A Pop of Color
We chat with Botanical #9 founder Wendee Sawran about her eye-catching balloon designs
by Holly Cowart
On a warm day last August I was making my routine coffee trek when I caught something out of the corner of my eye. Thousands of vibrant balloons were cascading down the side of a building. Apparently Bumble was celebrating the reveal of their new headquarters off 41st Street with a dazzling display of shapes and colors. For a moment, I was enamored. It was nice how something so simple could brighten up my otherwise regular day.
I’m a fan of this growing trend of sweeping balloon-scapes across our city’s structures. I like how a cause for celebration can be combined with design to create a fun community experience. Recently, I grabbed a drink at Hank’s with Wendee Sawran of Botanical #9, the local event design company behind some of these stunning installations.
Holly Cowart: As a floral and event design company, how did decorating with balloons come about?
Wendee Sawran: A couple of years ago we got requests from some Mitzvahs asking if we could do a simple little balloon arch. Someone on our team had done balloons before for their kids’ parties, so we said yes. Then it just kind of built from there.
After that, one of our clients who happened to work for Bumble was getting married and was doing balloons for her wedding. Next Bumble wanted to do a balloon installment, and that’s when it kind of started to go insane.
HC: So it began by word of mouth?
WS: Yeah, because I think at that point it was still a little cheesy. People still pictured the 1980s arches, not these installations.
HC: Has the demand grown since then?
WS: Oh my gosh, yes. And national – from all over. New York, Tennessee, Arkansas, and in California we’ve been doing a few things. It’s just so weird, because we’re this little ol’ company out of Dripping Springs.
HC: Do you find yourself doing more balloon work than regular design work now?
WS: It’s kind of 50/50. A lot of the times we’re doing both at one event. People always ask me what I like better, flowers or balloons. But I like them both and they’re both challenging at the same time because they’re both perishable.
Also, these balloons are biodegradable and compostable. We don’t do balloon releases and we don’t want them to go into the environment. We try to be as conscious as possible because it’s a lot of waste, as are flowers and everything we do. It’s a one-time use.
HC: What are the steps to creating a design? How long does it usually take?
WS: First, we walk through the space, see what access we have and where we can rig. Then we think about what the client’s going for – if they want something more dramatic or clean. Sometimes we sketch up a picture of the balloons so they can get a feel of what they want.
HC: How many balloons usually goes into an installation?
WS: For Bumble it was probably 15,000 balloons, which was the biggest installation we had done from that point. They’ve gotten bigger since then. Now it’s like, go big or go home. I always encourage the client to do a little more. I know it can seem overwhelming, but people are going to go nuts for it and if you can make an Instagramable moment, that’s when it’s most impactful.
HC: Do you have a favorite experience or design and why?
WS: Well I think my favorite is The Ellen Show. Country musician Kelsea Ballerini had seen our balloon work and wanted us to create a stage backdrop for her performance on the show. I thought it was a joke when they called. It was surreal from the moment we walked on the lot to when they let us through the gates.
It’s funny because Ellen is terrified of balloons because she hates the popping. She doesn’t like to be startled, which is so interesting because she loves to startle people. We have a method of making our balloons a little more durable and malleable so they don’t easily pop, so we made a video of us squishing and stepping on them to show her we were doing as much as we could to prevent random popping.
HC: What was your craziest balloon request?
WS: Sometimes we get a lot of requests wanting shapes. We’re not really balloon twisters, but we did have one event where we created a mosaic of a girls face for her Mitzvah. That was around four thousand balloons and was the hardest because they had to be an exact size compared to our normal installations, which are very organic and playful.
HC: What do you love about designing and creating with balloons?
WS: I love the reaction. It’s a big impact for not a lot of product, because a little bit goes a long way. I think it makes people happy because balloons always mean a celebration. I don’t think it’s a fad that’s going to be around forever, so I’m embracing it now.
It’s really fun stalking the geo-tag on Instagram and seeing who’s taking selfies and what they say. There was one popular tassel-looking installation we did for Alfred Coffee in L.A. during their farmers market. It was great watching people’s reaction when they came up or drove by taking pictures. I love seeing it make people happy.
HC: Do you have any exciting upcoming events to look out for?
WS: We’ve got a few restaurant openings coming up in Austin that we’re excited about, because I feel like we haven’t really done as much here yet. I’m excited to be on our turf. I want to be able to support local business here, too.
But I mean, I’ll take Ellen and L.A. any day.