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How I Got Here: Xxflos founder and floral artist Kayla Moon on harnessing your inner critic

PHOTOGRAPHY BY ELLIE KING FOR XXFLOS

WORDS BY IZZY WIGHT

“If you work for yourself in a creative expression or industry, you have to work on the thickness of your skin and the softening of your mind and heart.”

Have you ever stalked someone on LinkedIn and wondered how on earth they managed to land that wildly impressive job? While it might look like smooth sailing, there’s no doubt been a heck of a lot of hard work involved in getting there.

So what lessons have been learnt and what skills have proved invaluable in getting them from daydreaming about success to actually being at the top of their industry?


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Welcome to How I Got Here, where we talk to people who are killing it in their respective fields about how they landed their awe-inspiring jobs, exploring the peaks and pits, the failures and the wins, and most importantly the knowledge, advice and practical tips they’ve gleaned along the way.

This week we’re delving into the career journey of Kayla Moon, floral artist, creative entrepreneur and the founder of Melbourne-based businesses Xxflos and Stay Soft Studio. When she moved to Melbourne at 17, Kayla had big dreams that admittedly were “caught up in punk bars and too many late nights”. After some late-night soul-searching, she wanted a creative pursuit to throw herself into. Driven by her love of nature, Kayla chose flowers.

After a Tafe certification, mental health hiccups and a few years of odd florist jobs, Xxflos was born. Widely celebrated for her artistic intuition and floristry talents, Kayla developed her unique brand of creative success – but not without experiencing some all-important growing pains. Here’s what she’s learnt along the way.

What do you do and what’s your official job title?

 

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I spend my days running two small businesses and caring for my sweet little lot. The first is the floristry biz Xxflos and the second is a studio space called Stay Soft Studio. You could call me a florist, floral artist, artist, entrepreneur, studio manager or a creative business owner. It’s 2022 and I have several hats. You choose.

Take us back to when you were first starting out. Did you study to get into your chosen field, or did you start out with an internship/entry-level role and climb the ladder? Tell us the story.

I was 17 and a very green high school dropout when I moved to Melbourne. I had big ol’ dreams that got caught up in punk bars and too many late nights. After I’d sold my soul to nightlife and too many intoxicants, I decided it was time to do something that would inspire more wholesome creativity.

Floristry felt like a hot choice. It was something that would bring me back to nature; something tangible and an industry that wasn’t over-saturated. With flowers, I felt something I hadn’t felt with other mediums. There was a deep devotion. That’s what flowers are – they are a medium I’m devoted to.


I studied at Tafe and completed my Certificate III while trying to get my mental health on track. I worked for a small hospital florist with big pink teddy bears and cellophane. I worked for event florists who did the Australian Open (a job I would later get for my own business)… I tried anything and everything.

I even worked at a wholesaler for a period filling the industrial fridge with flowers for established florists. That was fun but also freezing and hard. I wouldn’t recommend it but I’m glad I tried it. I burned to do my own thing, so I started Xxflos as a creative project from home with my bestie at the time.

We took on anything we could, we dressed up to be noticed and offered people flower installs at clubs and queer nights. We intended to bring flowers into spaces they otherwise wouldn’t have been. And it worked. We brought florals to the likes of Inner Varnika, Hopkins Creek, Dark Mofo, Sampa the Great, Wax’o Paradiso and many other wild and wonderful people and places.

After some time, we needed a bigger studio but couldn’t afford one. That’s where my two small businesses first saw an intersection and my second baby was birthed. My co-working collaborative arts space Stay Soft Studio was opened in Brunswick East. It housed Xxflos, as well as 10 to 14 desk-based creatives.

I had no specific studio management training, but I was ambitious. I used the skills I’d acquired through hospo, sex work, band booking and the myriad of other jobs I had in the past and made it happen. We are now three years old and operating out of the Collingwood Yards.

What challenges/hurdles have you faced getting to where you are now? Can you tell us about one in particular?

 

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Oh my god, many! A particular challenge was my relationship with myself. Running your own business means you only have yourself to fall back on, so it drives you to set up your life to support your business. It’s a greater sense of responsibility, duty and care. As ambitious as I am, I’ve also dealt with pretty severe mental health issues, eating disorders, addictions and a difficult relationship with money and sexuality – just to list a few.

My businesses have given me a reason to get on top of all of these things… my inner critic has pushed me to become a better person. I turn her words into loving affirmations through bountiful amounts of therapy and positive lifestyle choices. To ensure my offering to the world was in its best integrity, I needed to find mine, and that hasn’t always been easy.

As a public-facing figure, there’s a lot of pressure and fear of judgement. Each year as my businesses grow, I do too. I’m forever grateful to learn so much from the people I work with. If you work for yourself in a creative expression or industry, you have to work on the thickness of your skin and the softening of your mind and heart.

What do you want people to know about your industry/your role?


There’s never been much representation for me. I’ve had to scour the internet for role models and muses; to find people achieving the sorts of goals I wanted to pursue. For Xxflos, I found them in florists like Dr Cooper and Brrch Floral (women who set the tone for what you see in the industry now). For Stay Soft, I would visit co-working spaces around Melbourne and observe what I did and didn’t like.

Most were either super corporate or dingy – I wanted to find a middle ground of gritty and arty but still clean and slick. Entering a new-ish industry can be difficult, but can make a venture all the more explorative and innovative. If you have a dream or ambition that feels a little different to most, go for it. It can be hard at times, but it feels damn good to set the tone.

What’s the best part about your role?

The best part of my role in Xxflos is the ability to be able to express myself freely through a medium that supports my life and creativity. Also being part of other people’s special occasions and milestone events. Oh, and touching flowers all day, every day!

 

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At Stay Soft, it would be the satisfaction that comes from happy residents and stall holders at our monthly markets. I love helping people feel inspired and creating platforms for others to shine. Stay Soft allows me to do that in a really sweet and humbling way. Community care is golden and flowers are sick.

What would surprise people about your role?

Just how much manual labour is involved in floristry and how many hands the flowers have to pass through to get to the customer or client. The technical side of floristry is super labour intensive, especially if you’re creating something largescale.

It means planning the structure for the flowers to sit in and considering balance, weight, load-in requirements, temperature and the availability of seasonal flowers or import arrivals. Florists generally pick up loads from the markets or wholesalers who have bought from the growers and farmers. We then condition the flowers so they’re ready for the job and rotate fresh waters daily. People often say “It must be so relaxing working with flowers!”. They’re right, but you also have to be a hustler.

What skills have served you well in your industry?


I think my ability to talk to people and make them feel comfortable. It helps big time with customer service, event consultations, social media presence, making my residents and stall holders feel welcome and running community-safe events.

It’s something that might sound a little arbitrary or irrelevant, but I don’t believe it can be taught – so I’m glad to have it naturally. I believe it’s the skill that’s gotten me to where I am without the traditional stamps of paper-based professionalism. It’s something I don’t take for granted and feel very proud of.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to be in a role like yours one day?

I’d advise staying vulnerable, honest and curious. Talk to as many people as you can and ask questions… don’t be scared of being a novice! Go easy on yourself when you ‘fail’ or have a hiccup. Use kind words as you simultaneously understand and be realistic with where your downfalls lie.

 

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We are forever learning and each step will only strengthen your relationship with yourself and your work. You’ll have times where you want to throw in the towel cause it ain’t fucking easy, but these times allow you to reset for a deepening in your practice.

What about a practical tip?

It pays to know how to use a drill and work on a ladder. Bringing a floristry installation to fruition and building a studio from scratch takes patience and technical/structural understanding. I’d suggest building some Ikea furniture.

@kayos_worldwide

Read the rest of the How I Got Here series here.

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