Sauvages’ Art Show at Sotheby’s Institute of Art in NYC in 2018. To be in the art world, to have conversation within it… to make a statement with flowers as an art medium. It was exciting to have my work understood and recognized at a formidable art institution.
Currently… most appreciation goes to my son, Colin for his vision in implementing the best way to reach more students virtually with greatest results. I am so thankful for his ability to help me teach better.
And I am most grateful to work with Gregor Lersch, to teach side by side, to brainstorm, to build a curriculum which will move floristry to a more sustainable way. It is stimulating to think for the future always. I feel most privileged and covet this collaboration with the best floral mind of all time.
11. Apart from flowers, what else are you passionate about
ART & ARCHITECTURE. My bookshelves are filled with Art books, biographies of Artists and Architects… I enjoy filling my mind and eyes with thoughts and renderings by the greatest creatives that ever lived. That’s how I fill my head and heart with the spirit of CREATIVITY.
On my bucket list for 2024 – Venice Biennale
12. Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
Growing Sustainable Floristry with Gregor Lersch and Colin Gilliam through FREESIA Challenge 2022. Creating an exciting pathway to grow floristry for future generations. It is the job of teachers to build expertise in areas that students are most interested in. Sustainable floristry is at the top of the list today.