The Woman Who Gave Up Everything For London’s First PRICK

16
7 min read
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…

Elissa chats with the coolest entrepreneur about London's first Prick on irislillian.com

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.”

Elissa chats with the coolest entrepreneur about London's first Prick on irislillian.com

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.

Elissa chats with the coolest entrepreneur about London's first Prick on irislillian.com

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.

Elissa chats with the coolest entrepreneur about London's first Prick on irislillian.com

 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.

Elissa chats with the coolest entrepreneur about London's first Prick on irislillian.com

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.

Elissa chats with the coolest entrepreneur about London's first Prick on irislillian.com

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.
Elissa chats with the coolest entrepreneur about London's first Prick on irislillian.com

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.

Elissa chats with the coolest entrepreneur about London's first Prick on irislillian.com

 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.

Elissa chats with the coolest entrepreneur about London's first Prick on irislillian.com

 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.

Elissa chats with the coolest entrepreneur about London's first Prick on irislillian.com

Gynelle’s Uber Cool Eclectic East London Style

What’s your personal style? Afrocentric androgyny

Whats your favourite local fashion designer?  Hanger Inc

What is your “go-to” fashion brand? I don’t really have one. Two of my favs are Celine and Issey Miyake

Elissa chats with the coolest entrepreneur about London's first Prick on irislillian.com

Gynelle Wears… 
  • 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.

Elissa chats with the coolest entrepreneur about London's first Prick on irislillian.com

PRICK: Cacti & Succulents

Owner: Gynelle Leon (@bowbelle)

Address: PRICK, 492 Kingsland Road, London E8 4AE

Email: info@prickldn.com

Website: http://www.prickldn.com

Instagram: @prickldn

Photographs by Elissa of irislillian.com – available on request

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16 Comments
  1. AJ says

    I think I have just fallen in love with cacti – beautiful photography IL. Lovely story of self discovery too!

    1. Iris Lillian says

      When I visited the shop, I fell in love with them too. Now I have four in my house! Although, I’m terrible at looking after them 😉 Have you got any cacti or succulents in your house?

  2. Susie_SoFA40 says

    I love her prick epiphany! What a hilarious motivation for a fantastic business idea!

    1. Iris Lillian says

      Haha! yes, it’s a clever name 😉 Have you ever had an epiphany?

      1. Susie_SoFA40 says

        I guess when I realised there was nothing for women over 40 who didn’t want to keep being reminded they are over 40. It was very recently and I’m still playing with names for the new direction.

  3. Latoya Lewis says

    Loved the article & the fact that our Ah-Ha moments were similar. My dad always said find a job doing something you love & you’ll never work a day in your life. ❤️✨ Wonderful post, well written.

    1. Iris Lillian says

      Oh! you had a similar “Ah-ha” moment? How was it similar? Your Dad is very wise 🙂 I’m glad you enjoyed the post xx

  4. Rachel says

    I too had that moment in January at 4.50am sat on the loo! I woke with dread going back to my teaching job after Xmas. I thought if I could do anything what would it be ? And it was to pack a bag and have some me time. That scared me less than staying put. I sold off half my belongings ,rented out my house and left my job 4 months later . I spent 3 months in Spain and kept notes about what interested me, what I was passionate about and how I wanted to work.
    I started attending well being courses for my own being and decided that was it – a gap in the market for children.
    I am now a child and teen life skills and confidence coach with more training in yoga and mindfulness planned for next year.
    Sometimes , you just have to take a deep breath and jump?
    I’m in London this weekend on a course so I am going to come and see prick for myself ?

    1. Iris Lillian says

      Hi Rachel, wow! I’m so glad you shared your experience with us, thank you. Good on you for taking decisive action. I particularly like the fact that you took time out to listen to yourself and take notes about what interests you – it’s difficult to get this sort of clarity in our day-to-day lives. Say “hi” to Gynelle for me when you visit PRICK! She’s fantastic.

  5. Ania Brzozowska says

    This is a truly inspiring story! <3 Just what I needed this morning. Thank you for this article!

    1. Elissa says

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it Ania! Are you looking to change careers?

  6. Iris Lillian says

    I can’t wait to hear about what you finally land on 🙂

  7. Really enjoyable read. I love cacti and the name of the shop is a gloriously innuendo too.
    May have to pop in next time I am in the neighbourhood.

    1. Elissa says

      The name is clever isn’t it. Yes, do go and visit Gynelle – she is a delight. Enjoy!

  8. Venalion says

    Love this post. I love how she talked about happiness and to not put it off for future but to be happy now. Great job!

    1. Elissa says

      Yes! I think that is the key message of the whole article. It’s a great message, isn’t it?

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