Sometimes you think it’s all been done, and then someone comes up with a simple idea that makes you realize there are still voids waiting to be filled. Whitney Bromberg Hawkings has a penchant clean, single flower bouquets, like her former boss of almost 20 years, Tom Ford. She also has a similar drive to succeed. Looking for her next chapter, she launched Flowerbx in 2017 in London with the backing of some high-profile investors. This month, she is bringing Flowerbx to NYC with overnight and same-day deliveries, as well as a pop up shop in Bergdorf Goodman which opens today. Next stop? Whitney’s goal is everywhere in America. (If she could tackle the suburb of Westchester in NY–where I live, I would be so grateful.) She’s also become the go-to event florist for fashion houses from Louis Vuitton to Michael Kors. Here, she shares the lessons she learned from Tom, why nabbing women investors brings more than just financial rewards, and the whimsical objets her husband collects for her.
Give us your personal take on who you are and what you do: I am the CEO and co-founder of Flowerbx, which is an online flower delivery company. I am a mom to three amazing kids. Being an entrepreneur and building this business takes a lot of my time right now. I’m also someone who loves beauty so I’m lucky that I get to wake up everyday and work on something so beautiful, even when it’s frustrating or not working in the way that I need it to be. It’s really gratifying.
Talk a little bit about your career path and how you got to where you are: My first job, straight out of school, was working for Tom Ford as his PA.
Lucky you, but at the same time, major trial by fire.
I was very lucky. It was not without it’s challenges, but it was the most amazing first job. It was right when the Gucci the white dress collection happened.
At that point he was doing Gucci and then a couple of years later doing Gucci in London, Saint Laurent in Paris and then Milan, where we’d have to be in for a show, so I had an apartment in all three places. I was 23 years old. We’d go back and forth with Tom on his jet. It was so glamorous and so fun and like I said, not without it’s challenges. I’d to work all the time, but I wanted to be there.
I tried to quit when he was leaving Gucci and he said, “You can’t quit, that’s not an option. Come I’ll make you head of communications for Tom Ford.” This was before Tom Ford was anything. So I left with him and ended up heading up the communications department for Tom Ford, and it was so fun because it was always growing. I could’ve done that forever. I was super happy. I had a great relationship with Tom, my husband worked there, and still works there. But then I was turning 40, and Tom always said “you’ve got to have a 10 year plan”. That was something that always resonated with me–in my 20’s it was so clear, I was going build my career and work, work, work and in my 30’s I had kids and that was a huge priority. Then the fashion landscape has changed so much and I was just thought, I’m too old for this.
That’s how I felt when I went back to Harper’s Bazaar the third time. I thought, I can’t anymore. I’m done.
I think having children makes you realize that these [fashion] dramas aren’t a big deal. Also, I think turning 40 had some relevance there. I was also pregnant with my third child, so I was thinking, am I going to be doing this when I’m 50? Part of me thought, you’ve got a great gig, you can be doing this when you’re 50. The other part of me was like, there’s something more than this and there was also that element of having to ask permission for everything I had outgrown. Can I go to my son’s school conference? Not that Tom treated me that way, I just felt that way.
Then I was buying everything for my life online. I was buying my beauty, clothes and groceries online. When I would have friends over for dinner, I wanted to have flowers in my house. I didn’t want to buy supermarket flowers, so I would go to the Covent Garden Flower Market before work. I’d be there a pencil skirt and stilettos because that’s what I wore to work. Go to the flower market, have a car full of flowers, I’d call my nanny and be like, can you meet me at the flower market and take them home. Then i’d think, “how come I can’t do this online?”
A lot of florists have an online offering, but what they do is they duplicate the bouquet model that they have in the shops. I didn’t want to buy a bouquet for my house, that’s so naff. I want to buy 10 hydrangeas or 28 peonies. Or just throw them together. There is an effortlessness that I like in floral display. All the people I have floral crushes on are people who just throw the freshest, most beautiful flowers in a vase.
It was such a struggle when I was sending flowers for Tom, I would say “no greenery, he doesn’t want mixed florals, just simple stemmed bunches.”
All the senior editors used to get flowers and a note from Tom before his show, and they were gorgeous.
It’s the chicest and simplest way of giving flowers. Everyone over does it, over thinks it and not to say that can’t be beautiful, because it can, but most of the time is awful.
It’s just so hard to give or buy good flowers, period. I live in Westchester and go to our local bodega, which is hit or miss at best, because I can’t come to the city and go to the flower market. It’s just not happening.
Soon we’ll be across New York, across America, everywhere in the world!
How does Flowerbx work? Traditionally flowers go from Holland to the market, where they sit in the market for 2-3 days and then they’re sold to florists and they sit for another 2-3 days. I thought “what if we bought the flowers straight from Holland for our customers?” What’s beautiful about our business model in Europe, less beautiful here, but we’re figuring out–is that you order the flowers today, we order them from Holland, the next morning they come to our warehouse, we re-package them and send them out to you. You cannot have fresher flowers. They were literally cut for you. We have no waste, so you’re not paying for our waste, you’re not paying for our bricks and mortar store, so you get this big value and you get flowers that last longer. Plus we’re paid before we pay our suppliers. Our business model is great.
You also have some very high profile investors.
I’m so lucky, Natalie Massenet’s a good friend and she was one of our first customers and she said, this is genius! When you raise money let me know.
It’s one of the first companies she invested in, right?
It is. I was so embarrassed because I thought, “does she really mean it?” Now I’m shameless about asking people for money, but it was so out of my comfort zone. Now I realize that it’s actually an opportunity for them too.
Women have a hard time asking for money. I talk about this a lot with friends and on this site.
It’s true. It’s hard. I emailed Natalie, “if you’re really serious we are raising money and if not, no big deal”. She wrote back, “I’m dead serious, do you mind if I bring Mark Sebba and Carmen Busquets [the former CEO and the co-founder of Net-a-Porter respectively] on board?” Mark Sebba was so legendary, are you kidding me? I was so nervous to meet him. Mark, Carmen, and Natalie all invested. Then we’ve had a handful of amazing investors, like Rose Uniacke–all these really cool, interesting women, which I think is so lucky. Whenever I’m on the women’s podcast and they ask what advice I would give to women entrepreneurs….
Which I was I was going to ask you, so please go ahead.
Find women, because they really support you like no one else. Having women investors is so helpful, not only do they support you financially, but emotionally and with connections. All these sort of secret ways that women work, it’s not just money, it’s so much more than that.
What did you take away from your previous job and apply to what you’re doing now? First off, hard work. I’ve never been shy of working hard. Also the level of perfectionism, being uncompromising on quality and perfection, I learned from Tom. I think also consistency because what we offer is this consistency of value, product, beauty and aesthetic and I can’t waiver. Everything has to be in line with our vision.
You also do floral installations and events, where did that come from and where do you see it going? I did not foresee having an events company at all. I wasn’t going to leave my career to go be an events florist, but it became very clear, very early on. Someone would say, “I’m having a dinner party can you come and do the flowers?” I would say okay, but we didn’t have vases.
Are you that person who, if somebody asks you something, you say yes and just figure it out after? 100% and I try to find a team that does that too because everything is an opportunity. For instance Elizabeth Saltzman was helping Michael Kors with an event, and she said “he’s taking over the River Café, can you just fill it with peonies?” Yeah, no clue, literally, but sure! I can get the peonies. So I found a freelance florist and we did it. It became clear fast that there was this appetite for events.
Also B to B business contracts with restaurants, hotels and everything every week is great for revenue streams, because most florists I think really suffer from that; it’s Valentines day, Mothers day and then nothing. What’s also great is that part of the business is marketing. I figure, okay you’re paying us and then you’re doing our marketing for us because you’re talking about it.
One of the easiest things about starting Flowerbx? The easiest thing has been selling it to people because I believe in it so passionately. I know it doesn’t exist and I know I’m bringing something new to the table. So that surprises how easy it’s been to sort of win people over, because it’s so right.
What has been the hardest thing or something that surprised you? How long have you got?! Launching in New York is hugely challenging. I think we’re doing a great job, but I think, what’s the hardest thing? That flowers die. There’s a huge perishability aspect that I didn’t really think about. That’s a challenge, but it also gives us an opportunity to crack it.
An attribute that helps you succeed: Tenacity.
You’re the third woman I’ve talked to this week who said that.
I just think you can’t let go. This cannot fail. It will not. It cannot. I think once you eliminate that as an option then it’s going to succeed.
What motivates you? We could completely change the way that people consume flowers and change an entire industry, which to me is so thrilling and obviously, ridiculously challenging.
Three words that describe Flowerbx: We’ve been trying to establish our core values, which I think, especially as you grow, it’s so important to really solidify what those are. For me it’s effortlessness. I don’t want to ever be contrived. Even if were doing a mixed bouquet, it needs to feel effortless. Beauty, that’s at the forefront of everything that we do at Flowerbx, and quality.
Three words that describe you: Loyal, hard working, and loving.
Do you have a flavor flower? I do for every season, but I don’t have one favorite flower.
Okay, so what’s your favorite spring flower? No brainer, peonies. Pale pink.
Do you keep flowers at your house? As many as I can. Now I actually get super sad if I don’t have flowers in my home. It’s one of those things that once they’re not there, you really miss them.
Life goals: Having a happy, healthy family. That’s the only thing that matters at the end of the day.
Daily goals: Crush it. Everyday I wake up and think, “How am I going to nail this?”
Daily rituals: I wish. I tried to meditate, that was my New Year’s resolution. I do Pilates, which for me is meditation because it calms me down.
Favorite inspirational/motivational book: Shoe Dog by Phil Knight about Nike is so good. There are so many things in that book that are amazing–how long it took and what an uphill battle it was, what his team looked like and how that team was connected. I’ve read it about ten times and I’ve highlighted bits. I highly recommend it.
Favorite charity: For Valentines Day we donated ten pence for every rose we sold for the month to the Great Ormandy Street Hospital, which is the cancer hospital for children. It ended up being a lot of roses. I’m also on the committee of The Lady Garden Foundation, which is for women’s gynecological cancers.
Biggest splurge you don’t regret: I’m not so splurgey …This trip to come to New York? Flowerbx doesn’t pay for that, I do.
Favorite small indulgence: I do like a facial from Sarah Chapman. She’s amazing.
Do you collect anything? My husband collects a lot of things for me, which is quite sweet.
What does he collect? It sounds very weird, but he has this beautiful collection of old umbrellas. He has a beautiful collection of salt and pepper shakers that are so chic. For Valentine’s Day he gave me these vintage Gucci swan shakers, then we have these beautiful Asprey egg shakers. He gives me these things that we’ll give on to our children.
Scent that brings back memories: My mom wore Je Reviens by Worth, so that.
Lucky charm: My husband had a ring made for me when I had our third child. It’s a heart and it has all their names engraved in it. I feel like they’re with me all the time.
Favorite hour of the day: My favorite is when the kids come in the bed, because they’re still in that stage that they cuddle me in the morning, before I look at my phone, before I do anything. And the three year old, just the joy of her when she wakes up in the morning; she’s so happy for her day and to see me and she french kisses me. It’s so sweet.
Sunday morning means….Nothing, absolutely fuck all nothing. We go to the country on the weekends. If the boys are still in their pajamas on Sunday night, it was a great weekend.
Follow Flowerbx: Instagram.