I worked on a market stall & invested £200 in fabric – now I run a 7 figure lingerie company loved by Kendall Jenner | The Sun

A MUM-OF-ONE has told how she went from working on a market stall to founding a celeb-approved lingerie company that's projected to hit seven figures by the end of the year.

Diane Houston, 42, from London, who has a two-year-old daughter, is the founder and CEO of luxury women’s loungewear and lingerie company, Gilda & Pearl.

Since it's launch in 2011, the Hollywood-inspired garments have attracted a huge celebrity fanbase – including the likes of Hailey Bieber, Kendall Jenner, Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss and Margot Robbie.

So it's hard to believe the company, which was founded on the principles it's "made by women, for women," all started after Diane invested just £200 of her savings into fabrics and a market stall.

Speaking exclusively to Fabulous for its International Women's Day Bossing It special, Diane says: "I've always loved vintage films and some of my aunties who worked in vintage shops would always bring interesting bits and pieces home for me."

While she studied law at university in Glasgow, it didn't take Diane long to realise her heart was in fashion.


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"I started working in fashion styling and writing and found a part-time course with the lady who used to make trousseau for the royal family," the businesswoman explains.

"She took me under her wing and taught me how to make lingerie with all of the traditional techniques."

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"I absolutely loved it and started producing a few lingerie pieces and vintage-inspired dresses for private commissions."

In 2008, with her new venture going well, Diane decided to pay for a stall at Portobello Market on a Friday night, where she sold everything from vintage loungewear and dresses to accessories.

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"It started with me investing £200 of my savings from my then job into fabrics and a market stall," she explains.

"I used the fabrics to create vintage-inspired lingerie and loungewear samples on my sewing machine at home, before curating these with some vintage finds of my own."

As the weeks passed, the stall garnered an increasing amount of attention, leading Diane to realise she was very possibly onto something special.

"There were some brutally early mornings," she recalls. "But I started realising that by the end of the day the rails were really bare and I didn't have much stock left at all.

"I was getting a lot of enquiries from press and people buying for stores in London.


1. Listen to trusted advisers and check the factual evidence around you, but in the end, go with the decision you believe is right. There are no secrets, and no one knows your business as well as you do.   

2. You can’t do it alone – build a team that helps you get there. Know yourself, your strengths and weaknesses to bring in the right team. 

3. Read everything you can – business books, industry books, things that might not even seem relevant at all. It’s all too easy to internalise when you are running a business. You'll need a balanced view of the world your business is operating in to make the right choices, and you’ll need to learn lot of new skills.

4. Starting a business is often about thinking differently from others. Trust your instincts – you’re going to come across obstacles and you'll probably have to work extremely hard, but don’t let it stop you.

5. It works both ways, so build your community from the start. Nurture good relationships with colleagues, associates, contacts, clients and supporters of your business – and maybe even mentor other businesses when you are on your feet. You need a network around you – you're learning all the time and also, you just never know when others may be able to help you. 

"It was the interest I was getting and the number of pieces I was selling that made me think this could actually lead onto something bigger.

"But I did it initially purely for the sheer enjoyment of it."

Deciding to focus on building her business, Diane moved into a shared studio with some friends who helped her sew garments throughout the night.

"Because I was getting all these orders and we were fulfilling them together, the Prince's Trust then stepped in and helped fund the next order, which meant we could start working with small production units," she explains.

"It was very much a stage-by-stage growth."

As orders and stock continued to grow, Diane eventually moved into her own premises and employed six members of staff, along with a few freelancers.

In 2011, three years after flogging lingerie on the market stall, Gilda & Pearl was officially founded.

"The first product was the 'How To Marry a Millionaire' laundry set," the mum-of-one says.

"It was a little tongue-in-cheek and very much vintage inspired-glamour but with a modern-British take on it.

"Other products followed quickly after.

"We focused on just lingerie for the first two years and then we added robes and loungewear after that."

It started with me investing £200 of my savings from my then job into fabrics and a market stall

Now, the company sells everything from camisoles and robes to slips, bodysuits and pyjama sets, and is on target to turnover a whopping seven figures by the end of the year.

Gilda & Pearl is currently wholesaling to luxury stores in the UK and the US too – including Harrods and online retailer, Farfetch.

Not to mention the fact it's gained a legion of celebrity fans, who have helped to raise the brand’s profile in the last few years.

While Kendall Jenner wore the 'Diana babydoll' to the Casamigos Halloween bash in Las Vegas, Kylie looked the epitome of relaxed glamour in the 'Mia' robe.

Elsewhere, Margot Robbie donned the 'Rita' collection for a British Vogue cover story and fashion icon Naomi Campbell was snapped looking stunning in the 'Harlow' tie-side knicker and bra.

Hailey Bieber was also spotted getting ready in 'Celeste' during a make-up tutorial for American Vogue.

“Sometimes a friend or someone we've worked with in the past will text and tell me they've just seen so and so in my robe this morning and it's like 'oh wow,'" says Diane.

"Sometimes you don't even know they've got hold of it so it's really wonderful and a huge help for the brand."

As for the company's best-selling garments, Diane says it's "anything with feathers."

She adds: "All of our feathers are strictly upcycled so they're all only bi-products of the food industry.

"The 'Camille silk and feather long robe' has been a really big seller and that costs £1180, along with the 'Diana collection' – with the robe costing £390 and the thong £70."

The garments are all made in the UK and go through an intricate design process, hence the luxury price points.

"We try and support skills that have been passed through the generations and the business as well," Diane explains.

"For example, we work with a French weaver and that's actually woven onto antique 19th century lace.

There were some brutally early mornings on the market stall but I started realising that by the end of the day the rails were really bare and I didn't have much stock left at all

"Over half of our garments are produced within a 25 mile radius of our headquarters and everything is made in the UK.

"We reinvest our business costs into the local community.

"It's never mass-produced – it'll be a small team of one of six seamstresses and it'll be cut by hand."

She describes her customers as: "Someone who has an appreciation of design, quality and an awareness of where the garment comes from in terms of people and planet.

"They just like something that's truly glamorous on the inside as well as out."

Speaking on International Women's Day, Diane adds: "Our designs are all about putting something on to make you feel amazing.

"We're about beautiful fabrics, and some of our lingerie is lined in the inside in silk, so these sorts of details are focused on the wearer.

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"The silk robes and pyjamas are all about going home and slipping something amazing on in the house that just elevates your downtime.

"We're very much focused on the woman who is wearing the garments."

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