Walking into Willow & Whimsy on one of those chilly-sunny days at the cusp of springtime essentially means stepping into a softly lighted indie film dream. To flesh out the picture: a cheery, brunette florist and her tea-brewing British husband bustle around on the 114-year-old wood floor to keep the shop alive by day, retiring to their living quarters upstairs by night with their cat, Issy. But before you sigh a little inside and relish the fantasy of being able to sell a screenplay of your life to Marc Webb, make note: Jess Fremont won’t stop until she changes the way we consume flowers. And we need her to do it.
Fremont, a Saskatchewan native and graduate of Toronto’s Canadian Institute of Floral Design, has styled floral arrangements in North America, New Zealand, Europe and the Caribbean. Willow & Whimsy has existed as a concept since 2012 and was officially erected in the historic deWaal building in Bridgeland at the beginning of February.
Along with carrying floral arrangements designed with — according to Fremont — a “full, lush and romantic English garden” aesthetic, Willow & Whimsy serves as an interactive showroom for the works of Calgary artisans that Fremont sources from community art events, like Market Collective.
“My philosophy within the shop as well as my personal life is ethically sourced,” says Fremont. “All of our giftware is made by Calgary artists or myself, including the cards. Even our glassware is ethically sourced.”
The use of glassware may seem rather innocuous, but Fremont stresses that it can be an environmental and ethical hazard. “In an industry where glassware is so important and it’s all made in China, what I’ve done is tried to stress hand-tied bouquets and using your own vases,” she says.
However, there are even deeper reasons for why Fremont runs her business the way that she does. She cites stories of a friend’s trip to a greenhouse in Kenya two years ago and news reports about poor working conditions in Colombia and Ecuador — significant rose-producing hubs — as rationale for her outlook.
“When you look at it, a lot of those places have really unethical means of production. Not only unethical, but horrible, devastating to the environment,” she says. Fremont explains how chemicals banned in North America, such as DDT, are sprayed in greenhouses even while workers are inside, leading to lung and liver issues, among other health problems, for people who are so desperate for work that they have no other choice of employment.
“It is basically the same as a sweatshop, but in a greenhouse,” Fremont stresses. “So we’re very meticulous about who we order from and where our flowers are grown. We only offer fair-trade flowers or North American flowers, so we know that all of our flowers are ethically sourced.
“One thing that I’m trying really hard to do is to educate people about the realities of the flower industry how where the flowers come from affect the workers,” she says. “I try my best to make it a little more mainstream — supporting local growers and their practices and trying to change the practices in other countries for the better… maybe in making how that world is a little more well-known, I can change it a little.”
Visit Willow & Whimsy at 606 Meredith Rd NE.
By Andréa Rojas
Photo: Sebastian Buzzalino