Creating community joy through nature

Interview: Maria Claudia, Samambaia, Florist and Owner, Samambaia flowers

For all the scientific research that supports the concept of biophilia - an innate and genetically-determined affinity of human beings with the natural world – the simple reality is that flowers have an ethereal ability to make us feel happy and at peace and, like a timeless work of art, transcend the boundaries of language or culture to unify us all in an appreciation of beauty.

For florist Maria Claudia, the delicate (and often challenging) art of creating floral installations of scale is both a passion and privilege. Her bespoke installations at International Towers combine an absolute commitment to sustainability, as well as a desire to showcase the unique native flora of Australia where possible in a creative and inspiring way.

Tell us a little about your story. How did you come to be involved with floristry?

It all began very serendipitously. I was studying jazz music in New York City while working in a restaurant in Tribeca. The restaurant kept having issues with their florist, and one day I said to the manager, “I think I could do better than that...” as you do... and she invited me to have a go. I started going to the Manhattan flower district in the middle of the night and started arranging flowers for the club every week. People were impressed and would ask who had created the arrangements. That was the beginning of my career!

You’ve worked with International Towers for a few years now. What have been your inspirations for the installations you’ve created for the Tower Two and Tower Three community?

My inspirations always come from what I see in nature. Working with International Towers has been such an incredible journey as sustainability is always our first priority (and how it should be for everything we do in life). That is where the project begins, and all the elements I source have to fit within this framework. It means we try and only source locally, and source plants and flowers that are sustainably grown. We also try and use plants that can be dried and reused for future installations. As the plants age, they take on completely new forms and colours, so they continue to live on.

Tell us about the community of growers you work with. What are the most important aspects of your relationships with growers?

After 15 years of going to the flower markets and dealing with growers from all around Australia directly, they do become part of your “flower family”. I see most of these people at least three times per week and could be in touch with them over the phone five times a week. I see more of them than my close friends. The respect, appreciation and understanding of what they do is the most important part of our relationship. Florists would never be able to achievewhat we do if it wasn’t for the community of skilled and dedicated growers that supplies us with the beautiful, seasonal flowers that bring joy to so many people.

How can you be sensitive to sustainability, without compromising your creative vision?

That is the challenge, and thatis the beauty of the end result itself. To be sustainable takes a lot more work. We are saving and reusing every single, possible material that we can and that means taking it all apart, storing it, protecting it and starting again. You just have to say “no” as much as possible to anything that isn’t sustainable and see what you are left to play with.

The art is in making something new with things you’ve used in the past. Many of the plants we use are just as beautiful when they are dry as when we first picked them, especially many Australian natives.

How do you feel the community benefits from experiencing a floral installation?

It’s a simple thing, I genuinely believe flowers and plants make people feel good. Having floral installations of this scale allows people to possibly experience some varieties of plants and flowers for the very first time in their lives. Some of the plants we source grow naturally in the outback, so many people who live in the city may have never come close to some Australian natives. The fact that people in the community can take a minute or so out of their busy day to just pause and enjoy a presentation of nature and the things that grow on the land, I believe, can have a very positive and powerful impact on how they feel for the rest of the day.

An appreciation of flowers and nature is something everyone has in common, regardless of our age, culture or lifestyle. These installations are more than just about celebrating an event such as Christmas – they start conversations, and they give the entire community something to enjoy and appreciate equally.

The business of ethics

Procurement - the what, how, where and why of buying goods and services

Procurement - the what, how, where and why of buying goods and services - can play a significant role in the health and sustainability of communities, and the environment all over the world. An insatiable desire to prioritise quantity over quality, and a single-minded focus on cost reduction over the past several decades has created long-lasting, environmental and social effects all over the world, most often in communities that already struggle with poor living standards.

Thankfully, this is changing. As technology continues to shrink the global marketplace, and simultaneously improve the transparency and awareness about how things are made, companies and individuals are increasingly empowered to make better choices and insist that provenance and ethics are the solid foundation on which procurement decisions are made.

As is often the case, profound change often begins in small, simple ways; fuelled by a determination to do good. It was a small group of coffee-roasting entrepreneurs who began sourcing beans directly from farmers to ensure they received fairer remuneration that sparked consumer demand for ethically sourced product and the birth of Free Trade coffee, which is now a standard for major distributors all over the world. This in turn has enabled increased investment in small farming communities through way of improved infrastructure, education and equipment; ensuring the long-term sustainability of thousands of micro- farms around the world.

The fashion, technology and food industries have had similar recalibrations relating to the role of ethics in recent years, as consumers collectively demand increased transparency in provenance, forcing global brands to take greater responsibility for supply chains and to improve the wellbeing of the millions of people tasked with making the things we
use and rely on every day.

“Change can only come about if we insist on it,” says Liam Timms, Fund Manager, International Towers. “If we only do business with people and organisations that share our values, and if we refuse to purchase from those that don’t, we’ll see changes in behaviour that will ultimately be better for everyone. Someone needs to be the first to take a stand before others follow.”

International Towers has been committed to the highest standards of sustainability, diversity and inclusion from the very beginning of operations. In fact, a Responsible Procurement Policy was developed well in advance of the community coming alive and outlines a detailed and robust commitment to the responsible and sustainable procurement of goods and services. The policy reflects the international conventions and frameworks, such as the UN Global Compact’s principles on Environment, to which a number of International Towers’ tenant partners are signatories, including Accenture, David Jones, Lendlease, KPMG and Westpac.

In the current globalised economy, it’s reasonable to assume that many products may have been manufactured overseas and that business standards can vary widely across Australia and internationally.

By asking questions of our supply chain, we aim to better understand and support suppliers who are committed to business practices which enhance the environmental and social outcomes that align with those of International Towers. These questions ensure the products we source are: responsibly produced and from socially sustainable sources; avoid contributing to or directly using forced, bonded or involuntary labour; provide workers with safe working conditions free from bullying, physical, verbal or sexual harassment; pay staff appropriately and in line with all applicable laws; ensure no child labour or illegal labour is employed in the business; remove any discrimination on the basis of gender, faith, ethnicity, age, disability, marital status or sexual orientation.

The policy also extends to supporting our local Indigenous communities. The long cultural tradition and heritage of First Australians has a deep influence on every aspect of life at Barangaroo and, as such, International Towers is committed to improving Indigenous participation in the workforce by either directly employing Indigenous staff, or sourcing goods and services from Indigenous-owned or controlled businesses.

In a tangible example of our commitment to support Indigenous communities, we commissioned Indigenous artists from the Northern Territory to create 44 unique Dilly Bags to adorn the lobbies of International Towers, Tower Two and Tower Three, during the festive period.

The installation brought the work of Bula’bula Arts Aboriginal Corporation in North East Arnhem Land, home of the Yolngu people, to Barangaroo, the traditional home of the Gadigal people.

Dilly bags were historically used by Aboriginal people to gather food, carry tools, babies and receptacles for various cultural purposes, but today have a more decorative purpose. The artists from the Ramingining community craft their work to convey the region’s ritual and spiritual significance.

The artists, who hail from clan families and language groups in the area, used natural materials - Pandanas leaf from the Screw Palm being the essential material. The Pandanas leaf is dried and dyed using pigments from the surrounding country, compounded and applied by the artists using ancient knowledge and techniques.

Celebrating stories of diversity

The story of Australia is inseparable from the story of migration itself

Australia is often described as a nation of migrants. Apart from First Australians -
our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities - our population has its origins
in a uniquely diverse mix of other lands and cultures. The story of Australia is inseparable
from the story of migration itself, a tale that marries despair with hope, struggle with opportunity, and oppression with freedom.

In their search for a new life in a better place, Australia’s migrants have given
so much more to their new home than they’ve received. Despite an enormous
diversity in language, culture and beliefs, there is a commonality amongst
all that have settled on this land: an inspiring determination to succeed,
an entrepreneurial work ethic, and an unblemished optimism and belief in the
moral value of a ‘fair go’.

Global fintech TransferWise was inspired to create a photographic exhibition to
celebrate the achievements of Australian migrants and their incredible journeys.

The exhibition, ‘Faces of Australia’ - a portfolio of 20 curated images by
photographer Kurt Tilse, displayed in the ground foyers of International Towers,
Tower Two and Tower Three - inspired a panel discussion event, held to give a
voice to some of the individuals featured in the exhibition.

Opening the event, Liam Timms, Fund Manager for International Towers Sydney,
stressed the importance of providing a platform to support the diverse networks in Australia, such as through the exhibition and its ensuing spotlight on the importance of  diversity.

“One person doesn’t do anything alone, corporate Australia has a big role to play. At International Towers, we are proud of the rich fabric of our community,” Mr Timms said.

Co-founder of TransferWise, Taavet Hinrikus said, “We believe being Australian is more about recognising where and who we are now and where we hope to go, as much as where we’ve
come from.”

International Towers General Manager Tony Byrne said the inspiring exhibition was as much about the stories and storytelling as it was about the exquisitely-shot images. 
“Diversity, in its truest word, means acknowledging all forms of background and identity. At International Towers, we are committed to celebrating the heritage, beliefs and values of our
diverse workforce and visitor base. We are proud to host this exhibition which shows on a macro level the contribution migrants make to Australia and, on a micro level, the diversity of
our own thriving business community,” Mr Byrne said. Many of the other exhibition subjects attended and shared how they were able to achieve their dreams, drawing on support
such as startup incubator Catalysr. Since its launch in 2016, Catalysr has helped 66 “migrapreneurs” start more than 15 successful businesses. Its professional community has more than 500 advisors and investors, who help these migrapreneurs with advice, support and forming valuable business connections.

Catalysr “graduate” Walid El Sabbagh founded vegan, Egyptian eatery Koshari Korner.
He arrived from Egypt in 2015 with experience as a marine engineer but couldn’t find work in his field. The change of course gave him a change to bring a piece of Egypt to Sydney. 

Faces of Australia is proudly being  exhibited at International Towers throughout summer 2018 /2019.

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