An old-new definition

I spotted this cool sign in Chicago's West Town neighborhood.

While in Chicago earlier this week, I had the chance to meet Lynn Fosbender, owner of Pollen Inc., a sustainable floral design studio for weddings and events. She invited me to tag along as she shopped for flowers at a local farmer’s market. Afterwards, we returned to the Pollen studio, located in an old brick warehouse next to Chicago’s famous “El” trains.

Lynn Fosbender, designer and owner of Pollen Inc., a sustainable floral studio in Chicago, shops for locally-grown flowers at the farmer's market in her neighborhood.

Lynn’s design philosophy is influenced by both horticulture and ecology. With a B.A. in Horticulture and graduate studies in Restoration Ecology, you might wonder why Lynn ended up working with flowers.

Her career choice can be credited to a love for great design combined with extensive experience creating bouquets and arrangements for conventional florists (including a 4-year gig managing one of Chicago’s top retail flower shops). Yet even while working in the world of cutting edge floral design, Lynn knew wanted to use sustainable practices, something she hadn’t much observed in the industry.

“I was looking at all the stuff we were throwing away that should have been composted,” for example, she says. “For several years I thought I would like to own a full-service flower shop that was eco-friendly. I knew if anyone should do it, it should be me.”

Lynn’s vision was adopted by a group of MBA students at Loyola University business school who developed a business plan inspired by her ideas. Thus, Pollen Inc., was born last year.

For now at least Lynn has opted to launch her venture as a studio, rather than in a retail space. She laughs when confiding that her 400-square-foot apartment originally housed her “studio,” that is until she found and moved Pollen to a relatively spacious 500-square-foot warehouse space.

Lynn selected some gorgeous, locally-grown lilies for an upcoming wedding

After our early-morning farmer’s market stop, I followed Lynn back to the studio. With her arms filled with pale peach lilies, a bunch of verdant millet seedheads and dozens of brilliant sunflowers grown by a local Illinois flower farmer, Lynn led me upstairs to her light-filled loft-like space.  She processed the flowers while we discussed her green philosophy, the challenges of keeping brides (and grooms) happy with their flower choices, and the future for sustainable flower design.

It’s no surprise to learn that local farmers who sell to Chicago area floral designers are limited by a growing season that ranges from May through October. Lynn acknowledges that in the colder months, she relies on the wholesale importers who bring Veriflora flowers to market (usually from California or South America). “Otherwise, I would be using twigs and moss – that’s what’s local in the winter,” Lynn says with a grin. But then, she pauses and mentions a favorite local source for orchids – a popular wedding flower that’s greenhouse grown. She thinks beyond the obvious path and seeks to find sustainable options – even out of season.

“I try to offer people more eco-friendly alternatives; things they might not otherwise notice,” she explains.For example, Lynn avoids using oasis, glues, dyes or sprays, almost always using water-filled vases for arrangements. By offering an affordable vase-rental service for weddings and events, Lynn makes it easy for clients to make the eco-friendly choice.

She also promotes and markets her studio in the green wedding world, collaborating with other vendors such as caterers, photographers and invitation printers. “The brides for three out of my next four weddings asked for locally-grown flowers,” Lynn points out. “It’s my hope that by next year, I’ll be able to do all green weddings.” Pollen’s web site outlines Lynn’s approach to green wedding flowers:

For couples looking to reduce their wedding or commitment ceremony’s impact on the environment, Pollen offers floral designs created with sustainably grown flowers.Our first choice for product (and the greenest option) is local, organically grown flowers.  Of course, being in Chicago, locally grown flowers are only available for a part of the year.  For the many months that the Midwest’s climate is not hospitable to flower growing, we offer Veriflora, Fair Trade, or Rainforest Alliance certified flowers.  These third-party certifications assure that flower growers are working toward ecological sustainability and social responsibility.

In addition to thoughtfully sourcing our product, we operate the business in an eco-conscious manner.  We shop for product and deliver your flowers in a shared vehicle.  All marketing materials are produced with the environment in mind, from recycled paper business cards to green web hosting.  And we reuse packaging materials as much as possible.  When we take the boxes and bags used to safely deliver your event’s floral designs, we’ll be saving them to use for the next event!

Here’s a short interview with Lynn. She discusses her motivation for using sustainable flowers, as well as The Chicago Green Wedding Alliance, a new collaboration she launched with like-minded businesses and artists:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uz7lNI7oqIo

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Susan Morrison July 31, 2010 at 3:13 pm

The blad is lovely!

Are you familiar with Lila B. in San Francisco?
http://www.lilabdesign.com/default.asp
The owner, Baylor Chapman, actually found space in a fairly industrial part of the city and created an extensive container garden that would allow her to grow her own organic flowers. There’s a short video on the website that talks about it.

MaryAnn Nardo August 5, 2010 at 12:29 pm

This is site is a great service to floral designers and such an exciting project. Looking forward to the book.

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