interviewsVeterans and Startups

Veterans and Startups: Ruby Barber of Mary Lennox Flowers

by Grace Bonney

Working on this new column, Veterans and Startups, has been one of my favorite things I’ve done at Design*Sponge so far. I’ve always been inspired by learning more about businesses, but getting to see how much valuable inspiration and insight you can gain from both new and seasoned business owners has been so rewarding. Two weeks ago I got to interview two fantastic coffee businesses, Heartbreak and Intelligentsia, and this week I’m turning my eyes toward florists: Sarah Ryhanen of Saipua (the veteran) and Ruby Barber of Mary Lennox (the new business). I’ve watched, with such excitement, the way the floral world has changed dramatically over the past decade. Thanks to people like Sarah, flowers are now more natural, accessible and have become a business that people pursue with excitement. I’m so thrilled to get insight on running a floral business from both Sarah and Ruby. Both women are creating gorgeous work and have so much to teach us all about following your dreams and keeping a high standard for your work and yourself. First up is Ruby! xo, grace

Click through for the full interview after the jump!

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Your name: Ruby Barber
Your role at the company: Director of Mary Lennox
Your location: Berlin, Germany
How many years have you been working at your company?: 18 months
Where can people find you online?: Our website and Instagram

1. What was the inspiration/reason for for starting your company?

I began going to the Sydney flower markets with a friend—purely as a personal indulgence—while studying Interior Design at university. All week I looked forward to my market run. The evolution of this into a professional concern was a natural progression; I’d tell people that I was going and they’d ask me if I could chose them some flowers. I loved delivering flowers to people. The emotion involved with the whole process makes it the most satisfying exercise; being trusted to deliver a message of such intimate thoughts to loved ones and then to witness the heartfelt gratitude of the receiver. It didn’t take long for it to become obvious that I was enjoying working with flowers a lot more than my university studies. I fully committed to my gut feeling, left my degree, and began studying floristry.

I started looking for work and was lucky enough to get some freelance jobs with Simone Gooch at Fjura in Sydney and I think that is when my interest became a full-on obsession. Simone’s beautiful work and flawless taste was the best possible introduction to professional floristry, I was completely hooked. After a few years of freelancing in Sydney and travelling to meet and work with new florists in New York, I took a trip to Berlin and realised there was an opening there for the kind of floristry that interests me. I flew back to Sydney, packed my belongings and that was the start of Mary Lennox!

2. What is a day in the life of your job like? What takes up the majority of your work day?

The majority of my day goes into sourcing produce. I drive to the markets in the early morning and see what’s on offer. My years of experience buying at the Sydney Flower Markets—where you can buy produce directly from growers who are extremely passionate and always turning up with new and interesting flowers—has made me incredibly fussy! Often the Dutch imports at the Berlin wholesale market don’t entice me and I’ll leave empty-handed. I have begun to source from local growers, who are scattered throughout central Berlin, Potsdam and Brandenburg. Apart from that, the nature of the job changes every day. Some days I’m delivering small gift bunches and other days I’m installing large scale indoor landscapes for events. My day also involves lots of ordinary tasks; a lot of cleaning up after myself and carrying armfuls of flowers up and down stairs.


3. What is the thing you’re proudest of that you (or the company as a whole) have done so far?

Undoubtedly moving my business to a foreign country. This has been the most difficult yet satisfying challenge. I’m proud to have become involved in the incredibly creative Berlin scene, collaborating with local businesses and large scale festivals such as Berlin Atonal. However, it’s the little things that make me proudest; like successfully communicating with growers in a new language!

4. We love your aesthetic- how did it come about and what inspires it?

Thank you! I feel really blessed to have had such incredible mentors throughout my career. When I first took an interest in floristry, I spent a lot of on-line time lusting over the work of Fjura, Saipua and Nicolette Camille. Never did I imagine that I would be fortunate enough to work for these amazing florists. I credit their encouraging nature to the development of my own style, which reflects a rich tapestry of influences and travels.

5. What brands or businesses do you admire or want to emulate (in terms of values, etc.)?

I value businesses that have a highly curated and considered approached to their craft. Whether it’s a restaurant, art gallery or retail space, I am generally drawn to businesses that have a keen understanding of, and respect for, their local community. Berlin presents a unique opportunity for businesses like this because there has been a massive influx of people over the past 20 years and these people are all looking to create and participate in building something new and real.

Of course, Saipua and Nicolette Camille are a constant inspiration. Their dedication to furthering the industry, and the amazing community that they have fostered in Brooklyn, fills me with admiration.


6. What has been the biggest challenge starting business so far, and what are you doing to solve it?

The hardest thing is managing the expectations you have of yourself. I’m learning not to get overwhelmed and to take things as they come.

7. What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you started?

Treat your suppliers with respect.

8. What advice to you have to new businesses in your field starting out or what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?

I’m still working it out myself. Talk to me in five years time!

The best advice I can give is don’t be afraid to approach your idols. I’ve found that the truly inspirational people are always happy to share their experience.


9. What are your goals going forward or next steps you’d like to take as a brand?

I plan to open my first retail space In Berlin. I am very excited that Mary Lennox will have a bricks and mortar presence in the city. The grand plan is to have the shop in Berlin open for Spring, Summer, Autumn and then return to Sydney for a second Summer to work on weddings with my Sydney based business partner Sami Sweeting.

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  • I love Berlin and the kinds of people it attracts. I recently moved back to the states after 4 years there and it’s so great to read interviews like this of people living their dreams in that very special city. Hut ab Ruby!

  • Ruby did the flowers for my wedding last year, and I was so happy with her professionalism and her exquisite taste. To be able to rely on Ruby was such a relief, and one less thing to worry about during the stress of a wedding. Thank you so much, Ruby!! Good luck in Berlin, and can’t wait to one day visit your shop there.

  • i’m so glad someone is doing this kind of floristry in berlin – i also lived there for 2 1/2 years before returning to the states and i can truly say i would have loved to have known about ruby then!

  • Guuurl! Ruby those flowers are so amazing. You’re so talented and Berlin is lucky to have you! If I was ever to get married (haha) you’d be my first call. xx

  • This is an amazing story to read! I’m an American living in Moscow (with pretty basic Russian) and I can’t image starting a business in a new country, let alone new language! Very cool.

  • Ruby had supplied the flowers at my wedding last year, they were even more beautiful in person and Ruby was so great to work with. Well deserved!!

  • Wonderful to have a florist like this in Berlin! I look forward to your future projects here. Viel Glück!

  • Ruby, was a special thrill to meet with you in Berlin. It was your inspiration that made me turn to floristry.And its interviews like this one that will encourage me to go further. Thank you and I look forward to more pictures of your beautiful work.

  • Ruby’s work is so soft and feminine. These bouquets remind me of a young girl in sundress with little tendrils of curls falling into her face.