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Fold Woman: Whitney Bromberg Hawkings

Fold Woman: Whitney Bromberg Hawkings
April 6, 2018 The Fold

On growing up:

I grew up in Dallas during the 80s when everyone had big hair, big boobs and fancy cars. I just didn’t fit in. At 18, I moved to New York to study French literature at Columbia University and that was the first time I felt like I “belonged”. I was surrounded by likeminded people who were smart, well-travelled and interested in something other than basketball.

On her early career:

In 1998, my grandparents gave me a graduation gift of $10,000 and I used it to set myself up in Paris. I had this fantasy of being Jackie O and editing Vogue Paris. But no-one would hire me. Four months went by and the money started to dwindle. By an absolute stroke of luck, someone mentioned that Tom Ford – the-then creative director of Gucci – was looking for an assistant. That was my dream job; I had his ad campaigns on my wall. I went to the interview and he hired me. I was ecstatic and petrified. For the first few months, I couldn’t write properly because my hand was shaking so much. I spent the early part of my career jetting between Paris, London and Milan. When Tom left Gucci and moved to London to start his own label in 2005, I relocated with him. I worked my way up to become senior vice president of communications.

Now I love being afraid. I want to be out of my comfort zone every single day. That scary feeling has become thrilling. It’s an adrenalin rush.

On starting her own business:

I had the best job and a great salary, but when I turned 40 I started to think: “Do I really want to be doing this forever? Is this it?” At the time, I was pregnant with my third child and buying groceries from Ocado, clothes from Net-a-Porter and everything else from Amazon. Flowers were the one thing I couldn’t buy in an elegant, consistent way online, so I started FLOWERBX in my spare time. It quickly gained interest and momentum. For the next year, I agonised over whether to leave my job. I’d always been the woman behind this great man, and I didn’t know if I could forge my own path. I remember my friend and now-investor Natalie Massenet [founder of Net-a-Porter] turning to me and saying, “If you don’t do this now, someone else will.” So, in 2016, I quit my job. Leaving Tom was the hardest break-up of my life. Before I handed in my notice, I sat in my car for hours listening to Formation by Beyoncé. I was hugely emotional for the next week and thought I’d made the biggest mistake of my life. But since then, I haven’t had a second of doubt. I needed to jump off that cliff. Now I love being afraid. I want to be out of my comfort zone every single day. That scary feeling has become thrilling. It’s an adrenalin rush.

On her biggest mistake:

I’ve made so many mistakes! The company that was developing our website went bankrupt and took our money with it. That set us back nearly a year but, on the flip side, it gave me the time to engineer the perfect flower boxes, so expansion was less painful. Accept that there are going to be mistakes, be grateful that they’re happening when the business is small, and move on.

Looking good is important; it’s what you are putting out to the world. If you’re asking people to believe in you, buy from you, or invest in you, then it’s almost a courtesy to take pride in your appearance.

On her working day:

Floristry means early starts. There are always so many fires to put out before 8am – the tulips aren’t open enough or the roses are the wrong shade of pink. I get my three kids (Barron, Snowdon and Wallis) ready, do the school run, then I’m in the FLOWERBX warehouse by 8.30am. I usually meet clients or investors in the afternoon; we’ve raised more than £2m from friends and family and now we’re going for seed funding. I do pilates after work, get home at 6.30pm and put the kids to bed, then head back out to work events. It’s full-on and tough but when you’re in the early stages of growth, everything is an opportunity. I might end up sitting next to someone who’s a potential customer or contact.

On her go-to style:

A great pair of jeans teamed with a modern, tailored blazer and a t-shirt. My outfit has to be versatile; it needs to be comfortable enough for a freezing warehouse and smart enough for a client lunch. When I left Tom Ford, I thought I’d spend the rest of my life in trainers but I can’t resist a good pair of heels – they give you automatic poise. Looking good is important; it’s what you’re putting out to the world. If you’re asking people to believe in you, buy from you, or invest in you, then it’s almost a courtesy to take pride in your appearance.

On her style icon:

Carine Roitfeld, the former editor-in-chief of Vogue Paris, always finds the perfect balance between being sexy and strong; one doesn’t compromise the other. She pushes boundaries but she’s elegant. I’ve known Carine for 20 years and she just nails it every time.

On staying sane:

As a working mum, I need to have non-negotiable time with my family. We have a house in Malmesbury in the southern Cotswolds and we go there every weekend to walk, eat and reboot. I wouldn’t compromise that for anything – not even a black-tie event with Barrack Obama! It’s a total luxury but that’s my secret to sanity.

On her ambition:

My aim is to create the first international flower brand. We’ve just expanded into France and now we’ve got our sights set on the rest of Europe, the US and the Middle East. I think FLOWERBX can be huge.

On her advice to other women:

Feel the fear and do it anyway.

As a working mum, I need to have non-negotiable time with my family.

Interview: Kate Bassett

Photography: Kate Booker Photography

Accessories: Whitney’s own

Shot at The Fold’s Chelsea store

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