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What It's Really Like Working For One Of Melbourne's Best Florists!

Dream Job

More often than not, figuring out what you don’t want to do, is just as useful as finding your calling! Such was the case for Chloe Szukilojc, the managing florist at Cecilia Fox. Before she was hitting the flower market at 3.30am and installing large-scale installations alongside Sidney Nolan artworks at Mona (more on that later!), Chloe was working in an entirely different field.

We chat to Chloe about how she eventually landed the job of her dreams, what a typical florist’s day is really like, and taking a chance on following a childhood dream!

27th September, 2019

Abundant flowers in the Cecilia Fox studio. Photo – Amelia Stanwix.

28-year-old Chloe Szukilojc is the managing florist at the much-loved Brunswick studio. Photo – Amelia Stanwix.

Every day looks different for Chloe – sometimes she spends all day conditioning flowers at the studio, and others she’s up at sparrows purchasing supplies from the flower market. Photo – Amelia Stanwix.

Cecilia Fox is known for its large-scale floral installations and artworks. Photo – Amelia Stanwix.

Making arrangements at the Cecilia Fox studio. Photo – Amelia Stanwix.

Chloe making the weekly delivery to local cafe Wild Life Bakery. Photo – Amelia Stanwix.

Installing arrangements at Wild Life Bakery. Photo – Amelia Stanwix.

Chloe foraging jasmine in the streets of Brunswick. Photo – Amelia Stanwix.

Chloe had a career in fashion before pursuing floristry. Photo – Amelia Stanwix.

Chloe started working at Cecilia Fox in August of 2017. Photo – Amelia Stanwix.

Bits and pieces in the Cecilia Fox studio. Photo – Amelia Stanwix.

Sally Tabart
Friday 27th September 2019

‘It’s so important to understand the business you are trying to work at.’ – Chloe Szukilojc.

Before she started working as a florist, Cecilia Fox’s managing florist Chloe Szukilojc was in an entirely different field. At uni she studied fashion business, and went on the work at a fashion agency for a few years ‘before realising it was 100% not [her] thing’.

Finding herself in a work environment she didn’t enjoy, Chloe reflected on other career paths she was interested in pursuing at a younger age. ‘My aunty always says she remembered that I wanted to be a florist, but for some reason, this didn’t seem like much of an option when choosing tertiary study in high school – everyone thought they should’ve been a marine biologist or journalist, right?’ she reflects.

After enrolling in a short online course in floristry, Chloe quit her fashion job and moved to London, where she was lucky enough to land a paid gig at The Urban Flower Company in North London. But this was no easy task! ‘I applied for job after job and exhausted the florists of London’, Chloe says. ‘People didn’t seem interested in hiring without experience, nor did I have the option to work for free as I was already living penny to penny’.

While she was embarking upon this disheartening job application process, Chloe would visit the Sunday flower market on Columbia Road in Hackney, buying hand loads of flowers and practising her bouquets at home on the bedroom floor. ‘My boyfriend was extremely encouraging, but at the same time concerned our bedroom was starting to look like a funeral home,’ she says!

Chloe has come a long way since the funeral-home-on-the-bedroom-floor time in her life.
Since starting with Melanie Stapleton at Cecilia Fox just over two years ago, Chloe has worked her way up to become a core team member at one of Melbourne’s most-loved florists. It’s safe to say that she has well and truly found her ‘thing’!

The most important verb in the get-your-dream-job lexicon is…

Authenticity & Persistence.

The world we live in is so congested, it’s never been more important to find your authenticity. I think to truly stand out you need to figure out what it is you bring to the table that no one else can. If you have a wacky idea that you think is good, don’t ever let anyone’s differing opinion diminish your creative spark. Run with it to the end and see your weird idea through, you never know what might come of it. Try new things, trust your creative instinct, get off social media for a while, have some successes, have some failures, but most of all be passionate. Find what makes you, you and you’re unstoppable.

On the other hand, I think persisting with applying for jobs, persisting with learning, pushing boundaries and going beyond the norm is absolutely necessary for landing and maintaining your dream job. Nothing comes easy and you can’t get comfortable once you land it, there’s so much to learn.

I landed this job by…

Sending multiple emails. I was quite persistent and honest with Mel about wanting to be part of the team and grow with the company from quite early on. I’m so glad she took a chance on me, even if I did come across as obsessed.

In saying that, there is a fine line between being persistent and irritating. It’s so important to understand the business you are trying to work at. Especially when it comes to small businesses, you need to know what it is they actually do, how they tend to operate and what their values are. Try to foster a genuine connection before cold calling/emailing.

A typical day for me involves…

I guess this is one of the things I love about my job so much: every day is so different. One day I could be at the warehouse all day conditioning flowers, while the next could be down on the Mornington Peninsula setting up for a wedding. Typically, I’m up at 6.30am and ride from my house in Carlton to our warehouse in Brunswick to be there for an 8am start. We are right next door to an amazing café where it feels like we have a whole other family so first things first: coffee. Then, Mel and the team would sit down to discuss the events and jobs we have coming up that week and talk logistics around this, briefs and brainstorm all our creative thoughts and ideas.

If it’s a market morning, I have to be up at 3.30am at the market by 4am. Despite this crazy early start, I think you begin to love that time of day when the city is sleeping, and people are bustling around getting fruit, vegetables and flowers to your local stores. As a team we are constantly feeding through new ideas for shoots or upcoming weddings so there’s definitely a lot of conversation going on throughout the day.

The most rewarding part of my job is…

Being given the freedom to create projects that I have dreamt of over the years and to be a part of some life-changing briefs.

Earlier this year I was lucky enough to head down to Hobart to work on an event at Mona. Working alongside the Gloss Creative team over 3 days, we created installations throughout the gallery that still remain my career highlights to date. I was allowed to forage from the grounds at Mona and nothing was impossible, even when I asked the staff if I could use a whole dead tree, or ask someone to source me tubs of seaweed! Honestly, it was a lot of work in such a short period of time, but when you are in the Sidney Nolan Gallery rigging giant balls of yellow fennel alongside the artist’s 46-metre-long snake artwork at midnight – it’s a bit of an ‘oh my god’ moment. It’s very rewarding for our clients to have that trust in us to deliver something different, and for it to be a success.

On the other hand, the most challenging aspect is…

I think a common misconception of florists is that we all work in this dreamy land of flowers, rainbows and sunshine where everything just smells so damn good! Well, I guess it’s like that some of the time, but most of the time it’s exceptionally long hours, 3am starts, lugging heavy buckets of water from one venue to another, sore hands, fighting the elements of extreme heat or cold, racing from multiple events on one day then bump-outs late at night. Parts of your body hurt that you didn’t really know could and your hands are constantly blistered and covered in rose thorns. But, as they say, you have to take the good with the bad, and I wouldn’t change my job for anything. Florists are bloody resilient!

The culture of my workplace is…

Creative and encouraging. Mel, the Creative Director of Cecilia Fox has always allowed a lot of room for creative freedom, been supportive of cultivating my talents and given me projects to progress and develop my own style. We are a very close and small team and Mel really puts a lot of emphasis on everyone being creatively nurtured and gets a chance to get their concept across the line.

We are also always encouraged to support our flowering community which is amazing. I would forgive you for assuming floristry is competitive, after all, it is quite a saturated industry now. But we really do all love and support our flowering friends in any way we can, Flowering Now is a great example of this.

The best piece of advice I’ve received is…

That anything is possible! Cliché I know, but I truly do believe this and I think it’s very prevalent in my everyday work. My mum made sure that me and my brother and sister understood this from a young age, and that the only thing between us and our dream jobs was, in fact, us (my brother is now a carpenter building houses offshore down in Pittwater on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, and my sister is the Marketing Director for Dark Mofo in Hobart, so I guess we all listened to Mum!).

I think it’s so important to remind ourselves that we are capable of many things, almost anything. Don’t let the fear of failure or lack of confidence dictate some crazy idea you have! I did that for years and it was a waste of time!

Over the last few years my workplace has changed…

As a workplace we are ever-changing… in the depths of winter it is normally just a small team of 3, and then over the summer months we can go weeks with 10 or more on staff. It’s very varied, which again, is what makes the job so exciting. Meeting new people and bringing in new energies ensures there is never a dull moment.

Cecilia Fox always does a few projects a year that are for us, and not a client. It really does keep us fresh and growing. Over the years we have done a bunch of creative videos/shoots with local filmmakers and photographers, most recently JUICY with Ela Melbourne that saw me reinterpreting the ingredients from her recipes into still life images. For the past 2 months, this project has been my baby. It has really pushed me to new levels with my floristry. It’s always been a dream of mine to challenge what mediums we deem plausible for floral creations, and what we see as beautiful. Mel had absolute faith in me to bring this concept to life and it has been one of the most rewarding things I have done in my career. The fact that our creative director trusts our instincts is a huge factor in how the business has evolved over the years.

Cecilia Fox also has had huge support from many businesses and creatives that have supported our ideas and thrown our work into the spotlight. It’s so refreshing to see floristry being perceived as a creative field, rather than solely as a trade. I think Cecilia Fox has always been a real leader in that aspect.

In the next five years, I’d like to…

I can’t look past next week on our calendar. This is a way to manage unnecessary stress, spring is the start of our season! Long term though, I would like to continue to grow and learn and take time to explore different landscapes and environments in different parts of the world and Australia. It still blows my mind that Australia has so many varying environments with their own specific flora, fauna, and ecosystems – there’s so much to learn and so many flowers I haven’t had the opportunity to work with. I would really like to make that happen.

My favourite flower is…

A florist’s favourite flower is so seasonal, but bowls of water overflowing with jasmine will forever hold a special place in my heart. It reminds me of my childhood, growing up on the Northern Beaches of Sydney and will forever remind me of my Mum. It’s a warning sign for spring and warmer weather, it’s home and comfort, it’s sunkissed skin, fresh sheets and music playing throughout the house. Scent memory is so interesting, I guess that’s why I love jasmine so much. I also have to give an extra special mention to the pansy!

Flowering Now is an annual event celebrating creative floristry, driven by two of Melbourne’s best florists, Cecilia Fox and Katie Marx. The next one is happening very soon, on October 12th and 13th in Melbourne – tickets are on sale now and won’t last long!

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