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McQueens startup story: From spreadsheets to flowers

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For most bankers working in the Square Mile, having a pining desire to do something different and more creative with their lives is a frequent feeling. To do something that gives them freedom, swapping faceless corporate life for working on something worthwhile, and becoming their own boss would be a dream come true.

For many, their dreams stay just that, dreams. But for Kally Eddis, founder of McQueens she closed down Excel for the last time and fleed to Paris in pursuit of a better life.

Kally was the youngest of four girls, all with a penchant for arts & crafts; her sisters going on to art colleges and living successful, creative lives. Being the rebellious of the bunch, Kally chose a very different career path, using her degree in languages to work for a French bank in the city.

Coming from an artistic background, to banking 9 to 5 began to take it’s toll on Kally, she felt like something was severely lacking in her life, and in 1991, during the peak of the recession, her life changed for the worse.

“I split up with my boyfriend, my best friend died and I had to move back in with my parents. I’d hit rock bottom and couldn’t see a way out. Then out of nowhere, a work trip to Paris threw up an unexpected glimmer of hope.”

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Kally had gone to buy a bouquet for a friend whilst staying in Paris, stumbling across a shop selling the most beautiful, hand-tied tulips and roses she’d ever seen. Nothing like the boring flat-backed arrangements you’d see in 90s London. She toyed with ideas of bringing these simple but stunning arangements back to London, and hadn’t felt this passionate about something in a long time.

“Soon afterwards I had the most incredibly vivid dream. I was in a flower shop – my shop – surrounded by handtied bouquets. I woke up feeling happier than I had in a long time. This was a sign. Work and life had got so bad, the only way was up, and the dream gave me the focus I really needed. I walked into the kitchen and announced to my parents, “I’m going to be a florist!”

She later took voluntary redundancy at the French bank she worked for to make her dreams become reality, buying up a small flower shop in Shoreditch on the brink of closing down, called McQueens. Her colleagues thought she was crazy to start a business during the recession, but her instincts outweighed all financial worries.

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She worked eighteen hour shifts tirelessly in the shop, to make sure it was a success, the whole time reminding herself how much happier she was here than behind a computer screen, number crunching.

“My big breakthrough came four years in when, out of the blue, I was asked to do the flowers for a Vanity Fair party in London. They’d originally booked a famous French florist but he arrived unprepared. So, I did what I usually do – say yes and panic later.”

Thankfully the gamble paid off and the unexpected opportunity made a huge impression on the industry. Since then, 20 years on, McQueens now do events for Vanity Fair, The Oscars and The Cannes Film Festival with over 35 staff, as well as a newly launched flower school.

Kally says,

“I believe my success has been down to a mixture of ignorance and instinct. Ignorance can be a beautiful thing, if I’d done more research I might have been put off starting a business in a recession. Even in the toughest of times, if you team instinct with passion and hard work, you can really reap the benefits. I’m living proof of that.”

Starting up is hard.
If you’re looking to start a business at some point this year, keep an eye on our upcoming affordable workshops in Central London, where we’ll be helping corporate escapees stop dreaming and start doing. Drop us a tweet or come for a drink with us to share ideas.

lovely images via Spears UrbanpathMagnum Photos

2 Responses to “McQueens startup story: From spreadsheets to flowers”

    • fionaduffy

      It’s an inspiring one indeed, thanks Michelle. I noticed you signed up to our meetup page – hope to see you at one of our get togethers soon!


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