Ever since I saw her radish and tulip bouquet on her blog, CrossPollination Floral, I was drawn in by Brooke Howsley’s style—textured, multifaceted, and unexpected. Brooke stumbled into the world of flowers just a handful of years ago, bringing her graphic and textile design experiences to bear as she developed her thoughtful approach to flowers.
What’s your background? Have flowers always been a part of the picture for you?
In college, I didn’t even know “floral designer” was an option. I went to the University of Texas at Austin and majored in graphic design, learned a lot about composition and color and professionalism. I freelanced for a while but didn’t like sitting behind a desk all day. I tried a lot of different things. I was an antiques dealer for a couple of years then a bedding and furniture designer at a fabric store in Austin where they let me help with visual merchandising. Nothing felt exactly like the right thing.
At one point I thought, Hmm…what about flowers? My mom had always grown beautiful flowers, but I didn’t have her green thumb.
What was your first step?
I challenged myself and just walked into the wholesaler, bought $50 worth of flowers (which blew my mind at the time), took them home, and made an arrangement! It hit on something that fed my soul and could be a business for me. I knew I needed some training and I chose to get it on-the-job: at a place that handled higher-end accounts and another place that did daily deliveries. I wanted to cover my bases and learn both sides. After a year-ish, I felt confident to start booking weddings on my own. All these things started coming my way once I committed.
And then your studio was born?
I had Pollen for about two or three years before we moved to New Zealand for two and half years. The studio was on hiatus while I was gone.
My husband and I went to New Zealand for our honeymoon for 12 days. My husband was beside himself and said, “We just have to move here!” It was a crazy decision to uproot our lives and move to the other side of the world. I tried to start a floral design business there with a Kiwi woman and decided I wasn’t a business-partner type of person. I wasn’t engaged in the flower business there, and it started to get to me that it wasn’t the life I really wanted. It took us a year to sell our house and make the transition back.
Here comes the style question…how would you describe yours?
Coming from an arts background, I felt there was this whole range of things you could add to make arrangements more interesting and modern. So, I asked wholesalers about what was new and different and just started pulling things that looked unique. I really hopped on the succulent bandwagon and am trying to focus on locally grown flowers and plants and unique foliage. The local angle wasn’t that important to me a few years back, but I’ve incorporated that more into my personal life and my business as well. It’s so much bigger than just a trend.
The more I got into the flow of my own style, the more people came to me liking it and wanting to take it further. I started attracting brides who wanted to do something cool and interesting.
What guides you when you design?
I’m really trying to meditate on what the inspiration is for a particular piece and make the flowers visually evocative of that inspiration. So, if the starting point was a painting, I really try to capture the spirit of the inspiration. I feel that it’s intuitive if I’m working on something that’s not working.
You can plan and plan and, when the flowers arrive, it can be the opposite of what you were expecting. The goal is to make bride happy, to create her vision but not lose my integrity.
Recently, I met with a bride who described the wedding she wanted as “Victorian naturalist mixed with vintage Mexican.” Different combinations keep me fresh and wanting to be in the business.
Who do you admire, florally-speaking?
I’m inspired by Kate Holt and Ariella Chezar. Paula Pryke is another person I look at often. I try to keep up with what’s going on and still keep my own style.
How would you advise budding (pun intended) young designers?
Follow your passions in life and trust your instincts. Get out and personally network in the community. Interact with people in a genuinely interested way. What made my business successful was that I had worked at local Austin businesses and built up 10 years worth of contacts, and those people really supported me.
Keep yourself inspired from multiple viewpoints. Don’t just stay in your studio. Go to a museum and look at paintings and sculpture. On the business side, be conservative and don’t try to expand too quickly. Slowly build your client base and don’t overextend yourself.
Before we moved to New Zealand, I was doing at least one wedding a weekend. I didn’t have a lot of support people I could call on, so I was doing more of it myself than I should have been. Since I’ve been back, I’ve really worked on that aspect of the business. Back in December, I had the biggest wedding of my career with a big budget. Three of my friends came with me to Houston to help. Took all the pressure off me and I felt like it went very smoothly.