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Daily Inspiration: Meet Mallory Wilson

Today we’d like to introduce you to Mallory Wilson.

Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
I’m a wedding florist based out of a private studio in Northeast Baltimore, and floral design is my way of creating art as my life’s work while also providing a service to others. I was drawn to designing for weddings in particular because they are an exciting opportunity to create something personal and meaningful with flowers. Designing for events, I also get to create large-scale floral designs that you don’t see in everyday life; from suspended floral designs floating in the air to an ethereal garden ceremony space that’s coming out of a concrete floor. But these are pieces I would have never imagined getting the opportunity to create when I first started.

I got my start in the floral design world in my mid-twenties. I was a graduate student at Hollins University, in a rural part of Virginia with few jobs available, and for money I found myself working in the floral department of a Kroger grocery store while completing my MFA in creative writing. I inflated balloons, filled buckets with water, unloaded pallets of flowers; whatever I was asked to do. When there weren’t enough hours in the floral department, I prepared fruit and veggie trays in the back of the produce department for extra money–cantaloupe cups, pre-chopped fajita vegetables, things like that. But over the years I learned whatever I could from my boss in the floral department, Vickie. When the flowers we’d special-ordered for wedding customers came in, it was my favorite part of the week. I remember the first time I saw a dahlia and ranunculus. For May weddings we’d get regionally grown peonies in, and I was so enamored with how beautiful, fragrant, and ephemeral they were compared to what we usually sold in the grocery store.

In 2016 I moved back to Maryland and served as an AmeriCorps member in Baltimore City through Volunteer Maryland; not necessarily intending to pursue a career in floral, but getting more practice as friends and mutual friends asked me for help with their wedding flowers. Realizing I had an opportunity to build a career off of a passion for flowers, and with some encouragement from my now-husband, Joe, I launched Violet Floral in 2017, and it became my full-time job in late 2018. I was bench trained, meaning I did not go to floral design school but instead learned from other florists on the job. But social media exposed me to new innovations in floral design and I saw a momentum that’s occurring to push this field into a more eco-friendly profession.

There’s a lot that can be learned online, but I also learned from following our local flower farms, taking notes on their weekly availability lists to get a better understanding of what is available throughout the year. I realized there was a more organic style of design out there, something more natural, emotional, and romantic than the supermarket flowers I was used to working with. Seasonal flowers seemed to be that magic element that elevated a design to that organic, breathing, alive place. So, for me as a designer now, the season drives everything, and I’m constantly thinking about how to connect my clients’ wedding flowers with the local growing season in Baltimore in a way that elevates their designs into something that’s really special, and singular to their day.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not, what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
I’m fortunate to work with really wonderful couples who have always made my job a real pleasure, not to mention my fellow wedding vendors in the Baltimore area and the flower growers in my community. I’m also grateful to have a spouse who has always encouraged my work. The pandemic has been by far the biggest challenge, as a florist who specifically works on weddings and events. I operated out of a home studio like many event florists in our area, so I was fortunate not to have much overhead to cover throughout the pandemic compared to other small businesses who had rent to pay. It seems that in the wedding industry the bigger your business was pre-pandmic, the more you had to lose; so, I count myself lucky that I was operating on a small scale at the time. But at the same time my business’s only revenue source had completely dried up, and as a sole proprietor, I had less access to assistance and resources than a larger business did.

The start of the pandemic was financially very scary for me and my husband; between the two of us we were using one allotment of unemployment to cover all our monthly bills as well as the operating costs of Violet Floral. Ultimately, we had to give up our apartment and stay with family members for several months until we both had an income again. This moving around meant that I found myself operating my business out of spaces which were increasingly less conducive to floral design. And when weddings slowly started up again it was a very strange time–I was so grateful to have work again but it was very nerve-wracking to responsibly navigate the world of pandemic weddings and consider how to keep myself and my workers safe.

By the end of 2020 I’d realized that despite the intense uncertainty of the time, circumstances were forcing me to take another leap and find a more suitable home for my business so that I could accommodate an unprecedented 2021 events schedule and a business that was finding a way to grow despite these circumstances. So, in early 2021 I moved into my first studio space in SoHa Studios on Harford Road, and having this bigger space has allowed me to expand my floral refrigeration and rental inventory for events. Having a studio also meant more room for a growing team in the time of physical distancing. That leap of faith ended up being crucial for giving my business room to grow and prepare for the new demands of the event industry.

Every day on my way to my studio in Northeast Baltimore, I drive past that old apartment where I used to run my business before Covid. As much as I miss our newlywed life in the “before times” and the simplicity of running a smaller business, I can’t deny that the challenge and struggle of the pandemic ultimately pushed me and my business to grow in a way I wouldn’t have imagined before.

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
Weddings are our primary focus at Violet Floral, and in our designs, we pursue a synergy between the style and personality of our couples and the particular moment in time in which their wedding is taking place, via seasonal flowers. I think of it as ambitious designs, grounded in the season.

Violet Floral is committed to becoming a leader in our local floral industry in the best practices for sustainable floral design. Our studio has a moratorium on floral foam, which is carcinogenic, doesn’t biodegrade or compost, and is totally unregulated in the US despite being a toxic substance comparable to home insulation in its chemical makeup. We are one of very few florists in our area who have eliminated floral foam, yet I believe that the future of floral design is foam-free, so I really hope to see more and more florists removing foam from their studios. But sustainable floral design also means reusing and repurposing, donating or responsibly disposing of flowers and natural materials, and avoiding single-use plastics, chemicals, paints, dyes, and aerosols whenever possible. And of course, purchasing from local flower growers whenever possible is a cornerstone of our pursuit of sustainability.

We’re also committed to serving Baltimore area weddings in an inclusive way. Inclusive customer service, marketing, and imagery is extremely important to truly serving our community–not every wedding has a “bride and groom,” for example, so those terms are not an appropriate “catch-all” to use as a wedding vendor. As a white person, I have to take responsibility, in my own business and also how I engage with the wider wedding industry, for putting in the work of subverting the way whiteness and heteronormativity permeate the imagery and marketing that’s featured in vendor and product advertising and wedding planning materials. So, I hope that anyone who is in love and getting married can come work with us and feel celebrated, represented, and respected.

Do you have any advice for those just starting out?
When I started out, I did not charge enough for my designs, and this got me started on the wrong foot financially and slowed down the growth of my business at first. Another florist firmly told me that I instead needed to “start the way I mean to go on,” and as I became more educated on the industry standards in floral design and the true costs of operating a floral business, I learned that I needed to start charging more if I intended to keep going. So, I would encourage any creative entrepreneur to research their markets and charge what is needed to sustain their art and their livelihood–the clients that you want to work with will respect this. Additionally, be willing to learn from others in your industry who are ahead of you–in our local floral industry, there is a growing number of florists who care about mentoring, collaborating, and lifting each other up, so there’s no need to be a loner or think of these other businesses only as your competition – this spirit of community and generosity elevates our industry and makes it stronger.

Pricing:

  • Typical a la carte wedding: $1k-$4k
  • Typical full-service wedding: $4k-$10k
  • Typical bridal bouquet: $275

Contact Info:


Image Credits:

Barbara O. Photography
Meghan Elizabeth Photography
Urban Row Photography
Sarandon Smith Photography
TPOZ Photography

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