LCF alumni Diane Houston graduated from the BA Fashion Contour and later launched her lingerie and nightwear brand Gilda & Pearl, entirely produced in the United Kingdom. Diane started her career with a stall on Portobello market and now her brand is stocked across the world. Diane shared her journey leading her to LCF, her start in the fashion industry, the launch of her brand and the advice she would give new students.
Did you always know you wanted to work in fashion?
I’ve always been obsessed with fashion and fabrics. My first fashion memory is ‘borrowing’ jewellery and accessories from my mother - or anyone who visited our house. I would wear as many of them as I could, all at the one time. I would have been around four years old, and I was given my first sewing machine a couple of years later.
Tell us a bit about your creative journey. How did you end up studying at LCF?
I signed up to go to university in my hometown of Glasgow when I was only 16. Fashion degrees there were limited at that time. I chose to study Human Rights Law. The whole time I was studying though, I had a job in fashion retail, I interned in the fashion section of a magazine, and I took garment construction classes every chance I could.
When I graduated, I found the postgraduate course at London College of Fashion, it seemed like the perfect next step for me to get to London and really focus on creativity.
Luckily, I’d built up enough work in a portfolio by then, and I was accepted after a pretty tough interview.
How was your experience doing a postgraduate course at LCF?
Amazing - the lecturers had such great experience in industry, and we learned a lot of practical skills also. They were always honest but also so encouraging, and it really opened new doors for me. Immediately after the course, I freelanced in fashion editorial and had a stall at London’s Portobello Market. The early starts were brutal, but I adored bringing all kinds of vintage pieces together with my own designs, which were inspired by vintage costume and loungewear. A few of my designs appeared in the press after that, and I started meeting with department stores. I basically just worked extremely hard every minute, I went full time on Gilda & Pearl at 27.
You’ve launched a successful lingerie brand, could you tell us more about the process of creation?
I’m inspired by so many things around me - it could be a new fabric from a lacemaker, a beautiful print, a costume from vintage film, or a vintage nightwear piece. It’s always an ongoing process. Gilda & Pearl creates lingerie to love and many pieces are designed to be worn indoors or out - they’re always a combination of vintage, luxury, femininity and fun.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve encountered as an entrepreneur?
I am very lucky to have had people around me who believed I could do what I am doing from the outset - lecturers, colleagues, close friends and family .
It’s important to believe in yourself because going it alone isn’t always the easiest path, and you have to have a lot of creativity as well as the ability to focus and turn negatives into positives.
Fashion is a very tough industry financially - the pace is relentless and it can be hard to scale up - particularly when it comes to wholesale - without capital in place. But I do believe that with hard work, love for what you’re doing and a little luck, you find a way. I was very fortunate to find support through the Prince's Trust and, later, through a great team of investors.
What piece of advice can you give to new talent entering the fashion industry looking to make a positive impact?
You really have to work hard and also trust your own instincts. Listen to advice, but don’t feel you have to necessarily follow others. What makes you unique is the most valuable thing you have, and what works for someone else might not work for you.
Any risks or decisions I’ve taken in business have been calculated ones of course - but some of the best ones have started out as instinct.
At the end of the day, everybody makes mistakes as well, but these too can be a positive thing that shows you something new. It’s how you handle them that matters.
Lastly, it’s good to treat other people the way you would want to be treated, and, more than ever, to be mindful of the impact that you are having and what you could be doing better - be that with regards to your entire supply chain, or the environment and people immediately around you.