If this all sounds a little dry, please know that I am aware how unimportant it is in the grand scheme of things. We are arranging flowers, not reinventing the wheel. But I have written this post out of respect for AESME, and for all my and my sister's hard work to get to this point. We'd be interested to hear about other people's experiences and opinions so please feel free to leave a comment below.
Earlier this week we discovered that someone had directly taken text from our website and reproduced it on their own. To add insult to injury, it was someone we used to know. Recognition of one’s own words is not a feeling of familiarity or déjà vu. It’s an instantaneous We wrote that. Those are our words. Black and white, copied and pasted. Repeatedly, throughout the site.
When we were coming up with the copy for our website last year (edited and adapted several times as our confidence grew in what we were saying) we struggled with how to express exactly what we wanted in as few words as possible, without copying everyone else in the industry who was also trying to do exactly the same thing. Crossover is inevitable; after all there are only so many words to describe flowers. Coming up with phrases that are both descriptive and atmospheric, while at the same time succinct and easily understood by prospective clients, isn't easy.
This low little act of Internet theft led us to a general discussion about plagiarism, imitation and the perils of social media and the Internet. I recently read an online article in which the interviewee, a product designer, stated that she wasn’t inspired by other people, her creative thoughts were stimulated by the ‘stuff’ of the outside world; travel, buildings, life on the street etc. One of the best lessons we learned last year was that by looking outside of the industry and the suffocating mass of floral imagery online - by enjoying and exploring history, art and literature, architecture and the natural world, fashion, interiors and photography – we found our creative output, and ultimately our designs, improved. They had greater depths, stronger foundations and most importantly, gave us a sense of pride. (Fleetingly, due to similarly impatient personalities).
We are not without our muses and mentors.
The first place Ally ever learned about ‘floral design’ (and generally the concept of using flowers as artistic materials rather than the act of selling cut flowers from a stall or a shop) was through Amy Merrick’s blog. Amy’s work must have inspired millions of creative souls across the world, and has probably been copied and imitated thousands of times over. Ally wrote to Sarah Ryhanen of the incredible Saipua in New York, who organised an internship. She learnt valuable lessons from Sarah and her team during her brief time there about technique, colour, sourcing materials, and the running of a creative business. Which, when you’re 30, using up holiday allowance from your office job and spending your savings on a transatlantic return flight, is nothing like this. Ally threw herself into it (in a reserved, British sort of way) and took in everything she could. Those lessons, along with others from a floristry course and advice from others working within the industry, have been absorbed into our collective skill set and reworked to apply to our own business and (I write this tentatively), brand.
Ally has written about starting out and trying to find a style of floral arranging that feels natural to her here. In our little creative business, ‘flowers’ really are her department, and by working alongside her I have absorbed by osmosis her experimentation with different sizes, shapes, materials and colours. Our decision to try growing some of our own has been borne out of an integral part of our ethos and a constant preoccupation; to do our own thing. (And most importantly, to 'design' each arrangement or installation and challenge ourselves to create something new, not simply churn out the same formula of flowers for each client). To this end we have carefully created a small nuanced planting plan, and are always looking for suppliers and growers who offer something new and unusual that we can use. In order to take this step we have, naturally, sought and found inspiration in a number of established flower growers and florists, online and in person. Jo Flowers (with whom we were discussing this very subject not long ago) is someone we have come to know over the last year and we openly admire - both for her beautiful, natural aesthetic with flowers, and no-bullshit independent approach to her work. Jo has been generous spirited in sharing her expertise and advice with us; a far more enriching experience than nicking her ideas online.
We are still very much at the beginning. Last year was an enormous learning curve in all aspects of running a small business (and a design-led one), working together as sisters, trialling, failing, celebrating, adapting. We hold our hands up, we looked at other people’s websites (still do). Everyone does. We are unhealthily dependent on daily doses of Instagram, but are working hard to manage our addiction. Our website is now, after a year of tweaking and improving, at a stage where we recognise it truthfully as its own entity. It feels like us.
Humans imitate, we are all guilty of that. The concept of copying art forms is certainly nothing new. As a self-taught artist, I really struggled last year, spending months painting a series of colourful floral prints that were in no way representative of my own style or skills. I had absorbed a particular style through its over-exposed ‘trending’ everywhere around me, and had been subconsciously labouring over designs that, once completed, I didn’t even like. For those searching for inspiration, the Internet provides access to some of the most incredible pieces of creativity known to man. It is a life-changing resource. But it also endows copy and paste capabilities to those lacking in imagination.
We have asked the person who took our words to remove them from her website. If she wants to truly create anything, she’d be better off finding her own.