It won’t always be about creative tasks and projects: As a designer, I am always looking for ways to fill my life creating new products and designs. Things that people would love and that the individual’s closest to them would love as well. Sometimes I can be a dreamer and did not realize there’s a lot of paperwork involved in starting/ running a business.
The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.
As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Grace Tshumamboya.
Grace Tshumamboya is the founder of MAJI FLORA, an e-commerce floral shop where she specializes in preserved roses that last up to a year. In 2018, she received a Bachelor’s in Landscape Design & Horticulture Tech management. Today, she is a remarkably talented floral designer from New York.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Growing up, my mother always emphasized the importance of building something fruitful for yourself, and in turn, you would be able to help those around you. Because of her, I have always believed that knowledge, care, and ambition are the only things the world will continuously need.
My family moved to New York from the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo). Once here in the U.S., my parents worked tirelessly to make ends meet. They would always share stories with me about the DRC where natural resources are abundant. The landscape, blanketed with lush rainforests, beautiful fertile valleys, striking mountains accompanied by breathtaking views, and biodiversity. Each time they would share stories that depicted the most outstanding features of the landscape.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
During the pandemic, fear was an obstacle I had to overcome in my journey as an entrepreneur. There were times I would doubt myself. MAJI FLORA seemed so small it was merely a plan, an idea I could abandon. No matter how discouraged I would feel, there was a little voice telling me that fear is simply an emotion and that I am not fear itself. When I stumbled upon this quote,
“You can’t make decisions based on fear and the possibility of what might happen.” — Michelle Obama, it resonated with me. I could not make my decisions based on the possibility of failure. I decided to walk with the fear of God and embrace the power of ambition, knowing that if things do not work out exactly how you envisioned it, just start again and the second time you’ll know better.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
During quarantine, due to the pandemic, I had the time to read for leisure. One of the books I focus on long enough to finish was, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” an autobiography by the American writer and poet Maya Angelou. The reason this book resonated with me is that it is a story about perseverance.
Throughout the book, Maya Angelou goes through times of self-doubt, which were caused by negative events in her life, with family, and society. Not many can live a story like hers and come up so strong. It is this type of perseverance that I admire.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?
Before the pandemic began, I accumulated some experience with floristry aside from school. I spent several years working seasonal jobs with different flower farm companies and plant nurseries. That’s where I got the chance to work hands-on with plant material on a day to day basis. Eventually, I found myself working as a bridal consultant in Manhattan, NY, and most recently a receptionist at a Bridal salon on Long Island. Though the bridal industry did not seem like the path I had originally envisioned for myself. It was a gateway to many more skills and business ideas. The possibilities are endless regarding great business ideas simply based on what you’ve learned in real life. It is more important that you have processes to execute a plan which will in turn bring these ideas to fruition.
What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?
I used the basic skill of time management. At first, we (the public) were advised to remain in quarantine for two weeks. This sounded great, like a little break from the hustle and bustle. That 2-week break slowly became one month, six weeks, 8 weeks then 3 whole months in quarantine. The first few days I spent doing things I typically wouldn’t have the time to do, like sleeping, cooking big meals, painting, gardening, and binge-watching shows like vampire diaries. By the end of the first week, I decided to begin writing little goals for the week, thinking it would be useful for when we’d all return to work. But it turned out to help me more in quarantine. Day by day, month by month, I’d make it my initiative to complete 5 tasks that would result in completing 2 goals.
Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?
I’ve always dabbled with the idea of becoming an entrepreneur, the pandemic somehow allowed me the time. I remember the day I came up with this specific business idea. I told myself I’d spend just 30–45 min a day brainstorming business ideas. Since I enjoyed working in the bridal industry (as I currently do) I had already established I wanted to become a wedding florist. Slowly I began to tailor that dream to my current reality. How much capital did I have? How much workspace? And how much storage space. Fresh flowers make sense but that did not fit my budget and limited space. So that’s when I thought, how about preserved roses. They don’t need water, they last for up to 3 years, they aren’t edible and they’re easy to store. I took a goal and shaved it down to what I could do at the moment and continued to remind myself that I am capable of growth from here on out.
How are things going with this new initiative?
So far it’s gone well but not perfectly.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I know it’s cliché but I’d have to say my mother, Francoise Nziavake. I have never seen someone so strong. During this pandemic, my mother held our entire family together. She’s the woman we’d go to for advice and support while keeping herself together as well. Those who have the privilege to have such a supportive person in their lives are truly blessed.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
The most interesting story I must tell is this unique story I am currently living. The story of a 24-year-old woman working a 9–5 while running her own business. Working towards building her future in a time where major historical events take place one after the other. This story is the most interesting thing to happen since I’ve begun my business. if there is anything more interesting than the current events, I wouldn’t want to know about it.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- It’s ok to take things slow: When you take your time doing anything, even if it’s completing small tasks throughout the day, you’re more likely to do it right, that way you wouldn’t have to spend more time doing something again.
- Keep your advice coming from a small number of people, preferably those who have experience in what you need advice on: I’m embarrassed at how many times I’ve allowed unqualified people to give me advice on what I should do when starting a business. It’s best to do research first and take advice second, also consider the credibility of the individual sharing that information with you.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help: Some people, like myself, have a hard time asking for help. I always feel as though it would be a burden on someone else. But it is nearly impossible to succeed without the help of others. Starting a business during the Pandemic has taught me to ask for help when I need it, and those who are willing to help are always there for you.
- It’s ok to start small: Starting small allows me to see where I am and what needs to be done to get to where I want to be. At first, I attempted to create large floral arrangements that cost me so much time and money when the simpler arrangements were just as valuable. Not only that, I wanted to have multiple products on my website. Seven products and five rose color variations as well as two vase variations for each product. There was just too much going on. I minimized it to one vase color, a few rose colors, and three types of vases. Less is more in this case.
- It won’t always be about creative tasks and projects: As a designer, I am always looking for ways to fill my life creating new products and designs. Things that people would love and that the individual’s closest to them would love as well. Sometimes I can be a dreamer and did not realize there’s a lot of paperwork involved in starting/ running a business.
So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?
In my opinion, the best way to optimize your mental wellness today is by removing yourself from social media. The news will continuously deliver negative stories, but social media allows millions of people to voice their own opinions, though some are opinions based on facts others are based on emotion and others are based on conspiracies. It’s important to unplug when things become too overwhelming and allow yourself to decide how you want to deal with current situations. Think for yourself before allowing someone else’s thoughts to disrupt your mental health.
During the worst times of 2020, I turned to the method of removing myself from social media, and I must say it is very effective. It is also never a bad idea to seek from a mental health professional. A healthy mind is very important, getting help to maintain that is nothing to be embarrassed about.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
If I could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most people, it would be to bring awareness to mental health in households with mixed cultures. Mental health is dealt with differently in different cultures. This is not always beneficial to individuals living with those whose cultures ignore mental illness.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
I’d love to have lunch with Issa Rae, she is hands down one of the most inspirational Black women today. I
would love to sit down and hear her speak about the obstacles she had to overcome to become as successful as she is today. I also loved watching “the Misadventures of an awkward black girl” when I was in middle school. I love “Insecure” even more!
How can our readers follow you online?
Instagram — @maji.flora
Website at Majiflora.com
Email [email protected]
Facebook page MajiFlora
Readers may also contact me directly on Instagram @graciieinaflower
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!