"I love the way people are crossing gender stereotypes and I hope to see more of it in the future - life is richer and better for it"
Matthew Gunn, Gunns Florist
"Gunns Florist is a family-run business in Brighton and I'm one of four generations of florists in which three have been male; my great granny started Gunns in 1875 and my parents ran it as a family business when I was growing up. My brother ran my father's shop in the North Lanes and I ran my mother's shop near the south Laines but sadly my brother passed away last year, so I've taken over his now too. It was hard at first because of all the memories, but I've realised I have to embrace it and give it all I've got.
I started floristry working with my dad as a schoolboy around the age of 13. My mum was in charge of one shop and my dad was in charge of another. Then, just as I left school in 1992, aged 16, my father became ill and it fell to me to take over and run her shop myself.
When I was about 19 I realised that not only did I really love floristry, but I was really good at it. I've never had any floristry training, I just grew up in a flower box like Tarzan with the apes watching my parents and picking it up subconsciously. In fact, I don’t have any formal qualifications, just a level 2 NVQ in Health & Safety that I only achieved a few weeks ago.
Between the ages of 19 and 22, I mastered the fundamental techniques and developed some of my own that I apply to everything I do. I then taught all my staff to follow these techniques and guiding principles and it seems to work well.
The hardest thing about the job is the product itself – the flowers need you, they are alive and demand you look after them. I used to work 6 days a week and a minimum of 10 hours a day but I’m not anymore. I've reached a point where everything is looking after itself and I can just do 4 days a week now. That’s great as it gives me the flexibility to pursue some of my other interests, such as my flower farm where I rent and grow dahlias for fun on the side.
When I was younger people thought it was funny that I was a male florist, but no one really makes a comment these days; it's just accepted. People are becoming freer with their eccentricities; years ago it was just certain people that broke the mould, like David Bowie. These days more people tend to be more eccentric and are governed by their own interests and passions. They're not followers and not necessarily leaders either, they just want to do what they want to do – their gender doesn't even come into it. I love the way people are crossing gender stereotypes and I hope to see more of it in the future, life is richer and better because of it.
My advice for anyone considering pursuing a career in a role that's typically dominated by the opposite sex is to just go for it, don't let anything hold you back and lead with whatever your passion is.
If you're doing a job just for money or you want to be different you won't be successful – if you do it because it's a passion, then it'll flow and that's when the magic happens.
I recently celebrated 25 years at the Castle Square shop and I was so happy to reach that milestone. I remember looking out the window of my shop on that day and thinking, wow I'm so lucky to have been here all this time and still enjoy what I do."