“If you work for yourself in any expression or creative industry, you have to work on the thickness of your skin and the softening of your mind and heart.”
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 take a look at the career path of Kayla Moonfloral artist, creative entrepreneur and founder of Melbourne-based businesses Xxflos and Sweet Stay Studio. When she moved to Melbourne at 17, Kayla had big dreams which admittedly were “caught up in punk bars and too many late nights”. After a nocturnal introspection, she wanted to embark on a creative quest. Driven by her love of nature, Kayla chose flowers.
After a Tafe certification, mental health hiccups and a few years of odd jobs as a florist, Xxflos was born. Widely celebrated for her artistic intuition and skill as a florist, Kayla developed her unique brand of creative success – but not without experiencing some very significant growing pains. Here’s what she learned along the way.
What do you do and what is your official function?
I spend my days running two small businesses and taking care of my adorable little lot. The first is the floristry business Xxflos and the second is a studio called Sweet Stay Studio. You could call me florist, floral artist, artist, entrepreneur, studio manager, or creative business owner. We are in 2022 and I have several hats. You choose.
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.
I was 17 and a very green dropout when I moved to Melbourne. I had big old dreams catching up with me about punk bars and too many late nights. After selling my soul to nightlife and too many intoxicants, I decided it was time to do something that would inspire healthier creativity.
Florist felt like a hot choice. It was something that would take me back to nature; something tangible and an industry that wasn’t oversaturated. With the flowers, I felt something that I hadn’t felt with other mediums. There was deep devotion. That’s what flowers are – they’re a medium I’m dedicated to.
I studied at Tafe and completed my Certificate III while trying to get my sanity back on track. I worked for a small hospital florist with big pink teddy bears and cellophane. I worked for event florists who did the Australian Open (a job I later got for my own business)…I tried anything and everything.
I even worked at a wholesaler for a period filling the industrial refrigerator with flowers for established florists. It was fun but also freezing and hard. I wouldn’t recommend it but I’m glad I tried it. I was burning to do my own thing, so I started Xxflos as a creative project from home with my best friend at the time.
We took everything we could, dressed to be noticed and gave people floral installations at clubs and queer parties. We intended to bring flowers to spaces they otherwise wouldn’t have been. And it worked. We brought flowers to the likes of Inner varnika, Hopkins Creek, dark mofo, Sampa the Great, Wax’o Paradiso and many other wild and wonderful people and places.
After a while we needed a bigger studio but we couldn’t afford it. This is where my two small businesses first crossed paths and where my second baby was born. My art co-working space Stay Soft Studio has opened in Brunswick East. It housed Xxflos, along with 10-14 desktop-based creatives.
I had no specific training in studio management, but I was ambitious. I used the skills I had learned through hospo, sex work, booking groups and the myriad of other jobs I had in the past and made it happen. We are now three years old and operate from Collingwood shipyards.
What challenges/barriers did you face to get to where you are now? Can you name one in particular?
Oh my god, a lot! A particular challenge was my relationship with myself. Running your own business means you can only rely on yourself, which drives you to organize your life to support your business. It is a greater sense of responsibility, duty and care. Ambitious as I am, I’ve also struggled with some pretty serious mental health issues, eating disorders, addictions, and a difficult relationship with money and sexuality – just to name a few. -ones.
My businesses gave me a reason to master all of these things…my inner critic pushed me to become a better person. I turn her words into affirmations of love through many therapies and positive life choices. To ensure that my offering to the world was in its best integrity, I needed to find my own, and that hasn’t always been easy.
As a public figure, there is a lot of pressure and fear of judgement. Every year as my businesses grow, so do I. I am eternally grateful to learn so much from the people I work with. If you work for yourself in any expression or creative industry, you need to work on the thickness of your skin and the softening of your mind and heart.
What do you want people to know about your industry/your role?
There has never been much representation for me. I had to scour the internet for role models and muses; to find people achieving the kinds of goals I wanted to pursue. For Xxflos, I found them at florists like Dr. Cooper and Brrch Floral (women setting the tone for what you see in the industry now). For Stay Soft, I visited coworking spaces around Melbourne and observed what I liked and disliked.
Most were either super corporate or dull – I wanted to find a middle ground between gritty and arty but still clean and smooth. Entering a new industry can be challenging, but can make a business all the more exploratory and innovative. If you have a dream or ambition that feels a little different than most, go for it. It can be difficult at times, but it feels good to set the tone.
What is the best part of your role?
The best part of my role in Xxflos is the ability to be able to express myself freely through a medium that supports my life and my creativity. Be a part of other people’s special occasions and milestones as well. Oh, and touch flowers all day, every day!
At Stay Soft, that would be the satisfaction of happy residents and merchants in our monthly markets. I love helping people feel inspired and creating platforms for others to shine. Stay Soft allows me to do that in a really gentle and humble way. Community care is golden and the flowers are sick.
What would surprise people in your role?
How much manual labor is involved in floristry and how many hands flowers have to go through to get to the customer or customer. The technical side of floristry is a lot of work, especially if you’re creating something on a large scale.
This means planning the structure in which the flowers should sit and considering balance, weight, loading requirements, temperature and the availability of seasonal flowers or imports. Florists usually collect loads from markets or wholesalers who have purchased from growers and farmers. We then condition the flowers so they are ready for work and do the fresh water rotation daily. People often say, “It must be so relaxing to work with flowers!” “. They are right, but you also have to be a scammer.
What skills have served you well in your industry?
I think my ability to talk to people and make them feel comfortable. It helps a lot with customer service, event consultations, social media presence, making my residents and booth owners feel welcome, and hosting safe events for the community.
It’s something that might seem a little arbitrary or out of place, but I don’t believe it can be taught – so I’m glad I got it naturally. I believe it is competence that got me to where I am without the traditional stamps of professionalism on paper. It’s something I don’t take for granted and I’m very proud of.
What advice would you give to someone who one day wants to play a role like yours?
I would advise staying vulnerable, honest and curious. Talk to as many people as possible and ask questions… don’t be afraid to be a novice! Take it easy when you “fail” or have a hiccup. Use kind words while understanding and being realistic about where your falls are.
We are always learning and each step will only strengthen your relationship with yourself and your work. You will have times when you want to throw in the towel because it is not easy, but these times allow you to reset yourself for a deepening of your practice.
How about some practical advice?
Knowing how to use a drill and working on a ladder is beneficial. Making a floristry setup and building a studio from scratch takes patience and technical/structural understanding. I would suggest building Ikea furniture.
Read the rest of the How I Got Here series here.
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