“A challenge for me is getting some people to see the value in a lot of the unconventional materials we use.”
Have you ever stalked someone on LinkedIn and wondered how on earth they managed to land that wildly impressive job? While it might look like smooth sailing, there’s no doubt been a heck of a lot of hard work involved in getting there.
So what lessons have been learned and what skills have proved invaluable in getting them from daydreaming about success to actually being at the top of their industry?
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welcome to How I Got Herewhere we talk to people who are killing it in their respective fields about how they landed their awe-inspiring jobs, exploring the peaks and pits, the failures and the wins, and most importantly the knowledge, advice and practical tips they’ve gleaned along the way.
This week we’re exploring the career journey of proud Yorta Yorta woman Shahn Stewart. A floral artist and the founder of Naarm-based floristry studio, Alchemy Orange, it was being rejected from her first career of choice that saw her try her luck in the world of floristry.
After 10 years working as a florist, a desire to challenge the preconceived notions of what is and isn’t floral art led to her opening her First Nations-owned studio in 2019.
In the last few years, Shahn and Alchemy Orange have gone from strength to strength, and her vision of a community-driven floristry studio that strengthens the connection between people and Country has been realized. But getting here wasn’t always straightforward. Here’s what she’s learned along the way.
What do you do and what’s your official job title?
I would have to say that my official job title would be Boss Lady, but I run my own business called Alchemy Orange. We are an Aboriginal-owned and operated botanical design and creative studio.
Take us back to when you were first starting out. Did you study to get into your chosen field, or did you start out with an internship/entry-level role and climb the ladder? Tell us the story.
My journey began in 2010 during high school, I was passionate about becoming a librarian at the time. It wasn’t until I was sadly rejected from the position of junior library staff that I decided to mix up my profession. I switched the placement to floristry and within about three months was offered a full-time traineeship which I excitedly left school to pursue.
I completed a two-year traineeship alongside heaps of bucket washing and sweeping [and] this gave me my Cert Two and Three in floristry before moving up to Boorloo into a position as a senior florist, and then eventually all the way over to Naarm.
The beginnings of Alchemy Orange arose after years as a florist here in Naarm. I decided that I wanted to work for myself but also create something that was really different from what was offered here. It was always my intention to have a First Nations-owned and operated floristry studio that also branched out, taking on many different creative forms, and being really community driven.
I can happily say that at this point that [my] vision has really come to life, and we are so grateful and excited for all of the opportunities we have worked for and people we have collaborated with.
What challenges/hurdles have you faced getting to where you are now? Can you tell us about one in particular?
I think initially it was a big challenge running everything by myself. There are so many boxes to tick as a small business owner, from admin, ordering, consults and the execution of jobs etc. All of this happens while you’re trying to grow your brand and yourself – it can feel pretty huge. I knew I needed to bring on some help for some time but felt the task of training someone new to be more effort than just doing it myself, which is never true.
Long story short, I’m very grateful now to have a 2IC (second in command), whose vision really synced up with my own, [who] had a love for the bush and for art/design, and is now becoming a florist in his own right. Also starting a business at the beginning of a global pandemic isn’t something that helps, but it built strength into the business and we really did bring a lot of people some happiness with our daily bouquet deliveries.
What do you want people to know about your industry/your role?
A challenge for me is getting some people to see the value in a lot of the unconventional materials we use. I think there’s often a misunderstanding that something hasn’t got value unless it is a flower we know in its accepted form.
I like to look at things as having value at all stages of their growth and decomposition, for example, I find so much beauty in drying materials, particularly natives, and watching them become something else. This doesn’t make them any less valuable – there is a lot of thought that goes into everything we use.
What’s the best part about your role?
Working with all of the deadly artists we get to collaborate with or create for! This is particularly special when we are talking about Aboriginal artists, as strengthening culture and community is what it’s all about.
What would surprise people about your role?
That I don’t forage everything! I think there have been a few instances where I get painted as a florist that only works with things that I find randomly on Country. Whereas these people often don’t think about the early morning grind of flower markets and the work that goes into sustainably foraging elements of our works. big, big misconception [that] I wanna get straight for the record.
What skills have served you well in your industry?
Being a Virgo and being a perfectionist. Having great attention to detail serves you very well in a creative industry such as floral design.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to be in a role like yours one day?
Find what you truly, truly care about, something that drives you through the hard work and makes you feel something! Then never, never, never stop grinding – you can seriously do anything if you get out there. I know it’s a cliche, but it’s so true.
What about a practical tip?
Share the rent.
Keep up to date with Alchemy Orange here.
Read the rest of the How I Got Here series here.
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