An Afternoon With The Wild Bunch
Nastaran Soofi Siavash is the one-woman show behind The Wild Bunch. While the world of flowers has literally been engrained in her since birth (she was named after one), Nassi worked various jobs in admin, hospitality and art galleries before making the jump to be self-employed. Although she claims to still not know what to call herself, it's evident that Nassi is carving out her own success. When she's not designing custom arrangements out of her Strathcona studio, you can find her maintaining a charming retail corner of Gastown's Birds and the Beets, or delivering weekly bunches to to various restaurants in the city. I sat down with her to talk about the thrills and challenges of running a business, the ever-competitive floral industry and her goals for The Wild Bunch empire.
Photos by Alison Page
You seem to be so passionate about what you do. How did you get into this field?
"I’m named after a flower, my sister is named after a flower, my mom is a poet. She was always using our names in poetry. I wasn’t into it by any means, I was embarrassed, I’d be like, ‘Mom, stop doing that!’ But it was always seeped into my awareness. My mom would have a big party and the very Persian thing to do was make a big table with flowers and fruit. Everything is very presentation forward. That kind of stuff is taken very seriously. So it was just something I naturally did."
What was your experience with the floral industry before?
"I was never happy going to a flower shop I always felt like they were like, ‘You don’t know what YOU’RE doing, we know what WE’RE doing, it was an exclusive thing. A few things that happened kind of push me to think, ‘Oh maybe I can do that for a living.’"
Once you made the decision to do it full-time, what steps did you take?
“I met with some florists in town and asked them, ‘Can I work for you,’ or ‘Can I train under you?’ and people generally said no. It’s a very competitive industry. I got a very cold response from people. That’s very much the floral industry – it’s very guarded and territorial.”
“But that’s changing as well. There’s so many up and coming designers and young people who want to do it their own way – and obviously I’m not going to operate at the level of Flower Factory – so there’s a lot of room in this area for all of us to be. It just wasn’t my experience coming into it three years ago.”
Did you take any courses or schooling to learn the craft?
"Yeah! At that time I was super embarrassed to claim to be self-taught so I took a course from this woman, Joan Johnson School of Floral Design. It was like, how do you do literally every cliché flower arrangement, very old school floristry. But it was good, I learned about wiring from her and she’s 75, so she knows what’s up (laughs). After that I spent all my money buying flowers, just practicing and working at it. I would get a job here and there."
What does a typical day look like for you?
"While I would love to have more structure, it’s always changing. Typically I get up and worry about what’s happening at Birds and the Beets, what the space looks like. I source a lot because I don’t have a cooler and I kind of like to just have fresh stuff all the time. I don’t buy in case quantities, I buy in market style so I can just have a lot of different ingredients. That’s part of my look. Sourcing is one of my favourite parts of the day because I get to go to different markets and basically shop for flowers."
You mentioned earlier about the competitive nature of the floral industry. How do you deal with that in your own work?
"I can only do what I can do and push myself in the ways I can. I think I’m just doing something that only I can do. I’ll continue to grow. I can’t say, Flower Factory is my competition because we’re completely different. I have a very niche thing, like floral styling. There’s lots of people doing it and I can only do what I can do so I try not to worry about the rest of it."
What challenges do you face with running your own business?
"Money. How to evaluate what I do, how to design for budgets. I design for what I think looks right, and I have to be able to manage expectations. I can always make anything work, but it’s been difficult to try and make a living off of it when people just don’t have the money to spend on this kind of stuff. I'm finding out that balance and trying to figure out how to make money and have fun. Being more business-minded is something I’m constantly trying to work on. Maintaining that balance of art and business. There’s just so much to do when it’s just one person."
Where do you see yourself in the future? What goals do you have for The Wild Bunch?
"The business is growing, it’s beyond me I’m finding that it has a life of its own now and I’m just trying to figure out what I want out of it. How I can make a living off it while still having my freedom and being able to be mobile. One thing I really need right now is a home base that is not my actual home base. I want to do a light retail shop, a place where I can have all my flowers and vases, I can do consultations there, have that home away from home where I feel comfortable to design. I would ideally love to hire a studio manager who can manage timelines. I want to have a big wall of just vases either by artists or even just thrift finds."
"I don’t even necessarily know what this is yet, fully. I haven’t really decided, I’m still exploring it."