Meet Gynelle Leon, the achingly cool Forensic Scientist turned entrepreneur & brains behind PRICK: London’s first dedicated cacti store. She is living proof that sometimes you have to give it all up to get what you want.
So, here’s permission to take a breather: quit Outlook, grab a coffee and settle in for some Humpday inspo…
The Early Years
Born in East London to St Lucian parents, Gynelle was that cool girl – you know the one who had sleep overs on school nights and still got straight A’s, the one you desperately wanted to befriend?
Although she had a love for art, Gynelle had no idea how to turn this into a career. So, due to a childhood phobia and fascination with death, she read for degree in human anatomy and obtained a Masters of Forensic Science from Kings College London. Putting her forensic qualifications to good use, she started as an analyst assessing artworks for London’s major auction houses. But Gynelle soon realised that a career in science didn’t really float her boat so she moved into private banking.
Despite her impressive tertiary qualifications, she was always best known for her creative projects and would often tell herself,
“One day I’m going to do something that I really like.”
A bad break-up was the catalyst for change. Gynelle found herself asking,
“if money wasn’t an issue, what would I do?”
This is what she did…
Can you pinpoint your “ah hah” moment?
This was my boyfriend splitting up with me. When our relationship ended I realised that I was putting all my energy into it and it allowed me to close my eyes to the parts of my life that I wasn’t happy with. The relationship was the best thing going on. I wasn’t happy with my job but I would think “it’s fine” because I had a great relationship. And then when that went, I thought “hang on a second, what else is there now?” And when I removed that it really made me see what was going on. I had a beautiful flat in London: I was living there to be close to work and working somewhere that I didn’t like to pay for the mortgage.
“When people would ask me what I did, it would pain me every time I told them because it didn’t have anything to do with my personality. It didn’t reflect me, my passions or what I believe in.”
Job + House + Husband + Baby = Happiness?
I found that in life I had made a course: get a job, get a house and then a husband will just turn up and then we will have babies and we will all be happy. I kept putting that happiness in the future because I thought when all that happens I am going to be happy. But I think it is always healthy to re-assess so that we are not stuck to one route. That’s why I say to people that it’s never too late to make a change.
So, I decided to sell my flat, quit my job, go travelling and come back and do something I really wanted to do.
“I owed it to myself to do something that I enjoyed.”
Once I had made the decision, everything started to flow. I got an email from a friend of a friend about the Royal Horticultural Society photography exhibition. I entered and won. Before that I had always done creative things but I had no formal photography training and no recognition for my work. So this made me think that perhaps I did have what it takes to pursue something creative. It was reinforcement of what I already felt.
Get Your Sh*# Together
That was the beginning. I worked my Monday to Friday job, went to college one day and worked as a florist on Saturdays. It was exhausting but I felt really happy because I was taking steps towards something, I wasn’t just talking about it. I was actually doing it.
The PRICK Epiphany
I had started collecting cacti and succulents for my flat and had a big indoor garden. Then I attended the Chelsea Flower Show and saw all these amazing cacti I had never seen before – there was a whole new world of succulents I had never seen and I wandered why there wasn’t a shop in London dedicated to these. That’s when I came up with the name – I decided that I wanted to open a shop called PRICK.
Are There Any Other Pricks?
I Googled it and there was nothing like PRICK. I started researching and found a cactus shop which had been in Paris for 20 years and I went and visited them. There was a shop in Los Angeles too so I went there and spoke to them and they gave me loads of advice and it was really encouraging. We all have the same love of cacti but we have all done it in a completely different way.
Despite a few locals being a little prickly about the shop’s name, PRICK London opened in June 2016 and is already a hit in the local Dalston and broader London community.
What advice would you give a friend stuck in a rut like you were?
Step 1 – Listen to yourself and figure out what it is you want to do. If money was no option, what would your career would be? Just try everything you like. Know what you’re good at and what you aren’t good at.
Step 2 – Never let competition limit you because if you really do have a passion you will succeed, no matter how many other people are doing it you will succeed because you will put a special flair into it that other people won’t have.
Step 3 – Nurture your passion. Do small things: read up on it, go online, research other people who have done it before, join a society, travel to areas where it is, start a blog. Keep the passion alive and growing.
For the Love of Cacti, Art & Living Sculptures
I love cacti: they are so graphical; they are living sculptures. One of the large ones in my shop is 50 years old – I like that they’re here to stay. They aren’t as disposable as flowers: you can buy someone a cactus as a present and in five years’ time they could still have it and it might have grown an arm. I think they are wondrous: the wide variety of them, the symbolism, meaning and use over the ages, and the fact that they are so hardy. It’s symbolic: you have something that’s very strong.
What Does Happiness Mean to You?
We can all be happy right now. You don’t have to put it off to a time after somebody comes and brings it to you. If we get to know who we are and what we care about – because when you are doing something that you care about, it’s fulfilling – then you feel happy. Even if you’re not making the same amount as before, I get satisfaction out of doing something and talking about something that I really love rather than just doing it to pay bills.
The Burning Question: What is the Difference Between a Cactus & a Succulent?
Cacti are succulents, but one of their most defining features are areoles: Areoles are what spines, glochids, branches and flowers may sprout from, and all cacti have them, while succulents other than cacti do not.
Gynelle’s Uber Cool Eclectic East London Style
What’s your personal style? Afrocentric androgyny
Whats your favourite local fashion designer? Hanger Inc
- Jacket: Chalin Barton
- Skirt: designed by Gynelle and sewn in Nigeria
- Shoes: Birkenstocks
- Glasses: vintage Terri Brogan
- Bangles: made for Gynelle by her Grandmother in St Lucia; she had her gold from Guyana melted down and made into traditional West Indian bangles
- Gold ring: Gynelle’s great grandmother’s wedding band
- Heart ring: a vintage jewellery specialist in Chancery Lane
If money wasn’t an issue, what would you be doing? Are you already pursuing what you love or are you still trying to figure out exactly what that is? I’d love to hear your story – hash it out in the comments below.
PRICK: Cacti & Succulents
Owner: Gynelle Leon (@bowbelle)
Address: PRICK, 492 Kingsland Road, London E8 4AE
Photographs by Elissa of irislillian.com – available on request