Shahn Stewart on the creation of botanical design studio Alchemy Orange

“A challenge for me is to get some people to see the value in a lot of the unconventional materials that we use.”

Have you ever stalked someone on LinkedIn and wondered how they managed to land that insanely awesome job? While that might seem like smooth sailing, there’s no doubt been a lot of hard work to get there.

So what lessons have been learned and what skills have proven invaluable in taking them from daydreaming about success to actually being at the top of their industry?

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welcome to how i got herewhere we chat with successful people in their respective fields about how they landed their awesome jobs, exploring the highs and lows, failures and victories, and most importantly the knowledge, tips and practical tricks they gleaned along the way.

This week, we explore the professional journey of proud Yorta Yorta woman, Shahn Stewart. Floral artist and founder of Naarm-based floristry studio, Alchemy Orange, it was being rejected from her first choice career that saw her try her luck in the world of floristry.

After 10 years of working as a florist, a desire to challenge preconceived notions of what floristry is and isn’t led her to open her First Nations-owned studio in 2019.

Over the past few years, Shahn and Alchemy Orange have gone from strength to strength, and his vision of a community-driven floristry studio that strengthens the connection between people and country has come to fruition. But getting here has not always been easy. Here’s what she learned along the way.

What do you do and what is your official function?

I have to say my official title would be Boss Lady, but I run my own company called Alchemy Orange. We are an Indigenous owned and operated botanical design and creation studio.

Take us back to your beginnings. Did you study to get into your chosen field, or did you start with an entry-level internship/role and work your way up? Tell us the story.

My journey began in 2010 in high school, when I had the passion to become a librarian. It was only when I was unfortunately dismissed from the junior staff position in the library that I decided to change my profession. I changed the internship to floristry and after about three months I was offered a full-time internship which I enthusiastically left school to pursue.

I did a two-year internship alongside loads of washing and sweeping buckets [and] this gave me my certificates two and three in floristry before moving on to Boorloo to a senior florist position and then eventually to Naarm.

The beginnings of Alchemy Orange were born after years as a florist here in Naarm. I decided that I wanted to work for myself but also create something really different from what was on offer here. It was always my intention to have a First Nations owned and operated floristry studio that also branched out, taking on many different creative forms and being truly community driven.

I can say with pleasure that at this stage [my] vision really came to life, and we’re so grateful and excited for all the opportunities we’ve worked for and the people we’ve collaborated with.

What challenges/barriers did you face to get to where you are now? Can you name one in particular?

I think initially it was a big challenge to manage everything on my own. There are so many boxes to tick as a small business owner, from administration, ordering, consulting and getting jobs done, etc. All of this is happening while you’re trying to grow your brand and yourself – it might seem like a pretty big deal. I knew I needed help for a while, but I felt the task of training someone new was more difficult than doing it myself, which is never true.

Long story short, I’m so grateful to now have a 2IC (second in command), whose vision is truly in sync with mine, [who] had a love for the bush and for art/design, and is now a florist in her own right. Also, starting a business at the start of a global pandemic is not something that helps, but it has strengthened the business and we have really brought happiness to many people with our daily bouquet deliveries.

What do you want people to know about your industry/your role?

A challenge for me is to get some people to see the value in a lot of the unconventional materials that we use. I think there is often a misunderstanding that something only has value if it is a flower that we know in its accepted form.

I like to think of things as valuable at all stages of their growth and decay, for example, I find so much beauty in drying materials, especially native ones, and watching them become something else. That doesn’t make them any less valuable – there’s a lot of thought that goes into everything we use.

What is the best part of your role?

Work with all the mortal artists we collaborate with or design for! It’s especially special when it comes to Indigenous artists, because it’s all about building culture and community.

What would surprise people in your role?

That I don’t feed everything! I think there have been a few instances where I get painted as a florist who only works with random things I find on Country. While these folks often don’t think about the morning grind of flower markets and the work of sustainably researching elements of our works. Big, big misunderstanding [that] I want to go straight to the point.

What skills have served you well in your industry?

Being a Virgo and being a perfectionist. Having great attention to detail serves you very well in a creative industry such as floral design.

What advice would you give to someone who one day wants to play a role like yours?

Find what really matters to you, something that pushes you to work hard and makes you feel something! Then never, ever, ever stop grinding – you can seriously do anything if you get out. I know it’s a cliché, but it’s so true.

How about some practical advice?

Pay the rent.

Stay up to date with Alchemy Orange here.

Read the rest of the How I Got Here series here.

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