In the middle of Kingsland village you will find flower shop KENSAL. On entry you'll meet the smile of owner Liv or her right hand women Kate. The shop is filled with flowers that look like they've just been plucked from some dreamy English cottage garden. The shop is full of curios; vintage pickle jars, antique vases, Victorian marmalade jars and Little Crumb, a mini coffee shop. This season's Wild Garden campaign included Kensal's signature blooms. We chat with Liv to find out how she braves 4am starts and of course to find out her favourite pieces from the new collection.
Lovely Liv, tell us a little bit about yourself, your background and what led you to where you are today?
I’ll keep it short and sweet. Born and raised in Christchurch. Used to dance. Finished school for a life of performing. Moved to London. Became a florist. Came home and started Kensal. Loves gherkins. How to fit 34 years in 34 words!
Owner Liv wears Big Sis Tilly in Ivy Green
That was impressive! Ok, we heard a rumour you used to be on a little TV show called What Now…
Ha ha, yes. I worked on ‘What Now’ for just over two years. I can’t give the secret away but you never saw my face… It was a great time, I made lifelong friends and the early Sunday morning alarms for the live show have set me up for the before dawn starts at the flower market.
OK ok, were getting off track…Where did your love of flowers first bloom? Sorry, we can’t resist a flower pun…
I’ve always loved flowers. My mum loved to garden and I was always out there with her. I remember picking flowers from the berms and wrapping them in tinfoil for my primary school teachers. It was basically a bunch of weeds but six year old me thought they were pretty. It just never occurred to me that it was a career path to follow until later in life.
You worked at Scarlet & Violet in London, that must have been incredible. Any wild and crazy stories about your hoity toity London customers you can share with us? We can keep a secret. Promise.
I was so fortunate to work at Scarlet & Violet, it was just right place, right time I guess. But on my first day I went to Nigella's home to do her house flowers. It was mad. It feels weird talking about it now because it was just so normal to be working with London’s A list celebs and fashion houses. I have so many stories but the NDA's may still stand – sorry!
Now you’re your own boss, when and how did KENSAL begin?
I had spent five years in London and it was time to come back to New Zealand. In hindsight I’m so lucky I moved when I did! After all my experience at S&V starting my own thing was the next logical step.
I started KENSAL in 2018 with hand-drawn business cards and I made bunches out of the laundry.
We love that! Roanne started Saben out of her parents garage. What about the name, where does that come from?
I lived in a London suburb called Kensal Rise for four years (S&V was there too). So many of my friends had flats there and it became our stomping ground, it was our special place. I wanted a name that meant nothing to anyone else but so much to me.
What’s changed since the first day you opened the doors?
So much! Kensal has gone from a laundry to an old warehouse, to a bricks and mortar shop in Kingsland - she just keeps growing. When I moved from the warehouse to the main street I was planning on being a studio first and foremost, opening the doors to customers on the weekend. Covid quickly switched that up for us as all event and wedding orders fell away. I was so fortunate that I had the new space and kick started the shop. I now have the beautiful Kate in the shop with me, and I can’t believe I did it for so long without her. She’s the other half of my brain, my rock, a talented florist and a wonderful friend.
Seriously, the early flower market starts – how do you do it? ...
Oh I don’t love it. You should only wake up in the hour of 4 if you are going on holiday. It’s very different from my experience in London. Yes you’d have to get up early but you could just swan into New Covent Garden market, choose what you wanted, pay a lad a tenner and he’d load your van while you ate a bacon butty. In NZ we have to go to auction to buy our flowers. It’s a lot of quick maths and bright lights at 5am. But on days I’m feeling a bit lazy I can do the auction online from bed.
What does a regular day look like for you?
On a market morning, if I’m heading into the auction, I’ll get up at 4am. It’s actually a lovely quiet drive at that hour with no Auckland traffic to fight with. I’ll wander around the auction hall checking out all the flowers on the trollies, making note of what I’d like to get for the shop and orders. The auction will last about 2.5 hours and in that time I’ll make a few cups of tea and grab a cheese toastie. Once that’s all over, load up the van and head to the shop where the gals have already opened up. We’ll condition the flowers, fill up the shop and start making orders to head out with the couriers. The rest of the day can vary from there, carry on making as orders as they come in, install an event, trawl the internet for great products to stock in the shop. And Friday afternoons Kate and I have rosé and crisps.
The last 18 months has thrown us some curve balls, especially those in the retail and event world – is there anything you’ve learnt about yourself and / or the way you did business?
I’ve eased the accelerator off a bit, trying to get more of a balance in life. I don’t want to look back on my life and go “well I worked really hard” and that’s it. I understand flowers are a luxury and I don’t want to force people to buy them. But if they need them or love them then hopefully they choose KENSAL. Not a wonderful business strategy I’m sure, but I’m not a business brained person.
I do it because I love it – and I need to remember that everyday so I don’t lose sight of the “why”.
What’s the best thing that has come out of Covid lockdowns for you?
Covid has reminded me to slow down and relish in the small things in life. I’m writing this in the current Level 4 lockdown and waiting for a lemon loaf to bake made with lemons from our tree. That can be enough, we don’t have to fill every minute of our lives.
Sometimes we learn more from our mistakes, than our wins – what’s one of your biggest learning curves running a business?
When you start a business you are everything. The buyer, the junior stripping flowers, the florist, the delivery driver, accountant, PR hero, website designer. You wear so many hats. I’ve only started giving some of those hats away now, three and a half years later. I never knew how much of a hustle it is to start a business. I’ve learnt SO much on this journey, at one point I was even coding my own website.
Are we correct in assuming floristry is a predominantly female dominated industry?
You are. There is very little diversity in floristry as it stands. In the shops and studios, there are mostly women. It would be wonderful to see more inclusion of other genders and races in our industry.
Are there any women in the industry who you look up to?
My former boss, Vic Brotherson from Scarlet and Violet. She taught me everything I know. Watching her work with flowers is magical, she is one very talented woman.
What about in your life, are there any women who have inspired you most throughout your life and career?
My mum. She’s been my number one cheerleader and has always said I can do anything I put my mind to. Thanks mum x
What advice do you have for budding florists (told ya we love a flower pun) wanting to get into the industry?
Personally, I don’t think you need to do a course. You can learn it all on the job. Yes, you’ll start at the bottom, stripping flowers and cleaning vases but I think it’s the best way to learn and grow.
STYLE FILES: What do you love most about wearing Saben?
I love that my Saben bag can easily go from flower market, to the shop and out for a wine after work. I love supporting NZ brands and Saben’s unwavering support of women and their talents is a wonderful thing to be a part of.
Kensal has given us a code just for Saben customers! Take $10* off Seasonal bunches on her website using the code KENSALXSABEN at checkout.
So why not share the love, support local and send a pal or yourself (we're not judging!) some beautiful blooms.
*Code not valid on smaller WFH bunches.