Meet the Maker: Karen Hsu

Paper florist Karen Hsu creates beautiful pom pom style flowers using sustainable and biodegradable materials. We spoke to the London-based maker to hear about her delicate designs, creating statement displays for Selfridges and how nature inspires her work…

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Hi Karen. Why and when did you decide to open Pom Pom Factory?

It started in 2012 when I was working at Mercantile London - a fashion boutique in Old Spitalfields Market. I was asked to create a window display for the shop.

It was this experience that helped me realise that the most unassuming yet endlessly versatile material that I had been using on the counter day-in day-out would eventually become the first pom pom display I made. And it was tissue paper!

Pom Pom Factory was born when Selfridges approached me and asked me to make 6000 paper flowers for them for their Christmas window displays. I frantically assembled a team and quit my job at Mercantile. Mercantile were kind enough to let me use their basement as the “factory “.

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What had you done previously?

After graduating from Central Saint Martins with an audio visuals degree, I was working as a film runner, sometimes as an extra, and set designer and prop maker.

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How would you describe your style?

I make paper floral displays, either utilising creative tissue paper for pom pom flowers or specific crate paper to produce realistic flowers at site specific installations. Over the years, I’ve seen my style of work develop from making paper flowers as a decorative element to finding a harmonious connection between observing nature and craftsmanship.

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Can you tell us a little about the processes used to create your work?

I always start by observing the natural flower I am going to recreate in paper form, I explore its form and structure to ensure I obtain as realistic an impression as I can.  

I will then take a desired colour roll of paper out and start building the flower out from memory, which I believe allows me to impart my own signature perception of the flower. I want my imagination to maintain a significant level of influence on my creations.

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Your wares are all made with Pyrène (a natural tissue paper which is 100% bio-degradable and recyclable), why was it so important to you that your products are environmentally friendly?

Being inspired by nature, it is important to create something that is sustainable and biodegradable. I want my creations to last but not cause a negative impact on the environment.

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Which is your most popular flower? Why do you think that is?

Peonies are the most popular, I think due to their unique varieties and strong feminine quality, their full-bodied shape make them perfect for indulgent bouquets and arrangements. They’re delicate yet tough as nails.

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Hard question: do you have a favourite?

I love making thistles! It has such a different structure to any of the other flowers that I make. Their delicate bright colourful flower heads and body full of sharp thorns intrigues me to no end.

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What does a typical day look like for you?

I don’t really have typical days, it changes all the time, I get a lot of last minute orders usually in the fashion of “can I have these flowers made by tomorrow?” Which means I always have to be ready to go into overdrive to fulfil a myriad of bespoke orders.

In the past I’d always say yes, which usually lead to me being a perpetual night owl. These days, I am more realistic with timings and let my clients know that my flowers are all handmade to order so it takes time to create the best possible display.

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You also hold workshops, can you tell us a little about them?

I started to teach workshops three years ago. I love being able to share basic paper flower making and craftsmanship with others. My workshops are not just about being able to make a paper flower but of the processes involved that enables someone to create, style and establish their own unique imprint on the flower.

I like to encourage my students to explore their own ways of making flowers rather than just following a template. I post all my upcoming workshops on my newsletter that I would like to encourage all those interested to sign up.

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If you were to share any words of wisdom with readers looking to start a creative business - what would you say?

Trust yourself and build a support network around you. I have an amazing group of small business entrepreneurial friends whom I exchange experiences with and offer mutual support to.

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What's been your highlight so far?

Our London Craft Week display this year was definitely my highlight. We had spent one year planning this event and are so grateful to work with the London Flower School, Italian paper supplier Cartotenica Rossi and Old Spitalfields Market to create a concept for an installation inspired by underwater coral reefs and floral gardens.

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Quick-fire questions

Describe your work in three words:

Imaginative, versatile and emotive.

What are your making rituals?

I like to start with an empty table before I lay out all my tools and papers before I commence making. I like to observe and conduct this ritual methodically to get myself into the making mindset. Sometimes I will go out for a walk for a few hours around my neighbourhood, I end up chatting with friends who have shops by close-by. We usually converse about new and upcoming exciting projects and this usually pumps me up for the work ahead.

Tea or coffee?

Coffee

Mountains or sea?

Sea

Night owl or early bird?

Night owl

I wish someone had told me...

Maya Angelou once said ‘Success is liking yourself, liking what you do and liking how you do it!’ I try to remind myself of these words everyday.

See more from Karen via her website and Instagram.