Akin Bari, director of premium florist Fleur by RLD, tells Aznim Ruhana Md Yusup of the company’s plans to get more Malaysians interested in flowers
AROUND Valentine’s Day when Akin Bari was in secondary school, she would put up signs on her school notice board asking if any of the students would like to buy flowers from her.
She offered rose bouquets for RM3 or RM5, which was a reasonable price for students.
“It was my first venture into the flower business,” says Akin. “I didn’t even know about wholesalers at the time. Instead, I made a deal with my local florist to sell her flowers either as a single stalk or in threes. I added chocolates and arranged it nicely with wrapping paper.
“That was about 30 years ago. Roses are ridiculously expensive nowadays during Valentine’s Day,” says the director of premium florist Fleur by RLD.
Located on the basement of Shoppes at Four Seasons Place, Fleur by RLD is co-founded by Razak Ahmad, an acclaimed United States-trained floral designer known for his luxurious floral decorations at society weddings and events.
Meanwhile, Fleur by RLD is making that glamorous aesthetic more accessible, both in scale and price.
In addition to its home decor items, customers can also purchase an arrangement of fresh flowers to enjoy at home, or as a gift to someone special.
That said, fresh flowers are expensive and only last a week or two, at most. Quite a number of people are put off by this. They find the beauty of fresh flowers too fleeting or too insubstantial and the return of investment, so to speak, is just not there.
“These people have no soul!” says Akin. “But I also understand that some things are subjective and there are people who don’t like flowers. But there’s beauty in fresh and real flowers that cannot be compared to artificial ones. Give anyone fresh flowers — they will love it.”
Akin says she would like it if more people pick up fresh flowers on their way home from work or as part of their weekly grocery.
It’s an investment on beauty — a fresh, natural beauty that anyone can enjoy, and the choice of flowers are also more varied these days.
“Before Razak returned to Malaysia 15 years ago, you could only find roses, hydrangeas and not much of anything else,” says Akin. “He started using other flowers like ranunculus and slowly, floral wholesalers begin to bring in other types of blooms for the local market.”
According to Akin, while there are local flower farms in places such as Cameron Highlands, the flowers produced are usually exported to Europe or the Middle East where they fetch a higher price. So most of what’s available here are imported.
“From December to March, the flowers come from New Zealand or Australia. Then it slows down until June, when we start to get flowers from the Netherlands. By early October there’s a gap and supplies are scarce until it’s December again,” she says.
Other countries that supply to the local flower trade include China, Colombia and South Africa. Additionally, a lot of cut flowers regardless of origins are sent to the Netherlands first for auction, before being flown to their final destination.
Not all flowers are suitable as cut flowers, such as hibiscus, magnolia and gardenia. But roses, hydrangea or tulips can keep their shape and colour for over a week if cared for properly.
Akin suggests changing the water in the vase often and to place the arrangement in a cool place. It’s also good to cut a little bit off the end of the flower stem everyday, so the point where water is absorbed by the plant stays fresh and can continue this function.
The aesthetic of a bouquet from Fleur by RLD is an extension of Razak’s own event decorations, where the floral arrangements appear excessive by design. So even when the colour scheme is white and pale, the overall impression remains loud and bold.
The shop makes all the floral designs for the Four Seasons Place, and its roaring floral creations takes the spotlight compared to the hotel’s more quiet style. You can’t take the hotel decor home but you can order an arrangement for yourself.
“Customers will come to us with a budget of say RM300, and give us free rein over the end product,” says Fleur by RLD brand manager Mohd Afiq Morshidi. “They’re not particularly concerned over the type of flowers or foliage.”
But Malaysians are still somewhat indifferent about fresh cut flowers, so it’s not a common practice to order a bouquet. Afiq sees hope in another avenue, which could see us appreciate flowers a bit more.
“People are starting to take event decorations more seriously, such as for birthday parties and they have floral decorations as a table centrepiece and on the chairs. So that’s another way for us to get more people interested in fresh flowers.”
That said, there’s nothing wrong with artificial flowers, insists Afiq. They serve a purpose and they carry it in the store. Some of the artificial flowers can look very classy and realistic, especially when added alongside real blooms.