Blooming in adversity
Sometimes, throwing yourself in the deep end is the only way to succeed. Certainly this was the case for Sarah Lim, founder of Poppy Flora Studio, a former advertising executive who plunged into the floral business 17 years ago without any training or experience in floral art. All she had was a strong inclination towards flowers and styling. Today her business operates from The Summerhouse. Her team is also responsible for maintaining The Summerhouse’s edible gardens. Of her Instagram-worthy studio, she says, “People naturally gravitate towards flowers. Humans may have become more materialistic and technologically advanced, but we’re still part of nature.”
I have a lot of plants at home, which is a three-storey terrace house in Jalan Kayu. My husband loves plants too. On weekends, we’ll go shopping for plants. If we’re overseas, we’ll visit nurseries there too. He likes plants with big or odd-shaped leaves, or anything unusual, whereas I love scented flowers. Peonies are the best – when they’re in season – and freesias are also nice. I also love wild flowers, like those tiny daisies that are so dainty. There’s always a vase of flowers by my bedside, and some flowers on our altar – we’re Catholic. When we have guests on weekends, we’ll have flowers on the dining table too.
Sometimes I’ll forage in my own garden, because foraging gives an arrangement a beautiful, natural structure/shape. Mother Nature is a great artist. Besides plants, we also have many animals in our house: three dogs, a parrot, a school of koi and two star tortoises. My daughter Chloe likes taking pictures around the house and in the garden. We don’t have a helper. My husband, a land banker, helps to take care of all the plants and animals.
I’ve loved flowers and nature all along. But when I started my business in 2000, I didn’t know anything about floristry. I just knew I liked to style floral arrangements and make my house pretty! After quitting my job in advertising, I went to Perth to take a break. There, I stumbled upon a nursery/pottery studio, the name of which I’ve forgotten. I asked if they did floral arrangements. They didn’t, but the owner, a senior lady, offered to teach me the basics of floral art in a three-month course.
My first customers were mostly my contacts from advertising. They understood my aesthetic style, but customers who weren’t from the advertising world didn’t. To make ends meet, I had to design arrangements according to their tastes. Back then, few people in the market knew what floral art was. I realised I had to educate my customers and train my staff to look at floral art in a more discerning way.
I almost called it quits two years into the business. My customers then were mostly bridal shops in the Tanjong Pagar area, where my studio was. Not only did they have bad taste, but they were also bad paymasters. I cried and confided in my husband, who’s somewhat of a mentor to me. It was a good wake-up call. I decided to take charge of my own brand. I wrote myself a business proposal, outlining the things I wanted to do and not do, so that there would be a benchmark. I wasn’t going to let others ruin my personal philosophy or hinder me from creating my own brand. I was determined to be a floral artisan, not just a florist. If I wasn’t comfortable with something, I wouldn’t do it.