Jessica Simmonds and Chikae Okishima-Howland are the new petals on the floral block, and already they are creating quite a sensation. The friends, now 25 years old, studied fine art at Leeds College of Art and bring a strong artistic flair to their floristry.
On graduating, they enrolled at Covent Garden Academy of Flowers, Chikae as a complete beginner and Jessica as a comparative veteran, having worked in flower shops part-time since the age of 15.
"We start with a vision of a design and then look at how we can make it work," says Chikae. "We are not constrained by rules. Sometimes it's a case of trial and error, and having fun as we work. Our background in design and fine art means we are inspired by nature and everything that is pretty, everything that is beautiful."
"People underestimate the power of flowers," says Chikae, and people would be right not to underestimate the ambition of Okishima & Simmonds! Chikae and Jessica have a clear vision of where they want to be and they are determined perfectionists. They spent almost 7 months refining the Okishima & Simmonds branding and website to reflect their personalities and their style as closely as possible.
Chikae and Jessica understand the importance of great images in creating a brand, and have styled and mostly shot the lavish photography that makes their website www.okishimasimmonds.com so engaging. They describe their style as "creative floral styling", which is as much born from a love of fashion as a love of flowers. "We want to make art out of flowers," says Jessica. "Our style is freshly picked…with a twist!"
Okishima & Simmonds are targeting the events and weddings market from their base in South-West London, and open for collaborative ventures. They run a pop-up flower shop with Beas of Bloomsbury, one of the Independent’s top 50 tearooms. They take great pride in the personal, one-to-one approach with clients, listening carefully to their clients' likes and dislikes, and skillfully interpreting their vision.
First Steps into the Flower Market
Chikae and Jessica first visited the Flower Market in August 2012 on a tour with Gill Wheeler of Covent Garden Academy of Flowers. "We were like kids in a sweet shop! We loved it straight away," says Jessica.
They took a very proactive approach to working the Flower Market to their advantage. They made friends with Tony at the Coffee Break in the café, and asked him advice on which wholesalers they should talk to. They met Liz Powell of After Hours Flowers, who introduced them to wholesalers such as Zest Flowers, Alagar and GB Foliage, and, even before launching their flower business, they visited the Flower Market every week until wholesalers started recognising them. "We love the banter too," laughs Jessica. "We always stay longer than planned as we end up chatting and laughing with the salesmen!"
Today, these relative newcomers buy 100% of their flowers and foliage from the Flower Market, turning primarily to their favourites Terry at Zest and Bobby at Alagar for flowers, and David at GB Foliage for foliage. Working with the seasons is clearly important to their design ethos, and they actively seek out stunning British-grown flowers and foliage from around the Flower Market.
"The Flower Market is a hidden gem," says Jessica. "We always go in with colours in mind, and try to be as flexible as possible. That way you learn about materials you haven't used before. I've been a florist for ten years, but I still see things at the Flower Market that I’d never seen before. The Flower Market is a great place for spotting the rare and the unusual."
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