Long before twin sisters, Ikuyo and Michiyo Suzuki decided to leave Japan and settle in Kenya, they had been annual tourists.
What caught their attention was the numerous flower farms. Floral designers by profession, Ikuyo and Michiyo made two observations: There were a lot of flowers with heavenly scents but the variety of floral designs was limited. Noting a gap in the floral design market, they founded Bahati Flower Studio.
Located in Lavington, Nairobi, the Suzuki sisters have been delivering the beauty of flowers, using an artistic modern Japanese flower arrangement signature style.
“We introduced the Japanese floral arrangement styles because Kenya is endowed with lovely English garden-scented roses popular in this design,” Ms Ikuyo says.
According to her, local floral designs borrow heavily from the Western-style. An arrangement, for instance, is huge, consists of flowers only, that have long stems, and the florists use bold colours — reds, oranges and yellows — arranged in a flowing manner.
This contrasts with the Japanese style, where factors such as the colours, style, balance, texture, size, shape, volume, and the container used are considered.
“In addition to the freshly cut flowers, we incorporate leaves, grass, seeds, berries, and herbs like lavender, mint, rosemary,” she says.
“We prefer pale colours such as pink, yellow, and white. To tie the flowers together or shape them, we use a mizuhiki — a decorative, Japanese traditional ornamental cord made from twisted paper. The end result is a small but extremely beautiful arrangement, which can also be enlarged according to a person’s preference.”
Nature-based flower containers such as baskets made from sisal, water hyacinth, compostable cellophane, are preferred, making the arrangement environmental-friendly.
While there are various styles of arrangement, with the place and occasion for display taken into account, the most popular ones are the leaf, parallel, candle and kikapu.
“All of them have only two things in common: oasis floral form as the base and a riot of colours,” Ms Mikiyo says, explaining the four styles.
The leaf style uses cellophane and leaves from the Dracaena tree or papyrus as the container. It works well as a centerpiece at home.
Just as the name suggests, the parallel style uses long-stemmed leaves such as the dazzling sunflower and the bold blooming canna lilies arranged in a parallel manner.
This makes it ideal for brightening up office receptions and home entrances. Similarly, the kikapu style gets its name from the sisal container, which holds splendid floral delights.
The candle style whose highlight aside from the freshly cut, highly fragrant, English garden roses, is a rose-scented candle. This sets it up as the most romantic of the styles.
It is popular as wedding centre pieces, and as birthday and wedding anniversary gifts. It is also popular during holidays like Christmas and Valentine’s Day.
Five years on, their business is booming as the English garden roses and Japanese signature styles have found a home in the Kenyan market.
The success is underpinned by the improved uptake of flowers among Kenyans. During the pandemic, people experienced what Ms Ichiyo called “flower power.” Endowed with unrivalled splendour, they effortlessly established and maintained relationships with nature and people, injected bursts of colour and warmth into home and office spaces, acting as instant mood improvers.
Japanese signature arrangement styles are popular because of the modern, simple and classy look.
The unique way of arranging flowers is from the old Japanese flower arrangement style known as the Ikebana.
It is also easy to maintain. Just add water.
Growing acceptance has seen the two Japanese sisters showcase their striking designs in events such as birthday parties, weddings, funerals, and corporate spaces.
Professional floral designers and gift and flower shops owners are also approaching them for training opportunities, for simple bouquets to grandiose arrangements, Ms Mikiyo adds.
I get to arrange my flowers using this modern Asian technique. The passionate Ms Ichiyo is my guide. The array of flowers I am to choose from is not limiting but being new at this, I wish the options were fewer.
Thirty minutes later, my kikapu style design includes the naturally perfumed English garden roses, the fringe-petaled carnations, white spray mums — the Japanese national flower; greens from the densely-leaved hypericum with berries, the scented geranium and coprosma flowers and finally the showy alstroemeria.
Flower arrangement and seasonal flower classes begin from Sh2,000 per session which lasts two hours.
The business, however, has not been without challenges from the logistics of delivering flowers as well as sourcing.
“When we started, it was hard to get the high-quality roses because all of them are exported. With the ban on flights during the pandemic, we had more than enough which strengthened our business enabling us spread joy and positivity in a rather gloomy world through flowers,” Ms Ichiyo says.
How do should you keep the flowers blooming for longer? The flowers will last for 10 days, Ms Ichiyo says. To keep them happy, add clean water daily, cut the base of the stems a little at a time and when they start to bend, shorten the stems and transfer to a short vase.