So it’s 12 noon on Thursday 24th August and I’m trying to navigate my way around the suburbs of Canary Wharf- a regular, old haunt of mine. From Citi to State Street, HSBC to Barclays, the Wharf up until the end of July meant a chance to trade the office in for a few hours in return for research meetings with investment bankers, traders and C-level executives from some of the world’s most wealthy firms. I’d stand on the escalators with my prep notes tucked away in my bag, white americano in hand and parade out of the tube station in the direction of the skyscrapers, pretending all the while in my head that I was starring in an episode of Billions or something (my imagination can get a bit carried away sometimes..!)
The fact that I was now back in the area but walking in the opposite direction to the banks had not gone unnoticed. Thanks to a reccomendation from one of my old work girls – ta Lizzie – I was here to meet Maryssa Dowe, the 31 year old US native and founder of Maryssa Dowe Floral Design- an independent floral design company tucked away in a cosy living room of a ground floor flat by the Thames.
Unlike the women I’ve written about so far, Maryssa juggles her floral design business with a part time role as a Patient Care and Practice Coordinator at a dental clinic in London. Having grown up in the States- Chapel Hill, North Carolina to be precise- Maryssa was raised in a dental household. After studying child development at university – a course that she later dropped out of for a once in a lifetime opportunity to nanny for a local family and travel to a number of tropical locations around the world with them – she met her husband when Duke University (the Ivy League university in her area) hosted its annual international rugby tour. British born Jonathan walked into the bar Maryssa was in, the two started talking and the rest was history.
Maryssa Dowe. I was 25 at the time and he was 28. It’s amazing the things one will do for love!
Before even landing in the UK, a family friend of her husband- who happened to be a dentist in London- hired Maryssa and after arriving in the UK on the Friday, she started her job at the dental practice on the following Monday morning.
She can. She did. Going from working in a dental practice to setting up a floral design business is quite a contrast- talk to me about where the idea to work with flowers came from?
MD. I think it was a combination of a few things really! The culture shock of moving to the UK plus commuting into Chelsea from East London every day and working really long hours. I was getting up at 6am and not getting home until 8-9pm…. I was just really burnt out and miserable. I think several nights I came home crying… either because of homesickness or I was just miserable at work.
SC.SD. I can imagine the homesickness being really hard.
MD. It comes and goes to be honest. I think it takes a good five years to really settle. It wasn’t until we moved to this flat that I started to feel like I was really at home.
SC.SD. So those first few years in the UK were pretty up and down then…
MD. Yes, lots of nights coming home upset and my husband thinking ‘oh my god, what’s going to make her happy?!’ He just said “you can’t keep doing this to yourself, what do you want to do?” So we sat down and made a list of all of the things that I loved the most.
SC.SD. What was on the list? Besides flowers of course!
MD. The first thing on the list was actually baking! I was always the girl in middle school and high school that baked for birthdays and occasions- cakes, pumpkin bread, banana bread, pies… I think I decided that baking would be quite repetitive though. I couldn’t imagine baking 200 of the same cupcake and decorating them the same way! Oh, and I didn’t have an oven that worked properly!
SC.SD. I guess that ruled that one out then!
MD. Yes definitely, we couldn’t afford one at the time! So yeh, Jonathan said that he could totally see me becoming a florist, driving around London delivering flowers etc… so we looked into it.
After a recommendation from a friend, Maryssa went on to train at The Covent Garden Academy of Flowers in London which ran from June 2014 to January 2015 for two days a week.
MD. I wasn’t familiar with anything flower related, especially schools… I had no idea where to look!
SC.SD. Was it expensive? Flower school in Covent Garden doesn’t sound like your typical course..!
MD. It was yes. My Mum helped out a bit and I was working full time at the time so had some money to put aside too.
Curiosity leads me to ask whether the course was solely made up of all girls.
MD. No no! Our class was all girls except for one guy who I’m still friends with today! He’s one of the most creative guys I know! There were about 20 of us in total though.
SC.SD. More of you than I thought then! And was it all practical?
MD. Yes it was all hands on. There were no exams which is one of the reasons I went for it because I’m a horrible test taker! We started with the basics: how to condition flowers, cut them properly, strip the leaves etc…. to making full arrangements… one day we’d make rings, one day we’d do centrepieces, one day we’d do bouquets, one day would be button holes… each day we’d learn something specific.
I start to picture the florists’ version of Hogwarts.
SC.SD. It sounds so idyllic! I want to go!
We’re suddenly interrupted by the strangest, noisiest rustling sound which I later learn is the electronic cat feeder…! Given that it was in another room, the microphone still picks it up in all of its glory!
SC.SD. My cats don’t get this kind of treatment!
MD. I know, it’s a bit ridiculous! It has my voice recorded on to it and everything! It’ll go off again in 15 minutes!
As if on cue, Milo and Sparky, Maryssa’s two cats run in to join us for the remainder of the interview.
SC.SD. That’s hilarious! My cats are clearly being deprived! Right so you graduate in the January and receive…
MD. A diploma in Classical Floral Design.
SC.SD. Amazing! So you have your diploma, how did you go about turning this into a business?
MD. I didn’t really have a plan to be honest…. I still had my dental job so there was still money coming in so it was never a life or death situation… I kind of just went for it. I set up the website and hired a lovely designer named Becky Lord to design the logo. She was amazing! I had a friend who used her; quite a few florists have used her actually. I had no idea about what I wanted specifically but I knew that I wanted something clean and sophisticated… I’m really pleased with it.
SC.SD. It’s lovely! What about social media?
MD. To be honest, I haven’t really put myself out there yet. I’ve launched my business but I haven’t been active enough on social media or marketing because I just haven’t had the time. Over the next 6 months I hope to make a more conscious effort with Instagram, uploading stories, Facebook etc… just make people more aware of Maryssa Dowe.
SC.SD. And does the idea of that phase you?
MD. No, I think with floristry you’ve got to just be confident. I freelance for others reguarly and I know that I’m capable of doing that work myself. You’ve got to believe in yourself and just do it!
SC.SD. Indeed! Do you remember what your first commission was?
MD. I do! It was actually before I graduated in the December. My husband’s colleague was getting married…. She asked me to do her wedding and it was the first wedding I’d ever done as they had totally forgotten about flowers!
SC.SD. How do you forget about flowers for a wedding?!
MD. I have no idea but she did! So I agreed.
SC.SD. Talk to me about what that felt like.
MD. It was awesome! So nerve racking though! It’s always a bit scary to take the bride’s bouquet to the bride, what if she doesn’t like it? It’s the most important day of her life after all! …. Her colour scheme changed a lot; it went from yellow to blue to white…. I think her and her mum had very different ideas..!
SC.SD. But she liked them in the end?
MD. Yeh she was thrilled! And I was really pleased with how everything turned out. It was at…. Oh gosh, what’s it called? Clissold House in Stoke Newington maybe, it was such a lovely venue to work in for my first ever wedding!
SC.SD. I’ll google fancy houses in Stoke Newington! Let’s talk hours…. I take that it’s a lot of weekend work?
MD. Yes! Especially during wedding season. For the past three months I’ve been doing weddings pretty much every single weekend. Typically wherever the bride’s getting ready, you go there and deliver her the bouquet along with the father’s button hole, any flower girls’ bouquets etc.. Then normally you until closer to the ceremony to give the groom and groomsmen their button holes. In between and after all of this you do the floral installations at the ceremony and reception venue. It’s a whole morning process.
SC.SD. Gosh, and are you still as enthusiastic as you were before?
MD. Yes! It’s much harder than I thought though. I think people think ‘oh you deliver flowers all day, that must be so glamorous’ but it’s not at all.
SC.SD. Go on…
MD. It’s waking up at 2am on a Thursday to go to the flower market in the freezing cold rain (the flower market opens at 3.30am)
SC.SD. Seriously!? And you go that early why? To get the cream of the crop?
MD. Exactly! The flowers have either been shipped in from Holland or English flower farms…they go quick! I try to use as much British grown as possible and these are becoming more popular.
SC.SD. That’s what we like to hear! So you collect the flowers and then what?
MD. Condition! I usually get back at around 5-6am. I would have already cleaned and disinfected the buckets and filled them with water so I take the flowers outside, strip the leaves, cut the stems and leave them to condition for the day. Then I start making the arrangements on Friday…
SC.SD. And how many hours does that take?
MD. As many as it takes! I’ve worked all day Friday, stayed up until 5am on Saturday morning and delivered at 7am before. It just depends if I’m doing it by myself or if I have two of my friends from flower school that come and help… we work together as a team.
SC.SD. Ah that’s nice. Do you split the profit?
MD. We don’t actually! We work for eachother for free so whoevers wedding it is gets 100% of the profit. Because we’re all starting out, we just pay each other’s train fares and food! If I freelance for other florists though, I get paid by the hour.
As well as having independent customers, Maryssa also freelances for Sarah Diligent, the Founder and Owner of Floribunda Rose who she met at a friend’s BBQ. With a more established business and a much larger work space, Sarah is able to take on much grander projects which require Maryssa’s help.
MD. She has been amazing! For the past two years she’s taken me under her wing and has been such a great mentor and friend…she has made me a much better florist for sure! She has a large workshop too so can create grander designs. I’m a bit limited here in the flat for how big an event I can do.
SC.SD. Contacts and friends like that are always handy! See I’m ashamed to say that I was definitely someone that looked at florists and thought it all looks so perfect and colourful and fun… that life would be a breeze!
MD. Not at all! It’s hard work and it’s manual labour. It’s lugging buckets of water around, standing for hours on end, destroying your finger nails! It’s not glamorous by any means! But, I just know that I can’t sit at a computer desk day in day out… I get bored. I could wake up at 2am for the flower market but if I have to get up for work at 8am (at the dental practice), I’ll get out of bed at the very last moment to get there on time.
SC.SD. I think a lot of people can relate to that feeling! What do you think is the hardest thing about running this business?
MD. I guess working from home and being your own boss can get quite lonely sometimes and because I have another job, I can be exhausted from that so by the time Thursday comes around, trying to get yourself going and motivating yourself to do your books and accounts and taxes…
SC.SD. All the extra admin…
MD. Yes, the actual making of the flowers is great but getting yourself going for the business side of things is hard. There’s so much more to running a business than just making flowers and they don’t teach you that in school! And being in London there are so many talented florists around so there is a lot of competition.
SC.SD. I was going to ask you that actually. With so many established florists up and running already, does the competition concern you at all?
MD. Yes and no. We all have our own style… and there’s enough people here in London that there’s plenty to go around!
Maryssa’s business is based solely in London and given that she doesn’t drive, her husband Jonathan helps to deliver.
MD. He’s my delivery man/ chauffeur at 2am… he enjoys it!
SC.SD. Does he have a choice in it!?
MD. No! He doesn’t have a choice! He’s very supportive though!
SC.SD. That’s good! What about everyone else- friends, family and colleagues at the dental practise?
MD. Everyone’s been really supportive. When I started school, my boss at the time was so supportive and let me have the two days off to train- I think he thought it was more of a hobby than anything and didn’t take it too seriously though! I had to leave there in the end because they needed me to work Thursdays and if you’re a florist and are working weddings you have to have Thursday free.
Maryssa now works in the dental practise from Monday to Wednesday and then works on her business from Thursday to Saturday- a reminder to us all that you don’t have to quit a job altogether to pursue your dream career.
SC.SD. And Sunday is?
MD. Sunday is sleep!
SC.SD. I don’t blame you! You’ve mentioned Sarah and your friends from flower school. Would you say then that the florist network is a supportive group?
MD. They’re supportive but like I said before, floristry in general is quite competitive. If I went to apply at a shop they’d require years of experience before they hire you- how do you learn if you’re not given the opportunity to?
SC.SD. So what would your advice be to any girls reading this who are considering to train as a florist if they can’t get experience at a shop? Because early market trips aside, I’m sure that there are a lot of girls out there that would want this job!
MD. I think the best thing for me has been becoming friends with Sarah. Find an independent florist that is willing to help you and teach you or someone that’s just started out and needs a helping hand… I’d definitely choose a creative young entrepreneur over working in a well-established shop.
SC.SD. Absolutely. Anything design based tends to move with the trends- How would you describe your style nowadays?
MD. The course that I took was very classic. Everything was wired and very tight, domed bouquets… very traditional and neat. Sarah uses all British flowers and has a very natural, wild and loose style. She has given me a whole new insight into British grown flowers and foliage so I have really grown to love the more natural ‘picked from the field’ look.
SC.SD. So you have a bit more fun with it?
MD. Yes definitely!
SC.SD. Do you think if you were still in the States you’d be doing this?
MD. Erm… probably not. I’d be signed up to start dental hygiene school.
SC.SD. Are you happy that the turn of events has led to this then?
MD. Yes definitely! I never thought I’d be living in London and married to an Englishman so…!
SC.SD. Do your friends in the States take it seriously!? You fall in love with a Brit, run away to marry him in London and train to be a florist… it sounds like a quintessentially British fairy tale!
MD. I’m not sure what my friends think… I don’t recall there being a flower school or even hearing about one where I’m from so they might think it’s completely random! I’m glad it’s turned out the way it has though!
SC.SD. Absolutely! Have any of your relationships changed since starting this?
MD. No, I think everyone knows what I’m up to- over the summer months they expect me to be tied up and of course Christmas is another busy time making wreathes, centrepieces and garlands…. My current boss is super supportive and we’re going to deck the office out with wreathes and centrepieces and candles and lights- he’s going to let me sell from the office so patients can order or buy it off the wall if they want!
My neighbours in this flat block and the block next door are also supportive and have all ordered wreathes for the past two years! My friends have hired me for parties etc…
SC.SD. That’s so, so good! See Christmas is my favourite time of year so this is when I look at florists and think this sounds incredible. I want this job.
MD. Mine too! Everything at the market is covered in glitter for Christmas, leaves are painted silver and gold, apples are dipped in wax and covered in glitter etc…
SC.SD. That sounds dreamy! I’m a magpie for glitter!
MD. But remember the 2am wake up in 0 degrees! We should take a trip at Christmas if you want though, it’s like a magical wonderland… of glitter!
SC.SD. I’d love that, I’m so there! A few quickfire questions for you! What does success look like to you?
MD. I suppose success would be doing flowers all the time and making good profits.
SC.SD. So it’s money motivated?
MD. Yes but I’d rather make a bit less but be happy.
SC.SD. 100%. And your favourite quote?
MD. Benjamin Spock’s “Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.” I think you just need to go for it, be confident and believe in yourself.
SC.SD. And you do?
MD. I think you have to.
SC.SD. That’s refreshing to hear. Which women in your life do you look up to and admire?
MD. My mum is definitely one. She was a stay-at-home mum and then went to dental school after she’d had me and my brother at 35 so she started her career really late in life. She’s always said it’s never too late. She’s hardworking, successful and she’s been super supportive. She just says go for it if it makes you happy.
Also, Sarah Diligent who owns Floribunda Rose of course. She is one of the hardest working women I know. Not only is she an amazing florist, she also has a heart of gold. I’ll be forever grateful that she gave me a chance two years ago and for the amazing ongoing opportunity to be a part of her team! I also have to include my family friend, Karen Bainbridge. She did my wedding flowers, which were amazing. Watching her is how I got the bug for this!
SC.SD. Mum’s are always up there aren’t they! I have to ask this and I apologise because I’m sure you’re always asked but I’m curious- what’s your favourite flower?
MD. I have three! Firstly an anemone…
*Fights the urge to quote Finding Nemo*
MD. Then of course a tulip because who doesn’t love a tulip!? And lastly pale yellow English garden rose.
SC.SD. Ooo very good choices! I’m a sunflower girl myself! Where do you look to find inspiration?
MD. Working with Sarah always provides inspiration. Then going to different venues, instagram of course, pinterest, nature… I also have a whatsapp group with two girls from my course appropriately titled ‘Flower Crown’ so everyday there’s constant flower talk…
SC.SD. Not many places then..! I guess it’s that type of industry where inspiration is everywhere though. Do you think you’ll be doing this forever?
MD. I think I’ll always be working with flowers and in an ideal world I hope that it becomes my only job. I’d like to be a mom at some point too and do floristry, a bit of each!
SC.SD. Let’s talk timelines, when do you think that will happen?
I realise immediately that she might think I’m asking about babies so quickly rephrase!
SC.SD. Not the Mum thing, I don’t want to put that pressure on you…! When do you see yourself going full time with this?
MD. It’s hard to say. See I make more money freelancing than I do working in the office but costing a wedding and making a profit is so tricky. You know that saying “Champange taste on a beer budget”… it has to be a large enough event for it to be worth it. People don’t realise how much time and effort goes into it and often at times don’t want to pay for it.
I think people think they just pay for the day but the whole process starts months before with the planning and all the emails and contacting suppliers and wholesalers and sourcing everything. Then there’s all of the logistics, venue visits, meeting with the bride and groom, visits to the market, hours making everything on the run up to the event, installation and clear down! To drive your car into the flower market alone costs £5.
There’s a lot that goes into it that people don’t think about and it all adds up.
SC.SD. 100%. When you put it like that, I’m sure a lot of bride-to-be’s will be a tad more understanding if they happen to read this! But it’s worth it?
MD. Yes it’s worth it! The actual making of the arrangements is so therapeutic, time flies, you can switch off! And there is nothing better than when you deliver the flowers and the Bride is over the moon! The end product makes it all worth it.
SC.SD. Can you see yourself employing someone one day or do you think it’s always going to be a one man band? One lady band sorry..!
MD. Erm, so my husband thinks I’m crazy (!) but from here the next step would be to get a larger house or a similar sized house but with a garage or workshop so that I have the space to do larger events. It’s hard working 15 hour days and you can’t eat dinner at your kitchen table. I think having a separate home and work space is really important so that I can leave it in a complete mess and walk away from it, go and relax for a few minutes and then go back to it…. But maybe 20 years down the line I’d love to have a big barn, and make it into a wedding venue.
SC.SD. I don’t think that’s a crazy idea, I think that’s a really good idea! That doesn’t have to be 20 years off.
MD. And of course I’d be the sole florist!
SC.SD. I would hope so! Can you imagine if they were like “I’d like to outsource the florist?!”
So there’s big plans then?
MD. Yes definitely… I guess you have to dream a little don’t you? One day at a time.
We switch the microphone off there and after a quick photo shoot in the back garden accompanied by Milo and Sparky, I leave with the opinion that Maryssa Dowe is the perfect example of a woman who will work around the clock to get one step closer to her dream.
On our initial call she was concerned that having another job would mean that she wouldn’t qualify to feature on this. She was worried in case her business wasn’t deemed a ‘proper’ one because she wasn’t working on it full time, that it wasn’t as well-established as other competitors so perhaps she wasn’t the best person to interview.
If anything, I think the opposite.
Juggling the stress of 12 hour days in a day-to-day job that pays the bills with the sheer effort of setting up your own business- let alone one so manual- is no easy feat. Especially when half of your support network resides on the other side of the Atlantic and homesickness returns intermittently in waves. It takes a whole host of determination, time management skills and sheer guts that only someone who has a goal in mind and a passion for the project at hand (not to mention blatant talent) would agree to take on.
So whilst it’s not the biggest of florists with a perfected Instagram feed that we’re so accustomed to seeing nowadays, the lessons that we can learn from her story are clear. If you want something bad enough, you’ll find a way to fit it in and develop it day by day, no matter what or how long it takes.
And in any case – between you and me – having heard the determination in her voice first hand, I have a sneaky suspicion that working on flowers full time and finding a bigger space to create wilder, more elaborate displays that Maryssa dreams about creating will become a well-earned reality much sooner than she thinks.
For more information on Maryssa Dowe Floral Design, visit her website here.