Women Who MAKE Interview – AVIUM FLOWERS
Flowers. There is nothing quite like the natural beauty of a wild bouquet. If you’re anything like me flower-filled Instagrams fill up your feed, and make you smile on a daily basis.
Rewind to last fall, when I walked into a community yoga studio and saw a lovely bunch of dahlia’s gracing the counter. They were so pretty and perfect; I assumed they must have been purchased from an expensive floral shop. The woman checking me into class happened to be Lindsey, and she told me that in fact she had grown these dahlia’s herself, here in the city, and was starting a flower farm. With a monthly flower CSA and community programs, and her small urban garden was here in Chicago!
This sounded like something I wanted to see with my own two eyes, and so last month photographer, Anna Sodziak and I went to visit Avium Flowers at the beginning of the growing season. Avium is a partnership between three wonderful women (Caitlin, Christine and Lindsey from left to right) who are passionate about flowers, farming and community. Here’s more about their business in their own words.
You can find out more about Avium and their programming here: http://www.aviumflowers.com
- Name/s: Lindsey McNeil, Christine Johnson, Caitlin Kerr
- Age/s: 32, 29, 33
- Current title/company name: Co-owners, Avium Flowers
- Years in operation: We grew flowers last year, but officially became a business in March 2016 and are thrilled to be tackling our first season.
What is your first memory of making [art]/being creative?
LM: My mom is a professional painter, so when I was growing up that’s pretty much all we did. I was painting and creating before I can even remember.
How did your education or past work experience give you the confidence to go out on your own as a small business owner?
LM: I went to art school and both of my parents owned their own businesses, so I always just assumed I would work for myself. I’ve been freelancing and showing my artwork for years now. Working alone, I was doing things as they came up and always sort of winging it. When Christine and Caitlin approached me about partnering with Avium, it felt like a welcome change. To be able to share not only the workload with them, but to share the decision-making, brainstorming, challenges and celebrations, it is invigorating for me. After my experience as a freelance painter, I have been able to approach running Avium in a more intentional manner. Also, I operate as a much more confident and effective business owner knowing I have the support of these two incredible ladies.
CJ: Since I can remember I’ve dreamed of owning my own flower shop. The vision has changed over the years, but it was always selling local beauty and bounty to my neighbors and community; creating a space to gather and experience gratitude for nature and our relationship with it. Years ago, I once read the horoscope birthday book and my life mantra was “be your own boss.” As I wove my way through college and a variety of different jobs that never felt quite right, I at some point allowed myself that a dream could be reality. That was when the concept of Avium started to form.
CK: I have always worked with small businesses and knew at some point I would be the owner of one. This was a natural path for me to take.
Tell us about the process of launching this business. Best parts? Biggest challenge?
LM: We all came together during May of last year and decided to take this business on. Caitlin and Christine had been masterminding for some time, but I showed up in April and seemed to fill a lot of the holes they were working around. We made the conscious decision to dive in headfirst and start growing flowers, rather than spending the summer preparing to start. I don’t think any of us regret this approach and it was totally thrilling. We had no real plan, so every flower was a little victory.
It has been a lot harder this year, as we’ve opened ourselves up to the business side of things, such as commitments to customers and sticking to our financial goals. We are very much still learning to work as a team, which has really shown up now that the pressure is on. In the end, the best part is working on the farm. Once my hands are in the dirt and I’m working with the plants, all of the unknowns fade away and everything feels right in the world.
What is your favorite part of the creative / farming process? What inspires you and why?
LM: Farmwork. I love sweating in the sun, feeling like I’m accomplishing something huge and using my physical body to get it done. The human body is such a miraculous thing and it feels good to push it to it’s potential. Looking back after a long day and seeing how I have changed the earth and also nurtured these plants to be the best they can is so satisfying. I spent a year traveling and farming. I felt so connected with nature and humankind on that trip. I feel like working the land here in Chicago allows me to feel like I’m still out there a little bit and even though I’m in a city, it’s the same sun, rain, earth and people that I’m working with.
CJ: Same. My first job on a farm completed a piece of me and I felt whole. Working in the sun, the soil and nurturing young plants to offer a physical and emotional sustenance is the most rewarding kind of work I have ever encountered. The unpredictability of the weather can be seen as a deterrent but I find it assuring in the idea that you give everything you can, do the best you can and let the earth (universe) take care of the rest. Sometimes things work out and sometimes they don’t but accepting failures and accomplishments is a trait I have acquired solely through my relationship with nature.
CK: My business partners Christine and Lindsey inspire me. Flowers inspire me and there is something so wonderful about watching something grow.
What is the best advice you have for other female entrepreneurs?
LM: Don’t listen to anyone that doesn’t believe in you. I told someone years ago that I wanted to be a florist, but what I really wanted to do was grow the flowers. This person responded that growing flowers was such an unstable and difficult business because you become so dependent on the weather. ‘You can lose your whole crop and an entire season of work in an instant’ was all that I heard. I hadn’t even really thought the idea through at that point time; farming just sounded fun to me. That one comment made me drop the idea completely. I had just been hired by a farmer florist to assist with weddings. I was planning to get my foot in the door with her and then try to move to the farming side of her business, and instead I quit before I even started. Even if your idea is really off the wall, if it makes you happy you should at least take it seriously for yourself. Chances are if you do something with your whole heart someone is bound to think what you’re doing is cool.
CJ: Abandoning what I was told was the right path was scary as hell, but being scared about the unknown future is manageable when you know you are working from insatiable passion. Every day I consider how much I have to learn and I am so excited for that journey. Stagnation in nature is unhealthy and I aim to always be growing, changing and evolving.
CK: Just do it!! It’s scary but if your heart is in it then it will work.
Do you have a design philosophy, and if so, what is it?
LM: Beautiful chaos.
Imagine your business in five years. How would you like to grow?
LM: We’ve talked about obtaining more land, a greenhouse, and maybe even a storefront. We have a really great thing going at Aquanaut and I like to think we’ll always have something growing there, however eventually we want to have our own chunk of land that we can expand on in any way that we want. We plan to stay within city limits and expand in the way of flower farming education and community building, as well as our flower production. We hope to be able to offer community garden plots at some point, focused on flower farming of course, and we want to be a cornerstone for environmental awareness and action in Chicago.
Personally, I’d love to have a little flower shop storefront. That has been on my list of dreams for years now. I would serve coffee and tea and host workshops, readings, and lectures about my favorite things; farming, art, writing, and travel.
Do you have a most popular item / service?
LM: We’re so new, not yet! Our CSA, at two weeks in, has gotten a great response so far, and we hope to be able to offer more shares next season. Secondary, to the CSA shares we will sell to florists and designers. We have just begun to dip our feet in the wholesale world but have also felt incredible supported as we’ve done so.
What do you enjoy most about the creative community here in Chicago?
LM: Until this time last year I was pretty much buried in my art studio every day I was not working, completely missing out on any creative community in Chicago. Avium has been a blessing to me in that it got me out of my house, and head, and out into the world of Chicago creatives. In the flower/florist community the farmers, florists, and garden enthusiasts that I’ve met have been really incredible! We have been welcomed wholeheartedly by the flower shops/florists in the city and have made a lot of great new friends through our workshops and workdays.
Centered By Design is my business name, but it’s also the idea that we can find a bit of sanctuary each day through design, that good design can center us and make us feel great. Does your design process center you in any way? If so, how?
LM: I have always focused on process over results. I have found that weaving meditation into my life has been the cornerstone to being centered. Whether it’s making art, gardening, walking, biking, I am constantly creating stillness and centering myself. In my last year of diving into the world of flowers I have found an incredible peace in growing and arranging them. It’s total Zen for me.
Lindsey’s Chicago Favorites:
- Favorite spot to get inspired: Near the lake, on the lake, walking my dog and people watching.
- Favorite florist: Foxglove Studio! Before we ended up in business together I was pursuing Caitlin to do floral for my wedding, and obsessing over her instagram.
- Favorite place to shop for home décor/furniture/thrift: I’m constantly collecting things, books, art, rocks, plants, etc. As far as shopping goes, I absolutely love Savvy Seconds on Lawrence for thrifting clothes, and the girl who owns the shop is super sweet.
- Favorite place for coffee: Reno is my go-to these days. Their front coffee bar has a great window and I always get good work done there. I am also a bagel addict.
- Favorite place for a sweet treat: Miko’s Italian Ice
Christine’s Chicago Favorites:
- Favorite spot to get inspired: Biking, walking, exploring new neighborhoods. I find myself scanning every bloom, testing my knowledge on names, how it grows, can I grow it, or often times why are we not growing that yet!!
- Favorite florist: Also Foxglove! I met Caitlin out pure coincidence as I was toying with the idea of making a career change. Everything she creates is the realization of the artist in me I do not have. Saipua is also living the dream at Worlds End. And Amy Merrick. Dang.
- Favorite place to shop for home décor/furniture/thrift: Rebuilding exchange and the alleys. I have found some of my best furniture in the alleys, and if I can’t find the piece I’m looking for in a Salvation Army, I make it myself. I love that everything in my apartment has history or meaning in it.
- Favorite place for coffee: Reno or Gaslight. Both are perfect for early morning meetings, brunch rendezvous and getting out of your home space and opening up your creative space.
- Favorite place for a sweet treat: I’ve never had much of a sweet tooth, but love to occasionally stop by Billy Sunday and taste a never been opened chamomile amaro from the 1960s.
Caitlin’s Chicago Favorites:
- Favorite spot to get inspired: Just traveling. New surroundings always inspire me.
- Favorite florist: I have a few too many, but I love Sarah Winward, Saipua, Nicolette Camille, Moon Canyon, Meg Catherine and more!!
- Favorite place to shop for home décor/furniture/thrift: Ugh, I don’t shop :/ Craigslist is pretty sweet. Any antique mall.
- Favorite place for coffee: The closest coffee place to me, CC Ferns.
- Favorite place for a sweet treat: Mikos, Spinning J.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts and passions ladies! We are so excited to see Avium flourish and grow.
XO – CLAIRE