Founder Jane Marx likes to say that her business, the Beautiful bunch, delivers flowers that feel good – twice.
That’s because every bouquet and arrangement is selected and prepared by a team of young women from refugee backgrounds, who receive on-the-job training in floristry, digital literacy and financial management.
“Our focus is on 18 to 24-year-old refugee women because they have the greatest need,” says Marx. “These young women don’t have work-ready skills, as their education has been interrupted and, for over 85 per cent of our trainees, this is their first-ever job.”
Our focus is on 18 to 24-year-old refugee women
After six months of training, graduates of the Beautiful bunch have secured roles in healthcare, hospitality, and entry-level administration, as well as floristry.
“Our focus is to set up our trainees for lifelong career success, so that when they graduate they have transferable software and digital skills as well as great botanical knowledge.”
What was the moment that changed everything?
“The Beautiful bunch rose from the ashes of my previous business, an events company that also employed women from refugee backgrounds experiencing barriers to employment. In January 2020, we’d signed a commercial lease and were due to have about 13 people on payroll – this was our year to scale. Personally, I felt we were on the precipice of something big.
“Then the pandemic hit and our business basically disappeared overnight. There was no chance to pivot; about 10 of those women had never worked before. Having to phone to say there was no job for them was heartbreaking.
“I was also four months pregnant with my second daughter, Claudette, at the time. When I gave birth in June, friends and family sent me flowers to try to compensate for not being able to see me in lockdown. There was a huge increase in online floral sales at the time.
“I had some experience in floristry – not nearly enough! – and remember thinking, ‘The girls and I could do better than some of these bouquets.’ I still had the space we’d leased. So I did some research, secured an all-important pass to the flower market and the Beautiful bunch was born.
What was the women’s reaction when you phoned to offer them work again?
“They were desperate for work and I was pretty realistic about the level of support I could provide while I was still learning, too. So I pitched it to them as a business we’d build together. Having the premises meant we could gather in a space to make beautiful arrangements together and figure out how to build a business that felt both wildly optimistic and something we all really needed. I know I certainly did.”
Where did your first order come from?
“We had seven orders the first day – I nearly died, wondering how we’d fulfil them! They were all customers of my previous social enterprise; we were able to leverage that email list of about 2,000 people. Those first orders were so heartening, as I felt these customers were supportive of our broader social mission. Now, we employ 11 trainees. We’ve expanded into events and we’re ready to scale – we have big plans.”
What do you enjoy the most about the Beautiful bunch?
“I really, really love what I do. There isn’t a single day when I don’t want to get up and go to work. I love the small moments, as well as the big wins: noticing one of the girls walking in with a bit more confidence; watching them make friends and smile when they’ve created something beautiful. I’m really hands-on and there isn’t that dichotomy you find in other charities – they’re all really invested in the vision and supportive of me personally, and that just makes me so proud and happy.”
What do you do outside work?
“I have a husband and two daughters who love to take up most of my time. However, when I’m not with them or my friends, I run almost every day. I also have a deep, abiding love for classic literature. At the moment, I’m reading Charlotte Bronte’s Villette. I love the genre because it couldn’t be further from my world.”
What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
“Listen with the same passion with which you want to be heard. In a world where it feels like everyone has something to say, including me, about everything at all times, that advice really stopped me in my tracks. I want to practice active listening a lot more.”
Please finish this sentence: Nothing feels better than… “Nothing feels better than making your dream a reality. The life and the business I’ve created once existed only in my mind. Now, when people say the name of something I said just to myself, it’s magical.”
Photography by Francois Marx