Passion Flower Sue
I hope you get a creative spark after reading this Q&A w/ Susan McLeary of Passion Flowers in Ann Arbor, Michigan. In my mind, Passion Flower Sue, is a shining example of a creator who thinks beyond the box. I love her creativity and the fresh approach she takes as she creates her “living wearable art.” Susan McLeary’s floral headpieces and succulent jewelry are unlike anything we have seen in the industry before. The detail in her work is amazing and if you look closely you will see some unusual and exotic materials being used, such as white tomatoes, cyclamen leaves and raspberries to name a few. She is such an inspiration for me and all who are witness to her work.
A Blog for Flower Lovers
I have been hand picking and sharing the stories of florists, flower farms and other petals lovers, and if you know of someone that would be a great feature and fun story to share, then please contact me!
Q: Can you tell us how your passion for design started?
It really was accidental! I’ve always been fascinated with nature, but never thought I’d become a florist. It happened about 13 years ago. At the time, I had a hobby making jewelry for friends. One such friend asked me to design her wedding flowers in addition to her wedding jewelry. Not knowing what this would entail, I said yes! When I had her flowers in my hands, I knew I’d found my passion. One friend’s wedding turned into many, and gave me my start.
Q: What inspired you start your own business? Where is your business located and besides your wearable art is there anything else you do?
After I practiced on my friends, I moved on to a busy floral studio where I worked for 2 years. I also freelanced for many talented florists, and absorbed all the learning opportunities I could find. I knew that I had something unique to share, and over time, I started to feel creatively stifled. In 2010, two events gave me the push I needed to try this out on my own.
My father suddenly became very ill- this really drove home the importance of seizing the day, and not taking your passions for granted. It became clear that I’d need to be brave, and take a leap if I wanted to share myself with the world. The other event was a very fortunate one! My husband’s wine importing business had acquired more warehouse space, and there was a perfect little rectangular room that they didn’t have a need for. With lots of encouragement from friends and family Passionflower was born!
The studio is located in Ann Arbor Michigan, which is a “big small town” with a artistic, eclectic, vibrant feel. I’m also close to many flower farms and greenhouses. For the first 4 years, the studio focused on weddings- doing around 50 per season. This past year, I decided to pull back on weddings a bit, and focus more on my current passions- living jewelry, wearable floral art, and professional floral instruction. This summer, I hosted 6 of these one-on-one sessions that focus on the needs of each student. Future projects include a line of home decor for flower lovers, and eventually a book.
Q: Love your succulent jewelry! How did you get inspired to start creating jewelry from living plant material? How long do they generally last?
Thank you! I was inspired after a session with the wonderful Francoise Weeks at a Florabundance Design Days workshop in California 2 years ago. I made a floral ring, and the photographers covering the conference liked it and asked me if I would make a collection of floral jewelry for an upcoming fashion shoot. Of course I said yes, but was heading back to Michigan in a few days, and they live in California. I told them I would make some pieces and ship them overnight.
Well, when I got home, I had to figure out what to use that would survive the trip and still look great. Succulents, of course! They are perfect- sturdy, resilient, and they look beautiful for days-even weeks out of soil. I’m a vigilant tester, and I’ve tested many of these pieces to see how they weather. They look perfect for about 5-7 days, then the plants start to grow off the jewelry bases! I’d say they’re wearable for about 3 weeks. After that, I recommend removing the plants and potting them. People have reported much success with this. A few days ago, a bride shared a photo of an overflowing pot of succulents that was her bridal necklace one year ago!!
Q: I noticed that you like to do head pieces and necklaces, can you talk with us about that?
I love making headpieces. I have an infatuation with hats, so this is my interpretation. I just love how people look wearing flowers- it makes them light up, laugh, feel good! I make a lot of crowns for brides, but would love to make larger, more unusual, or unexpected floral head pieces more often!
Q: Your designs are available for bridal parties, can you explain the process to us?
Yes! Through my Etsy shop, I’ve made quite a few sets of necklaces and rings for bridesmaids. These are usually given as a gift from the bride. I love the fact that they can feel special the day of the event, then grow the plants to remember the celebration. Etsy makes it so easy- people order- usually a few weeks before their event, I make them fresh and ship them the same day to arrive a few days before they will be worn. Each piece arrives gift wrapped with care instructions tucked into the boxes.
Q: What advice can you offer anybody thinking about opening their own creative business?
Be yourself! Think about what you have to offer- what excites you most, what makes you dance around, what you most enjoy doing. These are your passions. Follow them fiercely! Make sure to take the time to develop your own aesthetic- be more “you” than you think you should. It’s our individuality that makes us stand out- it should be celebrated.
Q: Can you share a most memorable experience in your business?
Last year, my dear friend and fellow Chapel Designer Nick Priestly of Mood Flowers in Glasgow asked me to come to Scotland to teach a workshop at his studio. I was thrilled, and said yes immediately, but I was also terrified! It was the first time I’d been asked to teach a large group, and I was also not comfortable claiming to be an authority on anything! I had to wrestle my demons a bit- the voices that were telling me that I didn’t have enough experience to teach internationally, that I wouldn’t be able to give them any new ideas or inspiration- that no-one would register because they’d never heard of me!
Well, I’m happy to report that people did register, and I did in fact have a lot to offer them. It was an amazing experience- we spent 2 days making succulent jewelry, abundant floral crowns, free-form bouquets, and floral necklaces. The students made incredibly gorgeous pieces, and many commented that the techniques they learned were completely new to them. I great feeling, and a big confidence-boosting jump in the right direction for me as a teacher. I spoke to Nick recently, and we’re planning another workshop in early spring.
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Also, I’m pleased to announce that I’m a finalist in the 2015 Martha Stewart American Made contest!
I entered my business because I’d like to expand my living jewelry line, and add the new designs I’m working on to my Etsy shop. I’m calling the line “home decor for flower lovers-” pieces that display flowers and other natural artifacts in a way that will highlight the beauty of the natural world. I’m so excited about these pieces, and know us florists will love them! Winning would mean a cash boost that I can direct to this new endeavor.