Hong Kong Homies is a series where we get deep real fast with Hongkongers.
Anthorea Li, Floral designer
In primary school, my mother demanded that I become one of the top five students every year. If my results was the sixth best that year, my mother would reprimand me and told me to work harder. It is quite twisted. I started to slack off in secondary school, partly because I was lazy, but also partly because I wanted to rebel. My mom wanted me to work in a bank, because it pays well and it has air-conditioning.
I did hold resentment against my mother for a long time. But as I got older, I realized that it’s better to let go. I’ll just do whatever makes me happy, and they can’t really do anything about it now. My mom’s even starting to appreciate what I do. She asked to me gift her some accessories, and I see that as a pretty big compliment!
I manage Color Freak Studio, which makes bouquets and other floral designs, dried flowers accessories, and sells vintage clothes. But before this, I felt confused for a long time after graduating. I studied fashion design, but then I found out that I didn’t actually like designing clothes. I prefer vintage clothes. Not a big fan of trends.
When I interviewed for a job at a fashion design company, they asked me to buy clothes from Zara and H&M and just copy the designs. They sell the design sketches to other fashion companies, and even asked me to return the clothes after copying them. It was the same case for several other companies, and so I decided then I didn’t want to be in this industry.
I worked in sales and did some design gigs afterwards, but I didn’t know what to do. I was looking for a job when I walked by a florist shop, which was hiring. I went in and applied for the position. I did not know much about flowers. They gave me a test, showing me lots of photos and names of flowers and asked me to match them. I got about half of them right, and they said I did very well! I was surprised. Are other people that ignorant about flowers?
Being among flowers changed me. When you’re surrounded by flowers every day, the colors, the shape, the beauty — it gets to you. I didn’t really have a moment where I thought, ‘Ah! This is what I want to do.’ It’s more like noticing that whenever I’m designing and making a new bouquet, I’m happy and completely focused. The world stops for a little bit.
So two months into my new job, I decided to get a floral design certificate. A one-year course costing about $30,000. After that, I started my own business. It’s been two and a half years now, and I haven’t looked back.
It sounds very cheesy, but being able to do what you love really is the happiest thing. To have something that belongs to you. To have something that you have power over. That is wonderful.
The funny thing, however, is that I used to reject colors. When I was in college, I loved gothic. I wore all black for two whole years. I’m not exactly a colorful person, even though I like to work with colors.
I have to admit, it was a little overboard. But I am quite an extreme person. I remember the night before the deadline for my year-end project, I was really unsatisfied about my work, so I tore it apart. I decided that it was better to hand in nothing than to submit something I didn’t like.
After graduating from fashion design, I felt really depressed. I felt useless, like I was wasting time. I did not draw for years. I stayed that way until I found flowers. Working with flowers have made me calm. I stopped feeling lost, you know what I mean? I feel more positive about myself. I’m happier.
The thing about handling fresh flowers is that you need to very delicate and have very stable hands. Too much pressure and there’ll be a scratch on the petals. If you hold them for too long, they change colors. During my first floral design lesson, I had a hand cramp! It was that intense.
The care needed taught me to be respectful to the flowers. I want to create floral designs that fully demonstrate the beauty of the flowers.
Creating art is not difficult, but presenting your art to the world is. I set up stalls on most weekends at handicraft markets, and it’s tricky to see your art in the real world.
Most of my customers are lovely, friendly people, but I’ve had people tell me my accessories are ugly. Some say my work is “really unusual” but “too expensive.”
There’s a type of people which are “refinedly rude (斯文煩),” a term that I made up. They’re well-educated, polite, but actually very judgemental. On the other hand, I’ve also had a customer tell me that my art breaks the traditional boundary of dried flower accessories. I was like, “Whoa.” That’s the wonderful side about sharing your art with the world.
My favorite thing in the studio is the basket of failed experiments. I put in imperfect pieces as well as failed pieces in there. I like to go through them from time to time. It’s a good record of your journey, and I also rediscover interesting ideas from them. Most of my best-selling items are created by accident, through a string of failed experiments.