Terri and Katie started Worm in 2016 in East London. They began as a book and flower bunch delivery service but since then they’ve wiggled their way into all sorts of work and now design flowers for events, installations, collaborations and conceptual projects. Their displays are naturalistic, with a wild beauty. Foraged and dried flowers often steal the limelight and don’t be surprised to see vegetables and fruits sitting alongside flowers in displays that are more remininscent of still life paintings.
We spoke to Katie about how she and Terri started their floral design studio, the inspiration behind their work, and what life’s been like as a florist during lockdown as well as their plans to keep not just themselves, but others blooming too.
Firstly, how are you and how have you been coping during lock-down?
We’re good thanks! It’s nice to see some kind of normality resume here in London. Lock-down has been a rollercoaster of ups and downs. It was difficult at the start when we had to close our studio not knowing when we would open the doors again. We went from working seven days a week on lots of different kinds of events to not working at all. It definitely took some adjusting to. As the weeks went on, and with some well needed time to reflect, we started to appreciate having some time to slow down. We’ve been able to look at what we have been doing with new eyes and properly make a plan for the kind of company we now want Worm to be. Without this time, I don’t think we would have ever done that. We’ve also been able to spend more time working on some community projects in the area where our studio is located. It has been really eye-opening and special to be able to do this.
With hospitality cancelled what’s the impact been on your business?
The impact has been huge. We had to close our studio and we’ve given it to the local food bank to use until we can open up again. We don’t know as of yet when this will be. We are hoping soon, even though we know we will have to adapt to a new way of working. A lot of our business comes from large events which are unlikely to take place for a long time, but again we know we can adapt and be creative in what we do and how our studio will work. It feels like we are starting all over again. To be honest though, when we think about it, we basically started Worm with nothing. We can start again, but this time we have a really supportive and loyal client base. We feel lucky to be in a position like that.
Have you managed to keep a positive mindset?
I think so, for the most part! I can’t imagine how you could completely stay positive all day every day through this. There have definitely been times where we have felt like the whole world was imploding in on us. I think knowing how adaptable we are as humans has really helped us. It has been so interesting to see how scared everybody was at the beginning of lockdown and how we adapted to lockdown. There is now the fear of coming out of lockdown, but we will just adapt again.
We are lucky that our family and friends are all well and happy. That has kept us feeling positive. We are aware however that many have had heartbreaking and serious struggles in the past weeks. It’s been difficult to stay positive at times when seeing others go through such grief and difficulties. I think just living more mindfully in the here and now has benefited us both.
Can we go back to the beginning. What’s been your journey to becoming florists?
Before we started Worm we were both working in different creative jobs. Terri was an actress and I was a stylist. Both our careers were very uncertain. Sometimes there would be a lot of work and other times work would be scarce. We both felt like we had very little control over our work lives. A lot of the time we were working extremely long hours for someone else. We were both reaching the end of our twenties, and really wanted to have a better sense of control over our lives. We wanted to work those long hours for ourselves rather than someone else. We wanted to have more freedom and make up our own rules to how we worked.
We didn’t know each other very well, but we just knew that we were at the same point in our lives. One evening when we were in the pub with friends, both of us were talking about how unsatisfied and miserable we felt about our careers. Everybody at the table started telling us to do something together. We chatted more and realised we both adored books and flowers and were always giving them individually to our friends. We loved the idea that when the flowers are gone, you would always have the book to remind you of the nice gift you received. We decided there and then that it was a nice idea for a business and Worm was born. That following week we met up, enrolled in a basic flower course, came up with the name, registered it and went from there. It actually all started very quickly, we both had a mutual sense of urgency to do it.
The business has changed since our initial book and bunch delivery service. Once we started getting jobs, we realised we loved working on events and installations. We felt this was a area which allowed us to be really creative, so we have focussed on that side of the business quite a lot. We still do book and bunch deliveries but it’s on a much smaller scale. We have always tried to keep what we do varied, and are both flexible so we feel we can adapt and do whatever we enjoy at any given moment. The most important thing for us is to really enjoy what we are creating so it just became a easy decision to work more on events and installations.
What challenges have you faced along the way?
There have been many challenges. We basically had to learn how to do everything along the way. When you run a small business there are so many different hats you have to wear at any one time. You have to be the designer, then the studio cleaner, then the accountant. At the beginning juggling all these different roles was really tough. When we grew we realised we could take off some of these hats just keeping on the ones we are good at. We were able to slowly hire people to work with us on the areas which we struggled with. This has made things easier.
One of the biggest challenges we still face is how all encompassing the job is. We find it difficult to switch off when we have time off. There is always something that you can be doing. This time of lock-down has made us realise how important it is to slow down, relax and take time for yourself.
How have you grown your business and how important is social media in reaching your audience?
Our business grew very organically. At the beginning one job just led to another. We never put any money into marketing because we didn’t have any. We made an Instagram account and just started posting pictures of our projects. Over time our community started to grow. We now have a really lovely group of followers and get a lot of work from them. Having that online community has been massively important to us as a small business as while its a place where customers come from, it is also a place where we get inspired and find new people to collaborate with. It’s also wonderful to be able to interact with our followers and get to know them. Having that interaction makes everything so much more intimate and rewarding. We are such a small business, but having that place to connect with like minded people is really important.
We love your memorable name. How did you choose it?
We started as a book and bunch delivery service. We thought the link between earthworm and bookworm was a nice idea. We also enjoy how the word Worm looks.
How would you describe your floral style and have you always loved flowers?
Wild, seasonal, natural with a twist. We have both always loved flowers, and Worm is heavily influenced by the wild imperfect flowers we grew up around on the coast of Ireland.
From weddings, shoots, installations and events, you have an incredibly varied portfolio. What highlights stand out?
This is difficult because of how varied the jobs we get are. It is really special being part of someones wedding day. The process of getting to know the couple, designing the flowers with them and then the intimate moment you get to see them on their wedding day is just so nice. We always have to fight back the tears when we are giving brides their bouquets. We got to work on a wedding last year where we got to work with the families gardeners to grow the flowers which we used. It was a gorgeous process being able to choose the flowers which were grown and then go and pick them and make the wedding.
There is also something special about making a large scale installation. Its usually a really stressful process, a lot of the time going into it we are not fully sure if it will work and how it will turn out. There is nothing more satisfying than the feeling you get when its all finished and you are happy with the outcome.
What sort of projects do you prefer and where do you see yourselves developing in the future?
We adore collaborating with other makers on projects. I think we enjoy the collaboration process so much as we generally get to learn new sills from another person. We work a lot with our friend and artist Kristin Perers. It always feels really interesting when you find someone that you work really well with. There is a new energy involved which is really special. Some of our favourite work has been the projects we have worked on with Kristin. There is a special synergy between us all and the projects always have a strong sense of meaning which is important to us all.
You’ve worked at some stunning venues. Do you have any favourites?
That is one of the most exciting things about our job. We are so lucky to get to go into a huge amount of interesting spaces. It is impossible to choose a favourite, they are so varied. We did a wedding in Petworth House which was really special. Its a beautiful house where many great artists like Turner lived. All the flowers where inspired by different art works within the house. We got to stay there for a couple of nights while we made the flowers. We got to know the whole family of both bride and groom while we were there, which made it even more special. Working in such a incredible space with such a lovely family was just so exciting. I don’t think we will ever forget that job and seeing our flowers sit beside Turner paintings.
How important is sustainability and seasonal flowers to your approach?
Sustainability has been a really big focus for us, especially in recent months. There are many unsustainable aspects to the floral and events business. This has to change. It feels crazy to us that the business we are in that relies so heavily from what grows from the ground could be so unsustainable in many ways. There is a long way to go with this, but as a business we have been really focusing on developing new ideas and techniques which will help drive this forward. Seasonality has always been really important to us, but now more than ever we feel it is our job to educate our customers to understanding that buying seasonal flowers is key. It would be fantastic to get to the point where we are using British grown flowers all year round.
Dried flowers have made such a big comeback recently and you’ve made some incredible installations with them. What inspires you and what do think makes something into a trend?
We started using dried flowers in installations because we wanted to make displays that lasted longer and were more sustainable. I think people are so much more environmentally conscience now and are looking for ways to be more sustainable. There is a desire to move away from opulent imported flowers to more seasonal homegrown flowers. The idea that one can have fresh flowers in summer and dry them out for winter is a nice process that people are starting to connect with and do. For us dried flowers feel nostalgic. They remind us of our childhoods and the dried grasses that used to grow near our homes. In this case I think they have become a trend because its becoming more and more apparent to people that we have to look after our world, this is a simple shift into being more sustainable. And when used well, they can be just as beautiful as fresh flowers.
You put a lot of energy into sharing your know-how with your book and workshops. What do you enjoy about this process?
We enjoy sharing what we have learned along the way. The workshops are always so brilliant because we get to meet and connect with other flower lovers. Its important to share what we know and hopefully inspire others to make flowers. Working with flowers even as a hobby is so meditative. It is calming and connects you to the seasons and nature. Helping others see that is really special.
The recent crisis has seen the industry coming together more to support each other. You’ve long been involved in collaboration. What is about working with other creative people that you like?
Collaboration has been important to us from the start. Its just exciting to work with others and learn from what they do. The process of doing a project from beginning to end with others is so much more rewarding. The collective push to get it all done is really inspiring. We need to work together especially in this changing world. It feels more supportive and I think greater ideas come when you have other thoughts and beliefs in the mix.
Have you managed to maintain a daily routine during lockdown – are you missing the early rises to the flower market?
Sort off! There have been days where the daily routine just goes out the window. At the start I was all set to have a very strict daily routine and get the most of out of every day. I soon realised that being hard and regimented on oneself durning this time was not the best approach. I eased off and now have a calmer less pressurised routine that I try to stick to. Maybe its more like certain markers in the day that I do to help keep me grounded. The early 3.30am rises are not part of that. The thought of them fills me with fear, but I know we can adapt back when the time comes.
So many events and weddings have been postponed. How have you been supporting your clients and what are you forward to returning to?
Most of our weddings for the summer got postponed in the first few weeks of lockdown. It just felt sad for the couples. There is so much planning that goes into a wedding day, and it was heartbreaking to hear the disappointment in some. To be honest though, most of our couples felt it was the right thing and had great perspective on the situation. Everybody was more concerned with the devastation happening in the world and worry about their family and friends in the immediate future. Given the circumstances I think everybody just took it in their stride. We tried to make it as easy as possible, just changing the dates for next year or the year after.
We love what we do, so we are just looking forward to getting back into the studio and making things. Its felt like there has been piece of us missing not being there the past few months. Our studio is always buzzing with people coming in and out. Its a really nice place just to be. We miss the energy of the place and the people that pass through it each day.
A lot of people have been using this time to think about setting up or changing direction in their business. Do you have any advice?
I know! Its so exciting to see some of the people around me decide to change careers or start their own business. This time has allowed many people to stop and think about what they really want. You can’t beat the feeling of coming home each day after doing a job you really love. Its important and makes life so much more enjoyable. Making big changes is a risk and sometimes a scary one, but it is completely worth it.
There are a lot of practical things that need to get done when starting a business. Things that take time like registering with HMRC and setting up bank accounts. This is a good time to get the groundwork done, that’s if you have a little extra time on your hands. We would have loved some time to do this, but we were both working full time at the start so this ground work had to be done in the little gaps we had.
In recent weeks we’ve all had to have some difficult conversations following George Floyd’s killing. A lot of companies have spoken out to support the Black Lives Matter movement. You’ve gone further and set up a mentorship programme. Can you tell us more about it.
We just felt we needed to do something to make sure our commitment to the Black lives Matter movement had longevity and purpose. Through educating ourselves we came to realise that it was important to go beyond performative corporate allyship and do something that took action. After thinking a lot about what we could do as a small business in the current climate we came up with the idea to do a mentorship programme. We want to work with and support a black owned business take its first steps. We feel like we have a lot of contacts, advice and guidance we can give. We also have time at the moment which we can really put into helping this business to get off the ground and grow. The idea is that the mentors programme will continue and grow. We would love in the future for it to be able to fund future learning and courses that business owners would like to go on. We have both always loved working with people and feel so excited to be in a position where we can help a new business get off the ground, hopefully avoiding some of the mistakes we made at the start. It’s something which we wish we would of had when starting Worm, so just feel it will be beneficial to another start-up.
For more information about Worm click here or follow them on Instagram here.
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