Interview with Maggie Coker,
Botanical Stylist & Creativity Mentor
Walking into botanical stylist and creativity mentor Maggie Coker’s Berlin apartment, is like walking into a candy store. Filled with visual treats, her home delights you with corners of beautifully arranged objects and tastefully styled dried flowers. Earlier this year I had the pleasure of visiting her at her home-studio in Neukölln. The vibrant bohemian space is filled with Maggie’s cool and calm charisma and underpinned by a creative energy that permeates the space. I could spend hours there, chatting about life and all it’s turns and tales. Here is some of what I learnt about the undeniably colourful miss Coker and her latest creative endeavours.
You have such a lovely apartment – how long have you lived here and what brought you to Berlin in the first place?
“I have a had the contract for my flat for 10 years. It was really important for me to find affordable accommodation as I knew I wanted the option of living alone, and to open a shop. Even in 2008 it felt like a daunting task looking for a flat in areas like xberg. As a non-white German not all neighbourhoods felt comfortable to me. Elements of cultural diversity was something I felt was very important to me when choosing my home. Who could have imagined what would become of Berlin today and the nightmare and heartache people are suffering at the hands of greedy real estate agents, and private landlords. It wasn’t easy for me to find a place, I would often call up for a flat or flat-share, get a lovely response on the telephone, then show up and realise they were expecting someone that fitted the British accent, and not someone that looked like me.”
“However, I would swap those times for now. I have not known a time when I have never experienced prejudices or racism, but I have never been in a situation when I have been afraid to lose my home because the landlord decides he wants to now jump on the Berlin real estate hype.”
Your studio is an absolute oasis – what inspired you to work with plants and how did you get into flower styling?
“I think the decision was somehow already made for me. I’ve always worked with plants and flowers. It has always been a huge part of my emotional and physical health. Flowers make me happy so I kept them around. Botany was something I always trusted and been curious about, so I worked for companies that celebrated the medical healing benefits of plants and flowers.”
“Personally I continued to use flowers and plant based medicine when needed, but I segued into vintage clothes and opened a vintage shop and became connected with the Neukölln small business community around me. I founded the Neukölln Schatzkarte in 2013, a marketing tool to help increase business for small local businesses, and highlight the people behind them. I came to realise again that I was suited to work more directly with helping people, people felt very comfortable opening up to me in the shop with all their business problems, their stresses and depressions during hard times.”
“By 2015 my passion for flowers crept back in, and I turned Rag And Bone Man into a concept store, vintage clothes, flowers, café, textiles and crafts. As time moved on I cared less about vintage fashion and more about space surrounding it – the feeling it gave people. The flower concept Poems & Posies took a life of it’s own, we started to get big requests from the likes of brands like H&M home, Adidas, and even worked for Will I am…”
Is there a particular reason why you decided to work with dried flowers?
“Working with dried flowers as well as fresh was for the same reason as working with vintage clothes; the respect for sustainability, and the beauty of old ageing things, texture and value. I really feel blessed to be able to make money from working with flowers, so I guess it makes me value each flower just a that bit more and I tried to preserve as many as possible and give it an afterlife… to preserve the sentiment somehow.
I love how flowers dry, forming different shapes and creations. They are beautiful and have this really delicate appearance even though they now last much longer. How have people or clients been responding to this?
“Always mixed reactions, some love them, some don’t… But overall very positive and rewarding.”
Where do you get the flowers that you work with?
“I get my flowers locally and from the large flower market in Berlin.”
You’re so creative and have a great eye for colour and design. Do you have any creative training or background in design or the arts?
“I studied Performance Arts for five years. I think set design is something that is always with me. The mood of the room is very important to me and how it inspires or makes others feel. I’m a dreamer and somehow always trying to create my dream space.”
Are there any other flower stylist or creative person that you admire and draw inspiration from?
“There are some I admire for their business direction. I try to look more inwards for creativity. Nowadays I feel there is an over stimulation of creativity. It’s hard to tell what is coming from you, or just images and styles you have scrolled over for the millionth time on Instagram. But it makes me happy seeing so many boss ladies doing their thing. I think the flower business has taken a new direction because of so many awesome women and their innovation. And thank goodness for all the amazing photographers who bring our work to life…”
We chatted once about the beauty of aged flowers, and how we as societies should learn to appreciate age and imperfection more. What other positive change would you like to see realised in the world?
“Things I would love to see change in the future is more diversity in access to business funding for women and in particular women of colour and marginalized groups. Thankfully one of the good things about social media is that people who normally was not given mainstream exposure can create their own following, and form their own narratives, and set up incredible business concepts. You can also find things that are relatable and represent your concerns and outlook in life in a true likeness. But as much as I appreciate the opportunities that social media offer, I would rather spend more time in real life connecting with people, and I feel the cracks of overuse of social media is begining to take its toll on people.”
“For example last year summer we hosted a Creative Flower Talk Salon, and the topic was, Social Media Perception vs Reality, how this impacts our self esteem and mental health. A couple of attendees shared with us that social media made them feel lonely, envious of others success, and was quite overwhelmed by all the glossed over happiness online, that they did not feel in their own personal lives at the moment.”
“At the end of the session we used rose as the flower language for the session. All flowers have a language, but roses hold a special place in our hearts. They actaully open your heart chakra for expression and love. With rose petals we gave all the attendees a moment to listen to their souls as a flower by allowing it to blossom and be seen, heard and understood. They each went away with a memory pouch filled with rose petals as a reminder of the healing circle we formed together, and a place where they were Seen, Heard and Understood! We need more spaces where people can open up about their mental health issues without fear judgement or stigma.”
Tell me a little about your new endeavour, Greenhouse Mentality, how did it all come about?
“The Greenhouse Mentality – a joint venture with creative director Florian Wenzel – uses plants and flowers as a muse to open up conversations about mental health and emotional well-being in the workplace and amongst the freelance, creative community. We curate stress relief and flower therapy workshops for companies, as well as hosting Creative Flower Talks Salons, and podcast series with special guests and community leaders sharing their mental health journeys, hopefully breaking down stigmas and encouraging others to speak up! We want to train at least one person in each company that we work with to be a mental health first aider.”
“Over the 7 years I managed my own concept store, it occurred to me that the workplace is where we spend most of our adult lives. Sadly, it is also the place where, in my experience, mental well-being is the most neglected and stigmatized. We worry about fitting in, fulfilling company expectations, maintaining consistent levels of performance and creativity, generating more business and paying our bills. We are often made to feel that high stress levels, and overly demanding positions, go hand in hand with success. Being bored on the job, a common cause of mild depression and anxiety, is often brushed off as a “luxury” problem or employees are too scared to mention it.”
“If we have visible injuries or illnesses like a broken a leg, or even the flu, companies and co-workers are more understanding and even offer sympathy. However, this is sadly not the case for mental health issues, which are not as easy to see or understand as there are no visible symptoms. Evidence shows the earlier we identify a mental health issue, such as stress, anxiety or depression, the more manageable and easier it is to treat.”
“We can dramatically improve the mental well-being of the start-up and creative community in Berlin by making talking about mental health commonplace at work. This is done through training team members and co-workers on how to address mental health issues at work and create an open and safe environment to talk without judgement. The Greenhouse Mentality uses the beauty and magic of flowers to connect with companies and their co-workers. Our aim is to sign up as many companies as possible to take part in our Mental Health First Aider training programs. Our mission is to make talking about mental health as common place as talking about a common cold and to curate nurturing spaces that inspire healing and learning.”
“In 2019 I hope we can attract more funding and partners that also see the importance of improved mental health awareness in the startup and business communities of Berlin.”
Are there any events coming up that you’d like us to know about?
I have two events coming up, one is a cozy walk in nature called Gratitude Walk For Women’s Mental Health on February 3rd at 2pm. You can find more details about it here. And the other event is on February 9th, called Greenhouse Mentality – Botanical Self-Care. More details about it here.
Name your favourite spots in Berlin for:
Breakfast or coffee:
“For coffee my favs are Companion Coffee, Two and Two, and Populas. I don’t have a favourite breakfast spot at the moment.”
Spending a summer’s or winter’s day:
“My summer and winter days vary, depending on my mood and the temperature! We are so blessed to have so many green areas with canals and lakes in Berlin, an abundance of cafés and cultural events happening each and every week. But I love eating out with friends, it’s still something that is affordable in this city.”
“I draw inspiration from everyday life, going for walks in nature, reading articles, photography, visiting public places, in my dreams, spending time with friends and of course from time to time on the internet.”
A night out with friends:
“I enjoy going to Rosa Caleta Jamaican reasurant, beautiful warm hearted people and great service. I also love to go the Nigerian restuarant Ebe Ano. I’m a dinner person, more than bar and drinks.”
Text & images © Barbara Cilliers