Fairy-tale writer Hans Christian Andersen, of The Little Mermaid and The Ugly Duckling fame, once said: "Just living is not enough ... one must have sunshine, freedom and a little flower." It's a quote that Dubai resident Nazish Saif says inspired her to launch Quite Quaint, one of the many businesses offering niche floristry services in the UAE.
The sector has grown increasingly relevant during the pandemic, as entrepreneurs say the public health crisis has unwittingly encouraged a return to creativity and nature. Ferns N Petals, an online flowers and gifting platform in the UAE, reported a growth rate of 100 per cent last year, with an increase of 15 per cent in the last quarter of 2020.
Hand-Tied, a UAE subscription box service that delivers fresh flowers weekly, has experienced similar growth. "We've seen a tremendous response through the pandemic," says Preeta Sharma, the company's founder. "Mid-last year, when restrictions on movement were lifted, we saw a surge in subscribers – almost double." Meanwhile, a recent Instagram poll of 70 women in the UAE revealed that 57 per cent gravitated towards buying, decorating or crafting with flowers during the pandemic.
Whether they're bought to liven up interiors, for a DIY craft activity or even merely as props for aesthetically pleasing Instagram posts, flowers are certainly in vogue, despite a decrease in social festivities. Rather, natural blooms are serving a more personal purpose, embodying optimism and escapism amid a "new normal" of isolation and domesticity.
Industry reports in the US say the flower industry has started to "wither" and "wilt", but in the Emirates, it appears to be blooming thanks to a number of creative entrepreneurs.
Flowers as art
These are a far cry from traditional florist shops, and boast their own unique aesthetic. Gosha, for instance, is an artistic floral concept launched by fashion influencer Natalia Shustova in Dubai. To call its arrangements "bouquets" would be a disservice to the brand, which creates vivid and ornately styled masterpieces from fresh blooms. It caters to art lovers and high-profile fashion businesses and retailers, and has worked with the likes of Dior Beauty, Gucci, Jimmy Choo, Chloe and more.
This month, Gosha is collaborating with Harvey Nichols Dubai to style its famed window displays, and will have a pop-up flower market within the department store. "We are a four-month-old concept, and our success story and all the opportunities coming our way has felt magical. Creating flower fields for Adidas x Ivy Park was by far my favourite project to date, and having residency for the festive season at Level Shoes in The Dubai Mall was a dream come true," Shustova says.
While Gosha's arrangements are extravagant, even avant-garde, Black and Blanc, which is inspired by luxury fashion houses, is markedly minimal in comparison. It specialises in infinity roses, which are preserved to last several years, and packaged in prestigious-looking black-and-white boxes.
Elsewhere, floral arrangements crafted from preserved or dried flowers are trending, available through Ferns N Petals, Home and Soul and Quite Quaint. "Preserved floral arrangements are very beautiful, long-lasting and extremely economical in the long run," says Saif, who works with both dried and fresh flowers to create installations, bridal bouquets, party favours and flower jewellery.
House of Nu, meanwhile, has a no-frills approach to floristry, with its monotone bouquets enveloped in solid-shaded paper. "I have been inspired by the Asian art of focusing on minimalism, and wrap these flower art bouquets as such because the colours of the flowers and the colours of the wraps are ornaments in themselves, says founder Niusha Naee, who says any additions to her arrangements will "kill the beauty" of the blooms.
Making time for mindfulness
While many purchase flowers to encase them in vases and admire them, others appreciate the hands-on aspect of floral crafts, believing that the creativity they offer nurtures the soul.
"Our flowerful boxes are an act of self-love," says Sharma of Hand-Tied. "For a majority of our subscribers, it's a weekly practice of taking 15 minutes of time out to connect with nature, and be present and mindful. They learn how to arrange their own flowers in the style and structure that suits them and mimics their mood."
From wreath-making to mindful floral arrangement and meditation, Saif offers bespoke flower workshops, and is inspired by Ikebana, the ancient Japanese art of floral arrangement that imbues the activity with a sense of spirituality and mental relaxation. She says her journey to floristry was inspired by the escape it provided from her previously fast-paced corporate lifestyle.
"Personally, when I am working with flowers, the feeling of being in the present moment is greater than anything else; it heals me as my mind focuses on the beauty, freshness and nature. Though it is a slow process, it can eventually help achieve inner peace," says Saif. "I believe, in our ever-changing world and busy lifestyles, it is now more important than ever to find a meditation practice that works best for us."
Stop and smell the roses
Besides the creative opportunities that arise from having flowers at your fingertips, fresh blooms can serve as instant mood enhancers, say the UAE's new crop of florists. "It's proven that humans feel less depressed, anxious and agitated after receiving flowers," says Shustova. "Flowers bring a higher sense of enjoyment and life satisfaction."
The links between flowers and emotions is grounded in research: a 10-month behavioural study by Rutgers University in the US found that flowers positively impact emotional health, with a long-term positive effect on mood.
Given that we're spending so much more time at home to help curb the spread of Covid-19 – whether we're working remotely, home-schooling our children or simply responsibly social-distancing – home interiors have become a focal point. "I believe when you create a beautiful arrangement for your living or working space, it enhances your mood and gives you a feeling of accomplishment every time you look at it," says Saif. Flowers and plants have historically helped bring about joy during times of despair, she says.
"It feels like these days everyone's brain is filled by at least 20 per cent of negative energy, which is this pandemic," says Naee. "Therefore, we need to fill up our brains with some positive vibes, and what better than fresh, living art pieces in your hands?"