AWNY Startup Stories: Leah Bannister from L.J. Bannister (Flower dealers)

Growing up surrounded by the natural beauty of Australia in her grandparents’ gardens, it was inevitable that Leah’s love of flowers would one day translate into her own business. L.J. Bannister (Flower dealers) brings the gift of beautiful, bespoke bouquets to clients all across Manhattan, featuring a unique Australian touch combined with locally-sourced seasonal blooms. Read on for the story of Leah’s success and an exclusive discount code for AWNY readers.

Tell us about your business and what inspired you to begin.
We make and deliver beautiful, bespoke bouquets throughout Manhattan, NYC —lush, considered combinations of color and texture that have a loose and natural Australian feel to them, even though we’re working with New York blooms. We also offer services including events, weddings and regular client accounts.
I’ve always had a love for flowers. Both sets of grandparents had verdant gardens, and I have fond memories of one nan digging around in flower beds, and the other tending to an enormous magnolia tree. I studied floristry in Australia, and have worked with flowers since 2011, in a number of Sydney-based florists, and later, consulting on my own. After moving here, I decided it was the perfect opportunity to start a New York-based business.

A bouquet from L.J. Bannister

What has been your ‘Ah Ha’/ ‘I’ve made it in the USA moment’?

It sounds like such a small thing, but the first repeat customer I received was exciting. The city holds so much opportunity—though, of course, it can be intimidating at times—so just launching the business felt like an achievement.

What have been the hardest lessons in starting a business?
Perseverance and sticking to your guns.
Where have you been most successful in marketing your business?

We’ve been quite discreet so far—we’re growing through social media and word of mouth. Flowers are such a personal thing so when someone receives something that speaks to them, they’re more likely to then order themselves.

Do you have any mentors, and how have people been with sharing information and their networks?
I’ve been lucky to spend time working with great florists in New York who I’ve learnt a lot from. I don’t have a mentor per se, but my husband is always a great sounding board—he’s a creative director with a good eye for detail, so I’ll often bounce ideas off him.

Leah arranging a bouquet for L.J. Bannister

What advice would you give someone thinking about starting a business? 

If you’re passionate enough, get started, stick with it and don’t give up. Surround yourself with other creative people who’ll be critical, honest and supportive.

Other than yourself, what piece of Australia have you put into your business? 

We are really spoilt in Sydney with the variety and quality of flowers available. That’s been a good building block to develop my aesthetic. I’ll hunt out one marvelous flower—it’s usually a field rose—and build around it with interesting textural elements. I’ll then add something that you’d not quite expect, like a too-tall, grape-colored anthurium, or I’ll tie a cluster of pomegranates to the outside. Then it’s always grey paper, and thick ribbon in a rich electric blue. They’re both signatures of the business.

What is next for your business?
More of the same. We’re happy growing our clientele and building relationships in New York. At the moment we send flowers all over Manhattan—I’d love to add another borough or two to the list.

An L.J. Bannister bouquet

Support & connect with L.J. Bannister

Visit ljbannister.com and use code AWNY for 20% off all orders until 31 January 2018.

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Faces of AWNY: Sophie Wilkinson

Sophie Wilkinson moved to New York from her home-town of Adelaide with a one-way ticket and plenty of optimism. Without a job in hand, her goal for moving to NYC was to work on complex high-profile design and construction projects. She fell in love with the city immediately and now works for Common, so let’s see how she made her dreams true in a short space of time!

What do you do?
I am the head of design and construction for Common, a coliving startup in the real estate industry. We are a residential brand and we design, build and manage homes specifically for living with roommates. I had just completed work on the Apple flagship store on the Upper East Side when I was introduced to Brad Hargreaves (founder and CEO of Common, and co-founder of General Assembly) by a woman I trust and admire very much. Brad and I hit it off, talking excitedly about what Common could be from our first meeting. I joined Common as their eighth employee. With my background in architecture and construction, I was charged with creating our homes and establishing and growing the Design and Construction team.  Common is now in four U.S. cities and has over 390 members who live in our 14 coliving homes.

What are some differences to working in Australia?
The most obvious difference is the sense of urgency in business. The pace here is exhilarating and we get a lot done. Australians, however, do have it right when it comes to vacation and taking time off. A lot of New York businesses are starting to go that way, but switching off completely is a rare luxury. I have also learned to love the directness in communication, but that took some getting used to. If you can, write it in three lines, never 10.

Any advice for other professionals working in NYC?
Don’t feel guilty if you need to recharge your batteries. A friend once said to me: “You can get anxious thinking if you step off the (New York) train, it will be gone forever, but after you are here for a while you realize that the train is just running on the same loop”. If you need to hop off, do it. It will be there when you are ready to get back on. I really value getting out of town to refresh.

Where do you live? Why did you choose that area?
I live in Williamsburg. I really enjoy the extra sky and sunlight that the shorter buildings let in, and the beautiful views of Manhattan. The neighborhood is friendly and very relaxed with terrific restaurants and bars. It is lovely to catch the M train home over the bridge as the sun is setting. I lived in SoHo for the first three years which was fabulous and it’s great to have experienced both.

What do you like and dislike about living in NYC?
I love the awesome buildings, the opportunities, the skyline, the spontaneity, the pace, the energy, the world class food and entertainment, and the confident, crazy and ambitious people who live here.  There isn’t a day that I don’t think about how much I love this damn town.

I dislike the distance from my friends and family, the expense and effort it takes to go to a “beach house” (if we can call them that here?), and those infuriating people who stop walking right in front of you.

Tell us an ‘only in New York’ moment you’ve had
I left a Halloween party one year around 2am and bumped into Beyonce and Jay Z at the end of my street. They were in full costume. That was awesome.

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Lyn Girdler

Faces of AWNY: Lyn Girdler

Lyn Girdler, originally from Melbourne, Australia, has been in the USA since 2000 – that’s 17 years! Her American journey started when she moved to southern Connecticut from London for a nanny job. She’s built a life and a career here as an entrepreneur.

Where do you live and why did you choose that area?
I live in South Norwalk, CT, on the water. The original reason I’ve stuck around this area was proximity to the work I was doing at the time—running a high-end textile company—and to my boyfriend. I’ve left for long periods of time but now the proximity to nature is a big draw for me. Plus, I’m close enough that I can get to the city within an hour, there’s good food and a great farm-to-table scene, and I can get out on the water easily, too. Coming from Australia, I feel like that satiates my soul. Every time I had the opportunity to move full time into the city, I felt myself shrink at the small living spaces and the expense of it all. I wanted my money to go toward my business and travel while still being able to have a good life. Plus, I fell into a great creative and interesting community here who have truly supported me.

Lyn Girdler

What do you like and dislike about living in NY?
I liked the trouble I got into when I first arrived here. So many fun parties! Ultimately, I think the draw for NYC was the culture and the unexpected, fully magical moments that the city offers. Everything is available. Also, the diversity of people and their willingness to self-express. It’s a loud, bold city that makes you accountable to be who you are; unapologetically. To me, it’s the most authentic and genuine city in the world. It doesn’t apologize and it doesn’t ask you too either. I’ll reinforce my position on the lack of space. I’m a sponge to my environment, and I’m a slave to it.

Tell us about an ‘only in New York’ moment you’ve had.
There have been so many wonderful New York moments. I think every day the city offers you some vignette of beauty and wonder. One night with some co-workers who were in from London, we found ourselves late night in a piano bar in Times Square. I met two guys who were visiting from Australia who had happened to run into each other on the street (neither knew the other was visiting). They told me that they had come to this bar because they heard Liza Minnelli sometimes shows up. It was a Tuesday night – it didn’t seem likely. Five minutes later I turned around and Liza walked in. An hour later, she was up on stage singing to a small audience of 10 of us. We couldn’t believe our luck. There was also the time I stuck around after the last comedy show at the Comedy Cellar and Chris Rock got up to practice some material.
Do you have any advice for people moving to NY?
I will say that it’s a vastly different experience visiting NY versus living in NY. From all the friends I have had who’ve done that transition, the romance can be marred with many frustrations. Also, use the SAVE function on your Google Maps app so when you get recommendations of places to visit and restaurants you can have it handy when you’re walking the city and looking for a place to go. People will always tell you about a great spot and it’s hard to remember it all.
Tell us about your day job. 
I own a high-end furnishing fabric company called Malabar. We design and manufacture hand-woven, specialty fabrics for the home and sell to the interior design trade, adorning beautiful homes and hotels and restaurants… even the Met!
I also own a boutique ethical fashion company called Love Nomadic. This has been a passion project of mine for the past three years. It was developed out of my love of textile and design and very inspired by my travels. I seek out small family-run businesses or individual artisans from places like Ecuador, India and Colombia. I was spending a lot of time in Colombia with my Colombian boyfriend at the time, who was an artisan himself, and I travel to India every year. The product rotates based on the areas that I’ve been spending most of my time. The brand is most known for the Nomadic Weekender, which is made from the surplus textiles left over from Malabar. So there’s little waste and it’s strong, versatile and the perfect size. And the Imali dress: a long, backless dress (with pockets) that’s made from vintage saris which have been re-dyed and repurposed. Everything is made from surplus or found materials.

 

Lyn Girdler

 

Any advice for working in NYC?
I left Australia in my early 20s, and I’ve been an entrepreneur most of the time I’ve been in the U.S. There are traits about this city that are very clear. I think that this city loves and supports people who are truly ‘giving it a go’. I think the city runs on networking and connection and offers lots of opportunities for that. At the risk of sounding redundant, I think it’s really a place where you can explore who you are and what you want to do. America is a bold and loud country and NYC is the nucleus of it. I’ve seen some people truly succeed in the most authentic way in this city, with great drive and passion and have been rewarded for their hard work. Practically speaking, follow every lead and follow up with every contact with no expectation.

Who are some Aussie or Kiwi ladies doing awesome things in NYC who are currently on your radar?
Nadia Ackerman, a singer/songwriter and illustrator. Her story blows me away but it’s totally driven by her commitment to her craft and her ability to stay humble and on the ground, doing the work. She owns Natchie Art—her store in Dumbo is full of her own art, which was truly built from hard work and magic.  It’s the best place to buy a unique NY drawing that’s well priced to send to family, or to have in your personal collection. Also, it goes without saying, Karen Jacobsen. She doesn’t stop and she genuinely wants you to live a better life. I met both these girls when they had barely unpacked their suitcases here and I’ve watched them carve out amazing lives. They’ve inspired and helped me immensely too.

What’s your favorite New York spot?
Washington Square Park on a Sunday in the summer when every character is out. American Legion Post #138 in Harlem on a Sunday night for the best local, home-grown jazz and soul food. Rockwood Music Hall for an intimate night of discovering new music. I also just discovered the Gallow Green rooftop at The McKittrick Hotel on a Sunday, which is super fun.

Anything you miss about Australia?
The authentic nature and directness of us Aussies. I miss being able to avoid pissing people off with the truth. Americans are often a little shocked by it. The value placed on lifestyle, rather than money. The healthcare system, the access to nature. You can drive along a lot of the coastline here on the East Coast and not even see the water because it’s all privatized. I feel like that is criminal. I miss food without sugar loaded into it (bread, butter, etc.) and, of course, my family.

What was your biggest win this week?
Besides the fact that I’ve managed to go three days without an almond croissant from my favorite cafe…!?
At the moment I’m going through lots of transition—all good ones—moving apartments, re-building my business Malabar and keeping Love Nomadic going, as well as the daily personal experiences. There is so much movement that I’m just really focused on the small wins. Every day is something new and it’s the little things, like getting to a decision my team all agrees on, finally managing a Skype call with a friend from overseas, laughing hysterically over a witty comment in the office with all the girls. We’re an all-female team—that feels like a win every day.

What are your top tips for friends visiting NYC?
Walk the city. Don’t get on a tourist bus. Move to the side of the street and let people pass—New Yorkers are always in a rush. Ask for help, New Yorkers are very happy to help.

Favorite NYC brunch spot

Favorite NYC cocktail spot & cocktail of choice
How do you really have a favorite spot in NYC? It’s just so abundant! I do love Sel Rrose on Delancey St, and around the corner is a little speakeasy, Fig. 19. My fave cocktails are anything with Tequila or bourbon!


Connect with Lyn:

You can follow on Instagram my projects @malabarfabrics and @lovenomadic, and you can also reach out to me via email: lyn.girdler@gmail.com.

Faces of AWNY: Tali Roth

Tali Roth moved to NYC with her husband in October 2013 as newlyweds from Melbourne, Australia. Tali is a freelance interior designer and speaks to us about the difference in design aesthetics between Australia and America, having a baby in New York, and how she started working in interior design.

 

Tell us an ‘only in New York’ moment:

Hmmm…I think it was our second week of living here and we were about to sign the lease for a West Village apartment and this guy in his ground floor apartment saw us sitting on the front stoop through his window. He opened it up and asked us why we were hanging around the building and then invited us in. Together we drank wine and danced to Rhianna. He became a close friend and turns out he was a well known photographer who lived in the factory with Warhol.

Where do you live and why did you choose that area?

We just moved to Chelsea! When we first arrived, we lived in the West Village and loved it. I fell pregnant after a year of living here and towards the end of the pregnancy I wanted to move uptown to be closer to Central Park. Although we loved our time there my husband and I craved downtown a lot and so we eventually settled on Chelsea as its close to my son’s preschool and the space we found was better than the West Village. So far, we are loving it.
What do you like/dislike about living in NY?
I love the people – that everyone is encouraging and that there is so much room for you to be yourself. I hate how focused on careers it is, but I also love how focused on careers it is. I hate the bitter winters. I love, love, love the summers. I also love the energy, accessibility and that nothing is too far away.

 

Any advice for people moving to NY?
Be open, non-judgmental and be active. Nothing will come to you if you aren’t engaging with people. It is very expensive though, so save up!

 

Tell us about your day job: 
I am an interior designer. I am a curator of objects, furniture, lighting, finishes, soft furniture and more. I bring it all together to create a strong mood and atmosphere for your home. I work mainly in the residential realm but do a few commercial projects here and there. I am obsessed with what I do and I love my clients. I didn’t work in interiors in Australia so I can’t really compare the two. I feel like there is many more affordable decorating options here and obviously a larger marketplace which makes it really easy for me to design for very different types of aesthetics and budgets. Also aesthetically speaking Melbourne is SO different to New York. I was completely shocked and confused by the style here when I first arrived. New York is more moody, industrial, luxe and distressed whereas Melbourne interiors focus more on light, minimalism and contemporary design. I try and mesh my Australian roots with my new found appreciation of the New York aesthetic to find a balance.

 

How did you get into your job in NYC?
I am part of an agency called Homepolish. They represent me and I also do some private work. I was following the company in Australia and then when I arrived I emailed them, got myself an interview and was accepted into the agency. I love working with them and feel very proud of what they have achieved over the past few years.

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Australians in New York Celebrate Summer with Picnic in Central Park [VIDEO]

Saturday June 24 was a sunny day in Central Park, New York, where 60 or so Aussies joined us for our second annual AWNY Picnic in the Park.

Take a peek at the fun we had in this video produced by Aussie, Emma Cillekens. Emma interviews some of our picnickers (including one American) along with AWNY Committee members who organized the event. Our President Belinda ‘BJ’ Jackson speaks about the benefits that Aussie social and cultural groups in New York like ours can bring.

In the words of Aussie woman in New York, Belinda Paladino:

You miss that feeling of home, and sort of, what you’re used to and what you know and sort of your identity. So when you can come across a group that can relate to you and understand you, as you are, I think that’s really refreshing.

Learn more about AWNY

Read about our heritage and work here and sign up to become a member via the American Australian Association.

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