Inspiring Women in Business Podcast - Episode 38 - Behind the scenes running a successful of a ethical luxury brand business - Interview Diane Houston founder of Gilda and Pearl luxury lingerie and Loungewear

podcast Dec 20, 2022

In this episode, I interview Diane Houston. She shares how she started her business journey, the biggest challenges, and the hardest decisions she had to make in this journey. She also shares some practical advice for people who want to start their businesses.

If you are thinking of starting something and an opportunity comes, the first decision that you have to make is to step out and go for it. It will always be better to make a mistake, learn from it, make a pivot, and continue to grow than to never take the first step at all.

Key takeaways from this episode:

  • Make sure that all the decisions you make are your decisions.
  • You will learn from things you do well and things you do not do well.
  • First impressions usually tend to be right.
  • If you are a solopreneur or just starting your business, one of the first hires should always be your right hand.
  • Build habits and do positive things no matter what happens in the world.
  • Read everything you can get your hands on.
  • Make sure that you are everywhere, whether it's online and store, marketplaces, or direct selling mixture.
  • Look after yourself first.
  • Have something you can rely on, a favourite podcast, a good friend, or a book that you keep going back to.
  • You have to keep being level-headed and you have to be open to all the opportunities that are coming to you.
  • Be mindful of what you are consuming.
  • Communicating your brand story is the most important thing you can do in times like this

Episode Timeline:

00:04 Podcast Intro

01:09 Episode Intro

01:45 Who Diane Houston is and what she does

02:52 What lead Diane to the business she has today

06:29 Diane’s advice for people who want to start a new business journey 

07:42 The biggest challenges with Diane’s business journey

11:12 What it’s like to work with friends and family

12:22 Diane’s advice for people with what’s currently going on in the economy

15:23 Marketing channels that work for Diane’s business

16:45 How to connect with Diane

17:25 Outro

Connect with Diane Houston here:


More about Ruth:

Hi, I’m Ruth, a business coach specializing in helping freelancers and business owners adjust their mindset and their marketing so they can get fully booked with clients they LOVE to work with. I’ve helped hundreds of self-employed women achieve the time and money freedom they craved.

I’ve started this podcast because when I first went all in and left the corporate world to be a freelancer, I was grateful for any work that came my way. After over 20 years of freelancing and working for other people, I started to realize I’d created a glass ceiling for myself.

In 2017, I finally started listening to that voice that had been telling me for a long time that I wasn’t doing what I loved and fulfilling my true potential.  It took a critical illness to give me that wake-up call.  I don’t want the same to happen to you.

You can expect practical advice, inspiring stories, and a lot of aha moments as we uncover and kick to the curb all the obstacles you have been putting in your way.

I’m on a mission to inspire women to start and play bigger in business.

Connect and know more about Ruth here:


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Ruth Gilbey  00:04

Hello and welcome to the inspiring women in business podcast. My name is Ruth Gilbey and I'm a business and marketing coach. I'm on a mission to inspire women to start and play bigger in business. Now I started this podcast because when I first went all in and left the corporate world to be a freelancer, I was just grateful for any work that came my way. After over 20 years of freelancing and working for other people, I started to realize I'd created a glass ceiling of myself. It was in 2017 when I finally started listening to that voice that had been telling me for a long time, that I wasn't doing what I loved, and I wasn't fulfilling my true potential. It took a critical illness to give me that wake-up call. And I don't want the same thing to happen to you. You can expect practical advice, interviews, inspiring stories, and a lot of aha moments as we uncover and kick to the curb. All the obstacles you've been putting in your way. Hi, everyone, welcome back to the inspiring women in business podcast. I'm absolutely delighted today to have Diane Houston with the founder of Gilda and Pearl that I have been swatting up on and oh my goodness, so such beautiful lingerie and loungewear so the founder of Gilda and Pearl, your award-winning and I loved your hearing about that, you know, everything's made in the UK and it's a big mission of yours to be as ethical as possible. That's wonderful. So, Diane, can you just introduce yourself who you are and what you do a little bit more?

Diane Houston  01:45

Yeah, sure. Well, thanks very much. First of all for having me. It's really lovely to be here and sure so obviously Diane and I'm the founder of Gilda and Pearl which is really luxury lingerie and loungewear brand more recently kind of more women's wear as well. And as you see we meet since the beginning with me it's entirely in the UK. Everything is made in female-founded Teles throughout the UK and been very fortunate in our business seems to have gone from strength to strength and we have quite a lot of celebs wearing our brand these days and I mean stockist in the UK is Harrods so yeah, it's been quite a journey since the early days really?

Ruth Gilbey  02:22

Yes, amazing which celebrities are wearing Gilda and Pearl.

Diane Houston  02:25

Oh, we had Hailey Bieber and one of our robes most recently doing a loving makeup tutorial involving one of our feathered robes. So that was lovely. We've had Margot Robbie in Vogue as well. So a couple of quite good ones.

Ruth Gilbey  02:41

Yeah, she's thus brilliant. So tell me a little bit more and tell everyone a little bit more about your journey. I've read up about you. But I'm just what led you to the business that you've got today?

Diane Houston  02:52

Oh, gosh, it's a really long, kind of convoluted road actually, to where I am now. I'd say it's kind of a mix of creativity and wanting to make a change and commitment and probably bad bosses as well actually otherwise, I've never taken the plunge and started my own company. But I think growing up I had a real sense of a kind of social justice and was really interested in politics and that kind of thing, but also was very creative. And I felt I never really fitted into a particular sort of career path. And when I left school, I studied law specializing in human rights law. But I was also exposed to a lot of other things as well. My mum worked for Hugo and she used to take me to a lot of the factories that were local in the West of Scotland at the time, and that had a real impact on me I was so fascinated by the hustle and the bustle and the buzz and going through the fabric so it's just in heaven. So we had that. It's cut long story short my third year at university I went to Lyon in France which has a really rich history of silk and lease and I spent so much more time focused on that than the law books. So I thought I need to make a change and when I came back, I took a year out and discipline myself into it, spoke to the fashion editor of a local fashion magazine Sunday Herald here in Glasgow helped her she was fantastic to learn so much. Also, study fashion manufacturing at a local college and worked in retail one of the designer brands in the department store here in Glasgow so just really put myself into it. And when I got back and managed to get a place at the London College of Fashion, which was I'd always been my dream absolutely had such a fantastic time there. I worked in magazines for a while after graduating from there had a fantastic editor and just out of curiosity really I started learning to make laundry on the site just because it was something I adored the fabrics I adored the processes everything I've learned and Leon had really stayed with me I learned from a lady who used to make trestles for the royal family so she was very traditional and so talented. Anyway, it just so happened that the magazine was working with folded and went from having a fantastic boss to a pretty not-so-good one and I'm not normally one to criticize that this that she was new, something had to change. I was no longer doing what I absolutely loved every day. So that's her cumulative business, I decided to take the risk and go for it. I started at the salt Portobello market with my own designs, and also some curated vintage pieces very quickly against kind of a private client base. And then the observer main fashion magazine featured my designs, which in those days not that long ago, but so much has changed, hasn't it? That's, that was kind of all you needed. And it just went from there. Really? That's how the business came about. And now we're back? Yeah.

Ruth Gilbey  05:34

I've got a question for you something that you said really that is so true, it really does depend. Sometimes when you're working in employment, whoever your boss is, it's make or break that experience concept.

Diane Houston  05:48

It really can absolutely, absolutely. But sometimes it's a blessing in some ways as well, because it really pushes you into taking the next step or it can do can't it? And I think it's nice as though if you do go on to start your own business, that experience of what a good somebody a good manager would be once a quarter company can do versus this is the opposite end of the scale. And that's really valuable as well, I think,

Ruth Gilbey  06:12

What would your advice be to someone listening to this? Who's thinking I've not got a very nice boss at the moment? Or I haven't gone? Or haven't? Or maybe you know, we can have multiple bosses, can't we? If you're a freelancer, and you've got you know, different clients? Have you got any advice there to share?

Diane Houston  06:29

Yeah, I think probably one of the best pieces of advice I ever had was just to go for it. And it was also one of the hardest decisions I think I've ever had to make in my business journey, if you want to call it that was the initial decision to step out and go for it because I didn't have any savings or anything or anybody giving me loans or anything like that it was a complete and utter risk. But I just knew that I was so determined that I would find some way if I had to work on something else until the new business took off. So be it I was just determined. So I think you can I think go for it would be my advice.

Ruth Gilbey  07:04

So is that your advice for someone who's starting their new business? Just go for it.

Diane Houston  07:10

Go with it, go for it. Yes. And I would also say that when you are putting things on the line like that, for me, what really helped was making sure all the decisions I made were my own decisions, and I was comfortable with them. Because I think in that way, you will make well not mistakes, and you will learn from things that you do well, and things you do not do so well. But I think as long as you've made those yourself, you can always live with the consequences and move on to the next thing and move onwards and upwards. That's what I've found anyway, it's quite a good way to live by it.

Ruth Gilbey  07:38

And what's been the biggest challenge with your own business journey?

Diane Houston  07:42

Oh, and I would say that the initial decision was to go for it. But also I think managing people if you want to call it that has been the biggest challenge because it's not something that comes naturally to me at all. But I'm very, very fortunate. And I have absolutely amazing team that work with now, so lucky with them. And I also have an office manager as part of that, who thankfully is very good at it. Indeed. So that's worked out well. But that was certainly a very big challenge in the early days when the team was much smaller.

Ruth Gilbey  08:13

Yeah, I don't have any employees. I work with a small team of contractors, a very lean team. And that's the way I quite like it. Just I've got no ambitions to have a massive, massive team. That's not how I scale my business. But I'm too much of a softy, I let things go on for too long. So I've learned the hard way, you know, they hire, hire slowly, and fire quickly, which is so brutal. It sounds so brutal. But I think as women, we can be too nice. Sometimes I think we do need to listen to our guts, don't you think? 

Diane Houston  08:52

Yeah, first impressions usually tend to be right. Even if you kind of go around about the houses, I've noticed that the first one tends to be the right one. But I don't know about you. I've also found that I'm so focused on doing other things, designing, growing, and building relationships, that it's easy to just expect people to get on with it. And they can be, can't they? They are working with you and they need support from you. So it needs to be reciprocal. But I think as an entrepreneur, it's something that you can easily get sidetracked with, but it's actually one of the most important things about what you're doing when you're growing a company like that. So yeah, it definitely comes with challenges.

Ruth Gilbey  09:26

Yeah, absolutely. I think I would say to anyone listening if you're a solopreneur, or you're just starting your business, I think the first hire, one of the first hires I always say is your right hand.

Diane Houston  09:39

Yeah, yeah.

Ruth Gilbey  09:40

Because as you just said, you need to have the time to help people know what they need to do and support them. So someone who knows your business who's like trustworthy as well to help you.

Diane Houston  09:52

Yeah, 100% Yeah, yeah, absolutely. It's totally invaluable.

Ruth Gilbey  09:55

Yeah. Did you get that's what you've got, you hired your, have you found that person?

Diane Houston  10:01

Yeah, I did. I did. Indeed, yeah. Because in the early days when we started to get some big orders, it was just me and a few friends, and amazingly, they're still friends with me. No, but we used to sit up all through the night, like, right through from the night till the dawn sewing together. So it grew very organically in that sense. And then yeah, the first couple, I think it took me a few first hires to find the right first time. That makes sense. But yeah, the team I've got working with now, they've been around for quite a while. And so that's been really great to see the business really grow with the same team in place.

Ruth Gilbey  10:34

Can I ask you a question?

Diane Houston  10:35


Ruth Gilbey  10:36

You can say no to this one if you like. But it's also nice about working with friends and family.

Diane Houston  10:44

Oh, gosh, very, very. Very, very difficult. I think, especially when it comes to family. Yeah. Because we had tried a little bit of that for a while. And there was so much packing of orders to do. But gosh, it's hard, isn't it? Because the pressures are on you've got to get things done quickly. And you can see, can you get a wiggle on with that, please? It's getting very difficult to see. It's family, isn't it? 

Ruth Gilbey  11:07

Yeah. It's not about boundaries or that business transactions, it's just not the same, is it?

Diane Houston  11:12

It's not the same. It's not the same, I think, that said in the early days, friends and family, I couldn't have lived without them, because it was not worth less pressure on them. You know, I'll get the pizzas. And if you can help me tag some texts and stuff to four in the morning, it's quite different from when you've got a department store waiting for an order. And if you get it wrong, or you're bent, it's, it's really bad. So you can't take that becomes a sort of different thing in that sense. So yeah, I think it can definitely be to be done. It's just the circumstances have to be quite particular, don't they?

Ruth Gilbey  11:44

Yeah, it's different when you're a startup, isn't it? You're sort of bootstrapping. But then when your business is growing, you need that infrastructure, don't you?

Diane Houston  11:51

You do you do? Not all those checks in place, and all that sort of thing? Yeah.

Ruth Gilbey  11:55

Yeah. So with what's going on at the moment in the world, in the news, the economic downturn, I mean, it's something that's brought up so much with clients of mine. And in my business coaching community, the online business collective, people are always asking about it and questioning themselves. So I'm asking the women that I'm interviewing at the moment, what best piece of positive advice have you got for people at the moment with what's going on?

Diane Houston  12:22

Gosh, I think that's it, isn't it? It's building habits, and doing positive, because it's going to happen anyway, it's about how you mentally approach it, I think there are probably three things I would say I would do. The first is reading everything I can get my hands on, even if it's not in my industry, just to get as much outside information to come in as I can to make an informed judgment about what we're doing. And the second is omnichannel. So whether it's online and store, marketplaces, direct selling mixture, I'm sort of everywhere. So if one drops, then the other one will hopefully pick up. The third one is just looking after yourself in the sense that I do think having your own business can be isolating at times because you maybe think a different way to other friends who maybe have a full-time job because you're always switched on to it. And you're always pushing yourself. Not that they don't. But I think it's just a different, slightly different kind of pressure if that makes sense. So having something you can rely on be that a favorite podcast, a good friend, or a book that you keep going back to that just you can go and read it or talk to that person and feel back on track. I think that's more important now than ever, because you have to keep level-headed, and you have to be open to all those opportunities that are there.

Ruth Gilbey  13:36

Yeah. And I think it's also I was saying in my last podcast, the podcast that's just released this week. Just be also be mindful of what you're consuming as well.

Diane Houston  13:47

Yeah, definitely. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. And how about you? What have you found it's been helpful?

Ruth Gilbey  13:54

I don't watch a lot of the news. And I think what’s been most useful for me is my age. It was about that. I've been through it a few times. Yeah, yeah. I think I'm 48. And I think I have been through a few and I, you know, we went through the credit crunch in 2008. And I was a new mom of twins. And my husband was having problems at his job. And I just remember this complete panic, and that's my benchmark. I'm like, it's never gonna be as bad because we are both available to work now. You know, so and we've both, got we're a team, and we're both a bit like we just do anything. Yeah, yes, follow profit and just carry on. But I've also got faith in my own business as well and that people need to keep doing that, you know, people need there are people that value doing their marketing. There are recession-proof businesses out there that still take their marketing seriously. So they're going to need what I offer so that's kind of my thing.

Diane Houston  15:00

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Yeah, yes, definitely. Yeah. It's important to hold on to those more positive trains of thought than the News gives you for sure.

Ruth Gilbey  15:11

Absolutely. Well, just for other product-based business owners and ecommerce business owners, what just interesting question to ask you is what marketing channels are you finding work for you or that you like?

Diane Houston  15:23

That's a difficult question, because I think this is the first year where it's been extremely unpredictable. And actually, bizarrely bricks and mortar is doing is probably stronger for us. One of the strongest growing areas for us at the moment, which is a year whereas this time last year, it was online, and obviously, pandemic, but even just before that, that was the fastest area of growth.

Ruth Gilbey  15:43

So being in places like Harrods is just amazing for your brand and things like that. Yeah, absolutely.

Diane Houston  15:49

Yeah, has been, I think, our own website as well, that's been the other area of growth, because communicating your brand story, I suppose is the most important thing you can do in times like this. So that's probably been another key channel, I think, with our type of product, because it's the look and feel of it is what sells it. That's probably why things like Harrods are really working for us alongside the online as well. So it's good to have both of those.

Ruth Gilbey  16:14

Yeah. So I'm always harping on about having a really good website.

Diane Houston  16:19


Ruth Gilbey  16:19

It's part of your marketing and your brand. And it's just so important. And your website is beautiful.

Diane Houston  16:25

Oh, thank you. It's a labor of love. We do. Yeah, we do. We do work hard on it. And we're just seeing a showroom studio where people can come and view the collections there as well. And that's been really nice just to meet customers face to face. So it's been good.

Ruth Gilbey  16:40

 Amazing. And so how can people find out more about you, Diane, and what you do?

Diane Houston  16:45

Well, I'm usually hidden behind the sewing machine or a laptop email, probably with great difficulty. But there's certainly there's more about the brand and our approach to what we do and where our fabrics come from, who makes everything what our kind of goals are for the future or carbon, what we're doing to car carbon emissions, all that sort of stuff is all on the Gilda and Pearl website. So that's probably the best place.

Ruth Gilbey  17:10

That's amazing. Thank you so much for your time today and your wonderful advice. It was brilliant. Thank you.

Diane Houston  17:17

Take care. Bye bye.

Ruth Gilbey  17:25

Thanks for listening to the inspiring women in business podcast. I hope you found this episode helpful. If you did, I would love it if you would leave me a review. Also, I would love to connect with you on Instagram. That's where I hang out most of the time. I'm @Ruth_Gilbey. I'll put a link in the show notes for you as well. Come and connect with me. Tell me about your business. And also tell me what you'd like to hear next on the podcast. And lastly, go and check out the business building hub on my website. There you can find more amazing free resources to help you take the next step in your business. And you can also find out other ways that you can work with me. I'll see you soon.