Artist Spotlight: Sophie Lau, Floral Designer

By Anna Ortiz on November 14th, 2018

Sophie Lau spends many of her days in the dirt. Making art isn’t necessarily a clean activity for her. Instead of photographs or drawings, Lau prefers her art to come directly from nature. As a floral designer and owner of Petals by Sophie, she is able to express herself, flex her creativity, and please her clients all at the same time. Floral design began as a hobby for Lau and has now grown into a successful career. After she was let go from her job at an insurance company, Lau decided to attend a local community college in San Francisco. A friend of hers had taken a floral design class and had recommended that Lau give it a try. The class turned out to be transformative as Lau discovered she held a passion and talent for working with flowers.

It was exciting. It was a great visual expression–like painting or clay, but with fresh flowers. It was a new medium. It incorporated colors, texture, composition–all of these important principles as you would drawing, painting, or photography. It was a live art. I fell in love with it.

Like many floral designers, Lau apprenticed under several well-known floral designers. She worked tirelessly to learn the ins and outs of the business. Although she had studied and was interested in art during her undergraduate and high school studies, Lau never imagined that floral design could turn into a viable living. Her internship experiences proved her wrong. In addition, while classes at the local community college had prepared her technically, it was her internship that sparked her interest in starting a career as a floral designer.

You want to learn as much as you can as you shadow under designers. I would go into their study or work area. I would work from their home. I would clean and prep on Wednesdays, design on Thursdays and Fridays, and then help with the events on Saturdays..

Two years later, Lau operates her Petals by Sophie as a side business. In the beginning, business blossomed slowly. Today, many of her clients still find her directly from her online presence, but more importantly– she is getting word of mouth recommendations.

Word of mouth really helped, especially through social media. I was surprised when a friend I haven’t heard from in years passed me along to her friends. She spread the word about me without me even asking because she saw my work through my Facebook feed or page.

Lau also has taken to the street to build her brand. For example, Lau’s pop-up shop experiment last Valentine’s Day was a great success for her floral design business. Lau went to several local cafes and asked the business owners if she could set up shop in their spaces after hours. Lau then used the space to sell her flower arrangements on one of the flower industry’s busiest days of the year.

Sophie’s Advice to Aspiring Artists

Learn the Ins and Outs of the Business

Becoming a floral designer and starting her own business wasn’t an easy feat. Lau has had to learn the ins and outs of the business on her own. She notes that floral arranging has a high overhead cost to owners which is why many work from their homes or garages like she does. Pricing flowers can be tricky and requires great accounting skills.

You Need to Be a Great Communicator

Floral designers need to be great communicators. Often, clients will contact Lau months before their big events. She notes that many clients shop around, making quick turnaround times vital to getting business. She then works with the clients on their visions and budgets. While 6-9 months seems like a long time to plan and design, Sophie notes that time passes rather quickly while she does the behind the scenes work.

Be Creative and Savvy

For those interested in becoming a floral designer, Lau recommends that you learn the ropes of both the business and technical side. Not only is being a professional at all times is essential, but also having a good sense of how to communicate and work with others is big whether you plan on owning your own business or working with a larger floral design group. Creativity and artistic sensibility is a major part of it, but floral design requires you to also be savvy.

Just Go For It

Most importantly, Lau recommends that interested designers just go for it! “There is a lot of fear… of the unknown,” she concedes, “but if you don’t try it, you just don’t know. There will be a lot of challenges that will pop up, but fail or not, it’s a learning experience.” The work is, of course, quite grueling; Lau often keeps long hours and has to travel long distances for setup and teardown. But, she says, the only thing that matters is “the end of the night, when you see how delighted the guests and bride and grooms are.” That payoff, she says, makes everything worthwhile. “It’s the joy that you give them when I know that I have done a great job–that they trusted me to deliver the product and vision they had envisioned.”

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