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Cape Lily: Behind the Scenes of a ‘Covid Detour’

How I was forced to find an alternate business model while stuck at home with a toddler during Covid…

 

by Sylvia Lukach | Cape Lily

Image courtesy of Main Street Media

It’s 8pm on a Monday. I’m listening to my three and a half year old pound the door of her bedroom in a fit of hysterics. I open a bottle of sparkling wine left over from the Slow Flowers summit cocktails I hosted a couple of weeks ago and my husband asks: “What are you celebrating?” I hoped it was a rhetorical question. 

These bursts of toddler tantrums come and go, taking me back to the height of Covid in 2020 when my floral design business, Cape Lily, Floral design + Travel,  was shut down and I was home with a then 14-month old and pregnant with the next one. The days were long and hard and I had the harsh realization that being a full-time mom was not for me. 

Like many people, I was filling the time and looking for mental stimulation by tending to our neglected house. We had moved to the suburbs pre-baby and there was lots to be improved. I fancied having interesting wallpaper running up the stairway and was pulled into an internet labyrinth of eclectic patterns, searching for just the right one that would adequately illustrate my personality and our family’s identity.  I learnt that choosing a wallpaper is like choosing a rug or your first born’s name – it’s complicated!  The options are endless and overwhelming and often not quite, exactly what you want. Naturally I paused on all the floral patterns but they didn’t appeal to me. They were either too dark and moody, too “Dutch Masters” or they appeared too graphically altered and not true to the flower itself. I kept scrolling, late at night, uncomfortable in my pregnant belly. 

Months later, still no weddings, events or travel business opportunities in sight and I sat down to review my list of potential business options (because I always have a list). As usual many of them read like passion projects, but floral wallpaper seemed like something worth investigating further. The home design industry was booming, wallpaper was having a moment and there seemed to be a genuine gap for something different when it comes to flowers, or at least for there to be more floral options. Plus, let’s be honest, aren’t all us event florists looking for less physically taxing ways to diversify our income?

The owner of Cape Lily holding an armful of blooming magnolia branches

It took lots of cold calling and researching during nap times to find the right printing partners, ones who cared about sustainable production, didn’t have huge minimums and would actually take me on, given I had no designs, no clients and no experience. By then I was two weeks from my due date but determined to complete my first photo shoot which would give me the images I needed to develop a pattern. Being South African, I wanted this first collection to represent everything I love and would actually want to live with in my own home so the flowers featured are predominantly South African. I wanted one design that would be a more traditional repeating pattern and another that would be more of a large-scale mural. The day I completed the photo shoot for the first pattern my obstetrician told me they wanted to induce my labor. I told them: “No way, I want it to be natural” but really I was just thinking how I had to finish that photo shoot and get my wallpaper out into the world before this baby came along and disrupted my sleep for months. Needless to say, the second photo shoot never happened, the flowers died and little Olle was born all wrinkly and perfect. I spent the next 18 months battling to get the repeats right, pouring over countless mock-ups, test prints, scales, color variations and asking all the dumb questions like: “What is a linear yard?”

Florist Sylvia Lukach, owner of Cape Lily, photographs her flowers from a ladder outside the studio at dusk

I was finally able to launch the initial “Afrobotanical” collection as part of the L.E.A.F flower show in June this year and while it has been a labor of love, made all the more sentimental to me because its origin is so directly connected to foundational moments with my young children, it has also been exhausting trying to maintain momentum alongside my floral business. What I was hoping would be a quick pivot turned out to be more like a very slow detour, one that one hopes will lead somewhere worthwhile but you can’t quite be sure.  

Pink and green floral display by Cape Lily in the street at the Meat Packing District NYC

Image courtesy of Helen Xue Photography

Something that I naively thought would take me two months to produce a minimum viable product for has taken me almost two years. Of course during that time the floral design business picked up again, funneling my focus to where real dollars can be earned. So while I started down the route of an alternate business model, I’ve really found an additional business, which equally requires my attention and investment to grow, as do my small children if we’re to minimize the tantrums and the sparkling wine consumption. I mention all this because I know there was a lot of emphasis placed on pivoting during Covid and I really tried initially to remain upbeat and find a positive spin, but the reality for me and so many of you was that I was stuck at home full-time with a toddler [insert your situation here: child, parent, sick loved one, demanding virtual boss] and that it took all my energy to survive. This project has been a slow burn, places additional demands on my time, and is very far from being a commercial success.

Above: Close up of Cape Lily wallpaper printed with water-based inks on Sisal Grasscloth Tonic

Original floral photography by Federico Photography

If the worst case scenario is that this venture doesn’t lead anywhere, I will still have a lasting piece of my own (very expensive) floral art in my home but in the best case scenario I will create a platform for other floral artists to express themselves in an enduring, meaningful way. I see future collections featuring florists whose designs will far outshine my original “Afrobotanical” collection. Not only because they won’t have the same battle I had figuring out how to translate their design skills onto this medium but because their talent will be far greater than mine, and connect with more consumers looking for that perfect expression of their unique individuality. 

Sylvia Lukach, owner of Cape Lily, holding her children in her flower studio

To learn more about the Cape Lily Home Wallpaper Collection, click here.

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Thank you, Sylvia, for sharing the excitement and challenges behind this beautiful passion project! We’re grateful for your presence in the floral profession and look forward to seeing more of your floral artistry take shape.


If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy reading about the passion project (Flowered Fellas) dreamed up by Jappalin Manning, owner of FlowerTalk in Perth, Western Australia. Click here to read it!

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  1. Helen says:

    Loved this – definitely a chance for us to get our creative on and do something out of the box/comfort zone (thank but also no thanks covid haha) – the wallpaper is beautiful!

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