Is there anything more chic than a bunch of single-bloom flowers displayed in a beautiful apothecary-style vase? The answer is undoubtedly no, and a style that Whitney Bromberg Hawkings champions on a daily basis through her business, FLOWERBX...
As someone with an undeniable sense of style that was honed through working for Tom Ford for 19 years, Whitney saw a gap in the market for a high-end (but accessible) shopping experience online, not dissimilar to Net-a-Porter, but solely for flowers. “As a working Mom, I was buying everything online. My weekly groceries were from Ocado, my clothes from Net-a-Porter and everything else from Amazon. Flowers were the one thing I couldn’t buy, in a simple, consistent, chic way, online.” By sourcing blooms direct from the growers themselves (in Holland, no less), Whitney and her team have cut out the middle man and are able to produce fresh, long-lasting bunches that are all about quality and simplicity. This is a new flower movement that speaks to customers and businesses that have a discerning eye and crave the ease and reliability of online delivery, all wrapped up in a signature brown grosgrain ribbon. As a mother to three children, Whitney juggles the demands of a start-up business with prioritising the needs of her two sons and baby daughter by having a supportive husband and wonderful nanny. “Having children has changed everything about the way I approach life and my career. My children are, by far, my biggest priority, so from that, I have to work backwards and re-prioritise everything else.”
For more from Whitney on personal style – from clothes to beauty to blooms – to women in business and expansion, read on and prepare to be inspired, enlightened and eager to get your hands on some fresh (single-bloom variety) flowers, immediately…
We’re sure you get asked this all the time – but what are your all-time favourite blooms?
One of the greatest things about working with flowers is their inherent seasonality. In the Spring, I can’t get enough of peonies, but as I start to tire of peonies (if that’s even possible), dahlia are back with a bang, leading us to late summer when we see the reemergence of hydrangea in bright beautiful hues. So, I don’t have a favourite flower, but I do have a favourite flower for every season.
What’s your favourite way to display flowers on a tabletop?
The best way to make an impactful statement for a centrepiece is to group a bunch of ONE type of seasonal flower together – the more the better. I also usually tend to keep things tonal, and with these rules in mind, it is hard to go wrong.
You worked for designer Tom Ford for 19 years. What was it like being is PA straight out of school? What memories do you have of these days?
I couldn’t have learned from a better teacher how to build a successful, recognisable and powerful brand – but this was just one of the many lessons I learned during my time working for Tom. He taught me the importance of hard work and perseverance but also about the art of creating desire, and I have applied all of these learnings to FLOWERBX. The team and I are working tirelessly on creating what I know will be the first global flower BRAND.
You worked your way up to become senior vice-president of communications – what lead you to decide to step away from this role to launch you own business (was it Tom’s advice “everyone needs a ten-year plan”).
Leaving Tom was the hardest decision I’ve ever made in my life. I had the perfect job and I could have happily worked for him for the rest of my life and continued to grow. That said, he always told me the importance of having a ten-year plan. My 20s were very focused on building my career, my 30s as establishing myself as a professional and becoming a mother. As I was approaching my 40s and was pregnant with my third child, I knew that the time was right to make the change.
Tell us about launch day — you had a baby on your lap and you sent ten bouquets as a test to friends, one of whom was Graham Norton…
I am so lucky to have such supportive friends (a lot of whom fortuitously have a pretty robust number of Instagram followers)! During the launch week, I sent flowers to a couple of dozen friends. These friends included Editor-in-Chief of Porter, Lucy Yeomans, Graham Norton (who immediately tweeted about FLOWERBX), and Fiona Golfar, who soon thereafter shot me for Vogue. It was a dream come true, and the business took off pretty immediately. I will never forget the kindness of these first friends that took a chance on me and on FLOWERBX.
What have been some of the challenges of launching your own business (eg when you were developing your website, the firm went bankrupt, taking your money with them) and how have you overcome any challenges?
I feel pretty sure the biggest challenges are ahead of me!
What have been some of the biggest business lessons you’ve learnt since starting your own company?
The biggest lessons I have learned since starting FLOWERBX are how to manage a big team. It is important to reward key people and, with small teams, lose people that don’t have the right attitude or cultural fit.
Talk us through the process of getting investment – what tips do you have on this for aspiring entrepreneurs?
I think my biggest tip for female entrepreneurs when seeking investment is to LOOK FOR WOMEN. Almost all of our cap table is comprised of strong, smart, successful women who support me and FLOWERBX emotionally as well as financially.
You’ve been called the Net-a-Porter of the flower business – how does this feel?
I love this comparison, as that was exactly what I had in mind for FLOWERBX from the onset. As a working Mom, I was buying everything online. My weekly groceries were from Ocado, my clothes from Net-a-Porter and everything else from Amazon. Flowers were the one thing I couldn’t buy, in a simple, consistent, chic way, online.
Describe a luxury flower experience – how does it look/feel/smell?
Working in fashion, I found that all of the fashionable people in the world were sending single stem bunches of flowers. From Karl to Miuccia to Calvin, all of the gifts that were sent and received in the office were a large quantity of a single type of flower – a mass of hydrangea, a sea of peonies, a bunch of roses. So, for me, a luxury floral experience has a single type of flower (the more the better), chic, simple NON FUSSY and non-plastic packaging, and a rich, chocolate gros grain ribbon.
Flowers are an early morning business – how early do you get up?
I luckily have an incredible early morning team at FLOWERBX that receives the flowers at 4am and prepares them for the day. I wake up at six and treasure the time with my children before seeing them off to school and arriving at the warehouse to a sea of flowers.
What’s a typical work look for you?
I need to be able to go from our warehouse to lunch at Annabels with a client on any given day, so my outfit must be versatile. I am most often in a pair of black, Mother jeans, an Equipment blouse and a tailored TOM FORD blazer with a strong shoulder and a fitted waist, and a pair of Gucci loafers (with a pair of stilettos in my bag) – old habits die hard.
And what about weekend wear – what kind of clothes will we find you in?
Jeans and a cashmere jumper from the Row. No makeup. Ever. Hair in a ponytail. And ideally wool-lined Welly boots!
What three beauty products could you not live without?
I am obsessed with Tom Ford’s illuminating primer and his eyebrow pencil in taupe. I also won’t leave the house without Laura Mercier’s tinted moisturizer. Even if I don’t have time to do more than that, these three products make me feel ready for whatever the day has in store.
What are your top three time management tips?
Delegate, walk and talk, and stay away from Instagram.
What has been the most challenging part of motherhood and how have you overcome any challenges?
Like every working Mom, it is a constant juggle, and there is always one ball up in the air. I think the key to being a happy working Mum is to have a wonderful and supportive husband and an excellent nanny – and also understanding children! I try to involve my older children in everything we are doing at FLOWERBX, so they feel a genuine sense of pride watching the growth and are more forgiving of the time I need to dedicate to helping it grow.
How did becoming a mother change the way you approached your career?
Having children has changed everything about the way I approach life and my career. My children are, by far, my biggest priority, so from that I have to work backwards and re-prioiritize everything else.
What’s one thing we’d be surprised to learn about you?
I hate waking up early.
How do you manage work and kids – what kind of support systems do you have in place?
I have an amazing nanny, Agnes, who has been with us since my eldest son was born 10 years ago. She knows me and our family inside and out and is crucial to helping our lives operate smoothly.