A chance encounter raving on the dance floor connected fellow music lovers Iona Mathieson and Romy St Clair. Then, in 2018, a pop-up in a Peckham car park kickstarted their SAGE Flowers brand, which has quickly become one of London’s hottest florists.

Since then, the pair have cultivated one of the most successful floristry companies in the UK, crafting hand-tied bouquets available on subscription and for clients across music, fashion, beauty and designs; including megabrands Nike, LOEWE, Fenty Beauty and Glossier. Drop into any trendy London event and you’ll likely see SAGE blooms, recognisable for their use of unconventional flowers, foliage and sculptural form, which moves away from traditional arrangements and challenges the rules of classic floristry.

A protruding foxglove here or a bushy fern stem there, SAGE’s flowers are fresh, seasonal, and where possible, British. Considering its sprout to success, it comes as a surprise that the pair had no business experience before launching the company, which leads us to their next venture…

This month, the pair have penned a new book, titled The Art of Starting, a practical and relatable guide on how to start your own creative business. From advice on marketing and branding, handling difficult clients and day-to-day runnings, to larger topics like building community, fostering diversity and the creative process, The Art of Starting is an honest and authentic breakdown of all things business.

“It’s the guide full of the things no one tells you, things that you can't google, things we learnt the hard way,” say the founders.

So whether you're green-fingered or looking to take the leap into something new, SAGE has got you covered. We caught up with Iona and Romy to find out more…

Can you tell us a little bit about what inspired you to write The Art of Starting?
We wanted to expand out of offering from just flowers and started looking at TV and books. Our agent asked us to come up with some book ideas, we wanted to do something useful and not add to the 100 other flower-arranging books out in the world. We’d already started explaining how the floristry business works to our FutureFlowers students, so this felt like a good jumping board into a more open book about starting and running your own business in any creative trade.

Why was particularly it important for you to launch this book now?
We actually wanted to release this book at the end of the pandemic. But writing a book whilst running a business and birthing 3 babies between us got in the way, so it’s taken a few years to put together. There is a hell of a lot more learning in there than there would have been if we wrote it in a few months – there are insights on how to survive a pandemic, a cost of living crisis, maternity leave, growing your team etc, so overall we feel like it was worth the wait.

Can you share some of the key lessons or tips that readers can expect to learn from the book?
Think a couple of the key messages are around community building and developing your brand to both standout and have longevity. For example, thinking of your brand like a person, it’s not just a face but all the subtle things you associate with a person, music taste, friends, and favourite meals that make them them.

Tell us more about how SAGE Flowers came about, and what were some of the challenges you faced in starting the business?
We both were really desperate to change industries and had done a lot of soul searching and landed on floristry – independently of each other. A chance meeting showed us we were looking to do similar things and we decided to join forces. We started with pop-ups in car parks, about 9 months later opened a shop in Peckham, then we had a studio down the road at the same time to do more event work, then babies came and we closed the shop and just this January moved into an Arch below Queens Road station – it’s huge and we’re loving hosting parties there. The biggest challenge has always been balancing creative with the business side of things, whether that’s the time spent on each area or funds you allocate, luckily there are two of us, so we can tag team a bit between the two. Then taxes for small businesses are also mental, like the exact same as big businesses – so when you feel like you’ve smashed it, you then have the depressing realisation like 50% of that is going straight back to the tax man, the more you earn the more you owe.

How has your experience with SAGE Flowers influenced the advice and guidance you offer in the book?
We’d like to think the book is pretty optimistic. I guess we started as complete novices, and through sheer determination, perseverance and a willingness to keep learning and adjusting anyone can make their idea an actuality. You can literally run your ideal business if you give yourself the chance to.

Looking back on your own journey with SAGE Flowers, what is one thing you wish you had known at the beginning that you hope readers will take away from the book?
Take time building the team. You need to work with people that get your references, viewpoints and journey. If you surround yourself with people that don’t you’re going to get frustrated really quickly with the work you’re putting out. It’s all about protecting what makes you you and what makes you happy to come to work every day, short term wins in this department aren’t worth it.

Buy the book here