Photography by Bridal Editor
“I would love to collaborate with Temperley London. I absolutely love Alice Temperley as a designer and businesswoman and I have admired her journey. Her dresses are utterly breathtaking. I love how clever she is with colour and pattern, she is bold and talented.” Camila Forest Kessler, Owner of Forest and the Flowers
My husband and I took a trip to Bristol last summer and I was instantly besotted with the relaxed, laidback vibe of the beautiful Clifton Village, an area of Bristol that plays host to an idyllic splattering of boutique shops and restaurants. And, as is often the case on trips such as this, my eye was caught by a glorious pink shop façade (next to the iconic The Mews Bridal store front FYI) with vibrant dried bouquets outside. It was, of course, the glorious and highly innovative florist Forest and the Flowers. In fact, the leading image of this Taking The Plunge interview is the shot I took on that particularly glorious sunny day in October. A mere Instagram DM later and I managed to catch up with the owner of Forest and the Flowers, Camila Forest Kessler herself to talk about her business journey so far and her version of Taking The Plunge, including the highs, the lows, the first jobs, the worst jobs and the tech she can’t live without…
Camila Forest Kessler, Owner of Forest and the Flowers
#1 In a nutshell, describe your business/brand – what do you offer?
“Forest and the Flowers is a florist and event styling company creating design-led floral arrangements with the option to include additional services such as custom decor, interior styling and experiential design for commercial events, corporate parties, private celebrations and weddings. Using florals and interiors as the base, we conceptualise themes, colour palettes, layouts, table settings and furniture styling to “WOW!’ guests into remembering your event forever. Forest and the Flowers is also a shop and studio based in the beautiful Clifton Village area of Bristol, from which we offer floral workshops and bouquet deliveries.”
#2 What’s your career background? Has it always been in the wedding industry?
“I have always worked in the events industry and these roles have taken me all over the world. I started as an intern for a wedding planner and then worked as a florist in a flower shop in Hanoi, Vietnam. I freelanced on weddings in Bali, Indonesia and then worked as a project manager for a very creative and well respected event decor company in Cape Town, South Africa (where I call home). We conceptualised and created big builds on high end events for big brands and weddings.”
#3 What planted the seed of your business idea? Did it strike you suddenly?
“I always wanted to be a florist and was always surrounded by flowers within the events industry, working on so many weddings. I gained experience whilst working for these big events companies occasionally finding myself doing the flowers when we had particularly tight budgets. When I moved to England in lockdown there was no way I was going to get a job in events! I came across an opportunity to have a shop and I just took it.”
#4 Describe the moment you decided to TAKE THE PLUNGE (what did this involve? Handing in your notice?)
“I always wanted to live in Bath and open a shop there. Then one day I went for a walk in Bristol and found myself lost in Clifton Village. I spotted a ‘for rent’ poster in a shop window so out of curiosity I took down the phone number and called the landlord. We got into a conversation and I ended up taking the property. If I hadn’t taken myself for a walk that day I never would have found my shop.”
#5 Describe how the first day of building your own business felt:
“It was really, really exciting. I bought a lot of paint, I got my systems in place, it was busy! Physically getting started helped a lot with my self esteem because it showed me that I had the ability to do so much more than I thought I could. Working for others, I’d always assumed they were the ones who were able to do everything. But I found out that actually I was capable myself, I in fact had all the knowledge to achieve these things and that was a really important lesson to learn.”
#6 The highs – what have they been so far?
“I absolutely love it when a big wedding or event comes along. I love creating on a large scale and I can spend hours daydreaming about big builds. I have books of drawings just waiting to come to life. A particular high for Forest and the Flowers was Victoria’s wedding coming to life in July 2022. She was an incredibly trustful bride, she just knew that we would create something unique and I think we smashed it, I still have people commenting about it seven months later. Another high is that I have come across some incredible clients, they are very appreciative of the work and creativity that is put out. I love seeing how happy the flowers and my creations with the flowers make people.”
#7 The lows – how did you move past them? What did you learn?
“Transitioning from working in South African Rand to now working in British Pounds has been a big challenge for me and it’s been tough to adjust pricing in the context of each country where different products and resources are cheaper or more expensive. It can often be the complete opposite of what I am used to from working in South Africa. When I got confused back home I could just pick up the phone and make a quick call but that’s not the case here. I’ve also had the additional challenge of starting a business in lockdown and now a recession, but I know I am building an exceptionally strong foundation to my business.”
#8 If you could tell yourself three things when you first started the business – what would they be?
No.1 “This business is going to your husband and your baby. You will never stop thinking about it!”
No.2 “You are going to meet many new versions of yourself.”
No.3 “Trust your gut.”
#9 Your tips for those dreaded lying-awake-at-3am times? (Counting sheep? Glass of water? Get up? Meditate? Read?)
“Meditate, I have used an App called Insight Timer for years.”
#10 Your top organisational tip?
“Writing things down. Every morning I write a list of tasks to do and I then prioritise each of the tasks. I aim to complete at least six things from a list in a day (responding to emails doesn’t count!). I can’t retain all the information that I need to know across all the events, wedding couples, scopes of work, recons, orders, the shop and my personal life so I have lots of notebooks and I just write everything down – when I’m on a Zoom call, doing phone calls, I even jot things down from emails and refer back when I need to.”
#11 Who inspired you? Or inspires you in business?
“There’s a florist in Cape Town called Heike, of Fleur Le Cordeur, who I worked alongside for years. When I was much younger and struggling in my work environment she often gave me words of encouragement that I really trusted and I have seen her grow from strength to strength personally and in business. She is a very strong and creative woman, and I truly admire that. I like that she is the one who is always on her sites from early morning to late at night and she is dedicated to her clients, her work and her family. Check her out @fleurlecordeur.”
#12 An app/piece of tech you now couldn’t live without for your business:
“My Macbook. I design mood boards for every event client or wedding couple as a means to ensure we’re all talking the same language visually and my clients will often use their mood boards for their entire event aesthetic. I do just about everything on my Mac and would be lost without it.”
All three images above by Laura Martha Photography
#13 Your first ever job was…
“I started waitressing when I was 16 with which I paid for my tertiary education and my living expenses by myself. It was challenging at times and I realise now that I started a touch too young and did it for a bit too long but it gave me the flexibility to transition into the events industry. It gave me a good understanding of hospitality and some serious stamina which goes hand in hand with this wedding industry but most importantly it gave me a good dose of humility. I could not be more proud of being able to provide for myself on this job. The experience was invaluable.”
#14 Your top social media tip?
“Engagement is everything!”
#15 The brand you’d love to collaborate with and why…
“I would love to collaborate with Temperley London. I absolutely love Alice Temperley as a designer and businesswoman and I have admired her journey. Her dresses are utterly breathtaking. I love how clever she is with colour and pattern, she is bold and talented.”
#16 Name a business/social media account(s) – that have helped/inspired you with your business?
“I avoid following my competition on social media as I try to keep things as unique and fresh as possible and I don’t want to be distracted by what other people are doing, or subconsciously take in other people’s work. I would like to think that what I share on social media is original to me. I do however appreciate some great interiors, artists, photographers and magazine accounts like @camillewalala @designmilk @designhunger @nowness.”
#17 Your fav social media tool: (Pinterest? Instagram? LinkTree? Etc.)
“Pinterest and Youtube for sure. They are just the best!”
#18 Your advice to those looking to TAKE THE PLUNGE:
“Just do it. You’re going to make mistakes but you’ll learn from all your failures as long as you pivot and move on quickly.”
RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS | FOREST AND THE FLOWERS
#1 Most inspirational book you’ve read:
#2 You’re in Starbucks, what do you order?
“The very first Starbucks I had (as we never used to have Starbucks in South Africa) was when I was on my way to Bordeaux, France for a much needed holiday. I bought a sandwich and it made me sick! I was ill for the first two days of my holiday and I haven’t been back to Starbucks since. I have a real taste aversion to the Starbucks chain but I hear that I’m missing out.”
#3 Instagram feed crush:
“Mmm, I don’t have any Insta crushes per se but I follow quite a few accounts that are themed around healing, the mind, neuroscience and psychology. I find it absolutely fascinating and get on super well with people who understand the intricacies of the human brain and our personalities. Particular accounts would be @gabormatemd @doc_amen and @the.holistic.psychologist.”
#4 Your worst job was…
“I worked for an events company where we had to wear black every day. We worked six days a week, our office had grey-painted walls and the windows had bars across them. I was given a really old and slow computer to work on and the clientele we attracted seemed to all want fairy lights in vases and other ideas that I just didn’t love! I think I lasted about six months.”
#5 If you didn’t do what you do…what would you do?
“I’d be a photographer.”
#6 Work day pick-me-up:
“Putting good music on in the shop and a good coconut milk hot chocolate in the afternoon.”