Creating A Bunch Of Opportunities, One Stem At A Time
The Beautiful Bunch
Turning Lemons Into Lemonade
A strange thing happened during the strict Covid lockdowns in Victoria in 2020: there was a 512 per cent increase in online flower sales. Melburnite Jane Marx was closely watching this artificial spike, just as her own business Merchant Road was being decimated by the pandemic fallout.
Marx pulled off the ultimate pivot, and in October 2020 launched The Beautiful Bunch, a not-for-profit floral delivery service that trains and employs young women from refugee and migrant backgrounds. Three years later the business is flourishing, if you’ll mind the pun.
SEIZING AN OPPORTUNITY
Brennan decided to do something about it and connect bush businesses with city people keen to help. In October 2019 she posted a story on Facebook noting the drought was also impacting small businesses such as the local boutique but by buying from them you’d be investing in this small community. A friend commented her family was focussing on ‘buy from the bush’ that Christmas, and inspiration struck.
“I opened Canva and created a logo and Instagram account, Buy from the Bush, showing the beautiful things available to buy from rural communities facing drought, being really shameless about inviting people to follow and use #buyfromthebush. Customers and small businesses began following us which became a funnel for us to identify more small businesses in the bush and showcase them too. We had 100,000 followers in one month.”
Shops began selling out of stock, rural postage shot up 30 per cent and by December #buyfromthebush was the second highest search term nationally.
A Unique Value Proposition
In launching The Beautiful Bunch at the height of the pandemic Marx took a calculated risk, knowing her new business was doing something no-one else was: working with young women no-one else would employ.
These young women smiling on The Beautiful Bunch’s website hail from Eritrea, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Iran. Their stories are often traumatic – some have arrived in Australia as unaccompanied minors having spent six months in a refugee camp, not knowing if their families are alive; others have been involved in emergency evacuations from Afghanistan just 13 months prior. But through The Beautiful Bunch they discover people who believe in them and are prepared to invest in their futures.
“We have a youth focus (18-24) because that’s where the needs are highest,” says Marx, explaining many of these young women are Muslim so can’t serve alcohol or non-halal food, don’t have a high enough standard of English, can’t work nights due to caring commitments and, most commonly, simply don’t have any employment experience.
“No-one is willing to be the first to say yes, except us. We have none of those barriers, so we really are meeting a need others aren’t able to meet.”
The Beautiful Bunch offers a six month training program in foundational floristry skills, computer literacy and business administration skills – vital transferable skills that set up the trainees for future success. Nobody leaves until they have a job, with most young women spending around nine months there.
The Results Speak For Themselves
To-date 32 women have been through the program, going on to find employment in software design, business administration, the hospital system, Australia Post and hospitality, while others go on to full-time study.
The Beautiful Bunch was a natural evolution from Marx’s previous two social enterprises, Long Street Cafe in North Richmond that partnered with the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and offered barista training programs to young people seeking asylum. Noting that 85 per cent of the applicants were male, Marx and her co-founder husband determined to focus on training young women when they started their second social enterprise, Merchant Road, an events and catering business that trained young women from refugee and migrant backgrounds in front-of-house service, wine and floristry.
The Opportunity To Scale
Just two months after signing the lease in January 2020 on an old church in Fitzroy North that housed a 250-seat events venue, the state went into prolonged lockdown. But with the support of an understanding landlord prepared to give them the space for free, Marx evolved the business into floristry, noting that had been the trainees’ preference at Merchant Road.
“It was a better alignment with their needs but also where we could find space in the market, somewhere we could grow something beyond the pandemic. Because I would never put my energy into something that was going to be fleeting,” Marx says.