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It’s only just a year old but Bread & Roses is already making great strides to bring about meaningful change to the lives of refugee women living in London. Here, A Studio of Our Own talks to Co-Founder & Director Sneh Jani about floristry, TED talks and having no fear of failure.
Let’s chat about Bread & Roses…
ASOOO: Could you please give us a brief bit of background on how you started Bread & Roses and where the business is now? What came first? The idea that you wanted to help refugees or the fact that you loved floristry?
SJ: My co-founder, Olivia [Head], and I met on a course [Year Here]. We were there for different reasons but we were both interested in doing something to address the refugee crisis. The name Bread & Roses preceded the idea and it came from Olivia (who had been brought up on Ken Loach!). We were keen that whatever we developed was something that would deliver financial independence but that was also pleasurable. Not just a job that was a means to an end but one that gave people pleasure.
ASOOO: How did you identify the message you wanted to communicate? And how did you choose to get that message out there?
SJ: Firstly, this has always been about raising awareness of the refugee crisis. Secondly, it’s about creating something beautiful that we could juxtaposition against the images of devastation usually associated with refugees. Thirdly, it’s about humanising refugees – every flower stem or bouquet sold has a tag telling you who it was made by and a little bit about their story. This is about people.
ASOOO: Bread & Roses has a very strong and beautiful visual identity — did you have a clear vision for your branding from the start? And how important do you think it is to have a strong brand?
SJ: Having a strong brand is absolutely paramount, invaluable. I’m really proud of our branding. But it all comes from having a very clear, focused mission: to support and enable refugee women to flourish.
“Having a strong brand is absolutely paramount, invaluable.”
ASOOO: When thinking back to the early days of the business, at which point did you know you were onto something? When any doubts that you had were dispelled?
SJ: We ran feedback sessions. And we did research. At the time we launched, there were no social enterprise florists. So, we did a pilot with Women for Refugee Women and we worked with 15-20 women across six workshops and they absolutely loved it. That’s when we realised there was a potential.
ASOOO: And when you look at the business now, what do you think has been the over-riding factor in building your success?
SJ: Passion and belief. There were points when we started out when we wondered ‘what are we doing, are we going to have an impact?’ But it’s that passion that’s driven us and within two weeks of having the idea we were trying it out.
It’s also been very important to be flexible but we have always had one goal: the business has been set up with a social mission in mind. First and foremost, this is a socially minded organisation.
ASOOO: What have you found to be the most effective form of marketing for your brand? And has this changed since you first started?
SJ: Social media has been the most effective for us: it’s vital to have content to share. From the beautiful bouquets our florist produces, through to stories that resonate with what we’re doing and the world we’re in: social issues that we’re helping to tackle.
ASOOO: How much hard selling have you had to do and how have you dealt with that? Was it something you were immediately comfortable with?
SJ: We’re definitely comfortable with it: we’re both extroverts so it was never too terrifying for us! Thankfully, most businesses have flowers on their reception so it’s a bit of a no brainer to spend a little bit more on beautiful flowers that are doing good. Why wouldn’t you?!
ASOOO: How important do you think it is for companies to act responsibly and give back?
SJ: I don’t understand why it’s not integrated into everything. Why isn’t it an intrinsic way that a company operates? It shouldn’t be a separate, tokenistic approach. I often sit on the tube and look at the ads and think, instead of pushing/selling a product, why aren’t they being used to tell stories and giving people the chance to give back? You go up the escalators and every one of the 10 screens is showing me the same thing. Not only is it incredibly boring but they could be used for doing good.
ASOOO: What would be your advice to new businesses and entrepreneurs just about to start out on their own journey?
SJ: Be prepared to expect the unexpected: you can only learn through doing.
“Be prepared to expect the unexpected: you can only learn through doing.”
ASOOO: What have you most enjoyed about the experience of running your own business?
SJ: I find it incredibly empowering to see Bread & Roses having a tangible impact on the women we support. We did a TED talk last year where we’re unapologetic in our delivery but then we’re not bound to anyone. We know there is a need to be humble – in the right circumstances – but we talk from experience and no one can silence us.
ASOOO: What gets you out of bed every day?
SJ: Seeing that we can make a change and raise awareness.
ASOOO: When reality bites, it can be easy to chase the next big opportunity to make money, which is sometimes to the detriment of the reason you got into business in the first place. How have you maintained focus as your business has grown?
SJ: This isn’t about making money. It never has been. This is about a social mission and raising awareness and bringing joy into people’s lives. The commercial element is secondary.
ASOOO: Was the fear of failure an issue for you when starting out? Did it impact the decisions you made? If so, would you have acted differently if you had known then what you know now?
SJ: There was no fear when we first started out however neither of us would fully commit to doing this full time [both Sneh and Olivia have full time careers in addition to running Bread & Roses]. Because of that we couldn’t make any important decisions and therefore we couldn’t secure the business’ future. The key and critical change was when we got our incredible florist, Livi, on board to do the floristry. She is passionate and skilled and involved in the refugee cause. Having her on board meant we could produce a higher quality product. Which means we can charge more.
ASOOO: As an agency, we’re constantly talking about the need for bravery in business. Do you have any tips for start-ups who have a great idea, but no experience of selling?
SJ: Bravery is important although it doesn’t feel like we’re being brave! I never forget that all this started from a small seed. Understand that it’s normal to be broke, it’s normal for things not to go to plan, it’s normal to ask for stuff for free.
ASOOO: What was your support network like when you started out? Where did you go when you needed advice?
SJ: Advice is very important. I had a mentor from the course I was on and I still see them to this day. Year Here is an invaluable network that you can go to for advice on all aspects of business.
ASOOO: What has running your own business taught you about yourself? Are there new skills you had to learn and what would you say has been the most valuable?
SJ: It’s given me confidence. When I talk about Bread & Roses it’s not about us at all. It’s about the women. That’s why I do things like the TED talk and interviews with journalists: it’s because it’s an opportunity for the women. Our courses give women joy and a focus.
“Honesty is vital. Faking it till you make it – I just don’t believe in it.”
ASOOO: When we work with our clients, our big three aims are always to get them to communicate in a way that’s nice, brave and honest. How do you think being nice, honest and brave has helped you get to where you are?
SJ: Honesty is vital. Faking it till you make it – I just don’t believe in it. We always have to be honest with ourselves and when it comes to selling what we’re doing. The refugee crisis is a legitimate issue and it is happening and we’re trying to do something about it. I don’t think being nice is always in everyone’s best interests from an individual perspective. But I do think it’s important as a business or organisation to have love flowing through your veins.
Bread & Roses will be marking World Refugee Day on Tuesday 20th June with the launch of a new flower delivery service, giving east London businesses the chance to order its beautiful blooms, all handmade by the women Bread & Roses have trained. All the proceeds will go back into supporting more women to build their lives here. Businesses can find out more by contacting Sneh Jani at firstname.lastname@example.org.