- Mabel Maposa makes a living arranging flowers and teaching people how to do it.
- Ms Maposa became a floral designer by fluke.
- The South African-based floral designer describes flowers as spiritual, a way to communicate without ever saying a word, a healing balm.
Mabel Maposa is a self-taught luxury floral designer. To her, flowers are to land what the rainbow is to the sky: blazes of colour you cannot help but marvel at.
When I met her at Radisson Blu Arboretum in Nairobi, she was just from teaching a masterclass on Floral Designs at the second edition of the Kenya Flower Festival. The class which was to take one hour went on for four hours, and none of us complained. What happened?
“Passion happened,” she responds with confidence. Over a tall glass of dark red wine and a colourful piece of cake, she tries to put to words her passionate relationship with flowers.
“I live and breathe flowers. When I talk about flowers, everything else fades away. The power of flowers is so real to me,” she says while leaning on her chair against the background of a cloudy night sky.
“In the presence of flowers, I am myself,” she adds.
The South African-based floral designer describes flowers as spiritual, a way to communicate without ever saying a word, a healing balm. No one glances at flowers and remains the same. Something within them changes.
Ms Maposa became a floral designer by fluke. Born in Zimbabwe, she moved to South Africa where she fell ocean deep in love with flowers in a fairytale kind of way. She and her fiancé, now married for more than 10 years, could not afford a grand wedding. This led to her creating her wedding floral arrangements, from the bouquet, boutonnières and centerpieces.
“Designing the floral arrangements evoked something in me. The flowers wooed me. I saw their depth and fell in love,” she says.
Though she made pitstops in her career journey, including working as a programmer, none of these jobs dared her as much as floral art did and still does.
Enamoured, she eloped with the flowers leaving the accounting degree and everything else she pursued alone in the cold. It has been 11 years.
“Floral designs challenge my brain. Every season comes with different flowers, and every occasion different people and expectations yet at the end of it all, I have to create a display packed with an abundance of floral delights.”
This combination of factors is a shot of adrenaline into her creative persona keeping her on edge.
The ever-evolving art of floral designs itself also makes the journey thrilling. As a result, Ms Maposa has garnered a following of flower enthusiasts drawn in by her unpredictable, bold, and daring designs. She “feels sorry” for the artistes who attempt to imitate her work. They cannot keep up because what inspires her creations comes from within and is influenced by whatever’s inspiring at that particular time.
When doing a job, she starts with no prior plan or design.
“I normally tell the people I’m working with to gather the flowers together and leave me with them, and then let the flowers take me through the moment. It’s nerve-racking to approach something raw and speak the truth or tell a story through them,” she adds.
One of the places she draws inspiration from is food. A meal is a set of ingredients put together to create a hallelujah in your mouth.
Placed before her, the ingredients are the elements of design and the design principles as the food preparation methods, a harmony that delivers an experience. You will find balance, contrast, dominance, harmony, scale, rhythm, proportion, not forgetting presentation as you would in a floral arrangement, she explains.
Her earliest childhood memory takes her back to her mother’s garden where she remembers playing with the marigold flower which has a distinct, irritating smell. No matter how annoying the smell was, she kept playing with them, making pretend bouquets. With flowers, scent, emotion, and memory collide, her childhood also influences her work.
By remembering the young Mabel Maposa, she finds herself acknowledging the power of flowers, sharing herself with them and her vulnerability with them. In turn, they love her back by letting her tell beautiful stories through them.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said the “earth laughs in flowers”. Since laughter is contagious, and always around them, flowers have made the mother-to-one laugh over the years. Her work has made her a pleasant scent before people she never thought she had designed for.
“It’s very humbling and doesn’t take it for granted,” Ms Maposa says.
Flowers also saved her heart. “They evoke happiness and lighten me up. I show my vulnerability to the flowers and they love me back by letting me tell stories through them.
Ms Maposa speaks fondly of her husband who is also her manager. What is her secret to her happy marriage and working relationship, I ask?
“Allowing the other person to be themselves. My husband has allowed me to be myself and I, him. we’re also safe for each other and our dreams, hopes, and vulnerabilities.”
Eleven years into the industry and internationally renowned, her biggest career highlight is running the MMabel Florals Academy, where she teaches floral design.
“Seeing these passion-driven, hungry-for-art students enter the academy, learn the principles and create something themselves makes me tick. The originality I see in them captures my heart,” she says.
The academy is her way of ending the struggle she experienced on her journey to the top.
“It took me a long time to be accepted as a floral designer because I was Black. This is not the future I envision for the people after me,” she says, opining that since the floral design is a form of art, it should be elevated to the same pedestal as music and painting.
Her words for those seeking to make a livelihood from floral art, “develop an attitude of learning.” Hunger and thirst for knowledge. You may be a naturally talented artiste but when you advance your knowledge of flowers, you will fly with the eagles.