WHAT WE LOVE: Online shop, Bloomist, inspires us to create a natural refuge at home through a responsibly sourced, sustainable collection of products that help bring nature indoors.
WHERE: Online and Bloomist Pop-up at Marche Maman, New York.
WHO: Creative director Alex Bates and digital entrepreneur Michael Zung.
What year was Bloomist established? We are brand new – we launched in November 2018, just before the holiday season.
What is Bloomist famous for?
ALEX: It’s a little presumptuous to say we’re famous for anything at this stage, but before we even launched we posted a few images of our salvaged wood chains that we designed with stylist and author, Hilary Robertson, and now we can’t keep them in stock. Our dried flower collection seems to be resonating with stylists and designers, I gravitate to the simpler more humble species and especially love the drama of the unexpected tumbleweed and Cecropia leaves that Hilary suggested we add to our mix. Everyone needs a tumbleweed in their home, no? We have had a great reaction to our ceramics and will be expanding our mix of planters and vases and all the bits you need to bring nature inside.
Where do you source Bloomist products?
ALEX: We work with artisans, small batch makers, and sustainable suppliers both locally and around the world. Check out all of our makers here
What are the challenges selling online compared to a physical store?
MIKE: Some of our items really do need to be seen in person to be fully appreciated. We have these amazing natural wood flowers that look like modernist sculptures, as they grow wild on trees in Guatemala each one is unique.
What are the advantages?
ALEX: It’s a great platform for telling the stories behind our products and makers. We get to work with incredible collaborators, photographers and writers to inspire people to create a natural refuge at home. Through our website and social media we can reach far more people so much faster than any physical store .
Who are your customers?
ALEX: Again we are so new, but we talk a lot about finding our tribe; we are designing for a community of those who appreciate slow living and simple spaces; nature lovers, plant lovers, pottery enthusiasts. I think there is a void out there for chic sustainable, well-made, ethically sourced home goods. Eco doesn’t have to mean crunchy – it can be chic. Some of our earliest customers include top interior designers and stylists.
Do you participate in events or pop-ups?
ALEX: Yes, we participated in our first one this past March, Big Lives in Brooklyn in honor of International Women’s Day . We just launched at Maman Soho – and will be there for the next 3 months – it’s a great spot for us to be able to experiment with more one-of-a-kind items. The mix of online + pop-ups is an appealing business model – especially for start-ups.
Alex Bates & Michael Zung, Shopkeepers at Bloomist
Who inspires you?
MIKE: We get inspiration from our collaborators like author and stylist Hilary Robertson, and foraged flora pioneer Louesa Roebuck, as well as our makers, whether from Austin or Brooklyn, Guatemala or Tunisia. As part of her work for Aid To Artisans, Alex works closely with the Sejnane women of Tunisia who pass their pottery art down from mother to daughter, generation after generation. Their pottery was recently recognized by UNESCO as part of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity.
ALEX: Paul Hawken, originally co-founder of Smith & Hawken, early proponent of social entrepreneurship and now an ardent environmentalist and author of the inspiring Drawdown. Yvon Chounard for leading the way in environmental activism and social entrepreneurship / sustainable product development with Patagonia. Ilse Crawford for her human centric design philosophy – I love her book, The Sensual Home, that extolls the virtue of natural materials and the sensory experience of creating a sensual home.
What inspires you?
MIKE: Nature. “The woods, the trees, and the rocks give man the resonance he needs,” said Beethoven as quoted in the highly acclaimed book, The Nature Fix.
ALEX : Art, nature, travel.
Before I was a shopkeeper…
ALEX : I’ve been in retail my whole career – its in my DNA. I ‘ve worked for some of the best, GAP, west elm , Martha Stewart, so when I left the corporate world and started my consultancy, Flint & Kent, I named it after the department store that my mother’s family owned in Buffalo at the turn of the century. I love merchandising – it’s always about creating a story and telling it through product and in our case, photography. And it’s also about the thrill of the hunt – for beautiful product and inspiring makers.
MIKE: Most recently I consulted for the trading company Li & Fung, and previously worked at internet ad company DoubleClick, before I set up my own digital agency that I sold in 2010.
The hardest lesson learned in starting a business?
MIKE: Retail is detail, there is no silver bullet.
What task do you like to delegate?
MIKE: Ideally anything I don’t want to do, but frankly should be what I want to do most. As with any startup, for most things we have to roll up our sleeves and get done, but in fact I do get a lot of satisfaction working as a team to create something completely new together and divvying up the work appropriately.
The best lesson you have learned opening a shop?
MIKE: Whatever you think it will cost and how ever long you think it will take, double it.
ALEX: Triple it! Its important to stay true to your vision, you’ll have your doubts, but do your homework and trust your intuition, and always stay open to learning. Staying the course in the beginning is tough till you find your sea legs.
Your advice for anyone wanting to open a shop?
MIKE: Buckle up!
ALEX: Do your homework – learn the competitive landscape – and focus on what will set you a part from the pack. And be really, really clear in your message. Think about what you want to say and keep polishing it and don’t be afraid to shift – it’s a long windy path –you don’t know where you might end up – and trust your gut.
Which famous person would you like to visit your shop?
MIKE: Leonardo Di Caprio.
ALEX: Marie France Cohen – founder of Bonpoint, Merci and now starting a new concept, Demode Paris. Her eye is unerring with an incredible sense of style.
If you weren’t a shopkeeper you would be..?
ALEX : I think about going back to school and studying landscape architecture or maybe environmental law or just becoming a farmer in the ADK. Lets go with farmer!
What is your perfect day off?
MIKE: What’s that? Getting sleep, spending time with kids and family, doing some cooking, gardening depending on the weather, and catching up on reading.
Alex: Cross-country skiing with my daughter or digging in my garden + some quiet time reading – hands in nature and not on a keyboard or phone!
Can you share five favorite shops (or six) ?
ALEX: I love those stores that are singular in vision – that reflect someone’s very personal POV, tastes or random quirks.
Egg in London, Nikey Kehoe and Obsolete in LA, De Vera in NY, Hudson | Grace and March in San Francisco, Demode in Paris , Dixon Rye in Atlanta; these are all very personal and true to the founders’ passion.
I wish I could…
ALEX: Time travel
ON THE FUTURE OF RETAIL
“I think it’s a very exciting time for retail, it’s not dead – just changing. People want to be inspired and entertained – as they always have, it might be harder today to get them in the door but they want a connection and experience and to be a part of it. They also expect transparency and want a connection to the maker and to understand the environmental impact of their purchase. I think this is reflective of a healthy shift in our rampant consumerism, we have too much stuff and thankfully many are realizing this -– no wonder that Marie Kondo’s show is such a success . Buying less and making considered purchases of the highest quality is resonating, Vivienne Westwood said it best,: “Buy less choose well, make it last.” “ALEX
“Retail will continue to bifurcate. Consumers will continue to demand service and convenience, and technology will allow for these demands to be met. The millennial generation, and Gen Z, will be come the largest spending groups, replacing Boomers and Gen X. With that, seamless, frictionless commerce will be the new normal, as will transparency, accountability, social engagement, and sustainability as the new normal.”MIKE