“We were so naïve”: Deborah Fiddy on starting a bed-linen brand from scratch

·3-min read
Photo credit: Courtesy
Photo credit: Courtesy

The idea for Gingerlily came about when Deborah Fiddy’s Singaporean neighbour mentioned that she’d heard good things about silk-filled duvets, which were not yet available in the UK and Europe. Fiddy wasn’t working at the time, having left her previous job as an in-house lawyer at Harrods to focus on looking after her two children. “We did some research, and the next thing we knew, we were on a plane to Shanghai!” she recalls. The pair found a factory that was prepared to manufacture a small run of the duvets (the minimum order was 500) and deliver them to Fiddy’s home in the UK. “I was living in Clapham down a very narrow one-way road, and this articulated lorry turned up. The driver asked me, ‘Where’s your forklift, where’s your warehouse?’, and proceeded to unload boxes and boxes of duvets,” she says, laughing. “We were so naïve, we didn’t have a clue – we just knew we loved the product.”

This was back in 2003 – and fortunately, Fiddy’s instinct was to prove correct. After initially selling Gingerlily’s signature product – one silk duvet, available in three different weights – at home shows, she and her business partner built a website and invested in warehouse space in south-west London. They gradually expanded the range to include silk-filled pillows, bed linen and accessories, while building the wholesale side of the business in Europe and the Middle East.

The pandemic unexpectedly yielded more opportunities than challenges for Gingerlily, as consumers found themselves with the time, and in some cases the resources, to lavish care on their interiors. “People were clearly investing in making their homes more comfortable,” says Fiddy. “All our products are hypoallergenic, and there was a real shift towards healthier, more sustainable materials, as well as beautiful designs.” That willingness to spend on homeware is a trend that has, happily, continued beyond the pandemic: the company’s sales at Harrods, its biggest UK retailer, are up 301 per cent year-on-year, with the UK wholesale market up 95 per cent.

With plans for further expansion into the US this year, as well as a new collaboration with Madeaux Home, the brand is growing faster than ever. Here, Fiddy shares some of the lessons she has learnt about running an international business…

1/ Get to know your supply chain

“We have a really strong relationship with one particular factory in China – we went out a lot to visit them. As a result, they feel like our business is their business, and they don’t want to let us down. It’s crucial to invest in those relationships early.”

2/ Be prepared to travel

“It’s a very different experience setting up a business in the US – first of all, you have to establish a company, and no one will talk to you unless you have warehousing on the ground. My COO Huw [Bussell] is constantly going back and forth because having a presence out there is important. The US was, and remains, the fastest-growing market for us – we launched in Bloomingdale’s in 2017, where we’re continually a top seller, and went into Saks this year.”

3/ Sometimes you have to spend money to make money

“Brexit was challenging – a lot of our partners really lost faith in UK companies, even though we’d built up great relationships. In a way, it was like starting over – we set up a hub with warehouses in the Netherlands, which was a big outlay, but we couldn’t afford to lose that chunk of the business, so it was the right thing to do. Similarly, during the pandemic, we could see a lot of people were buying from the US on our UK website, so we invested in launching a dedicated website for our American customers – we knew from the strong sales that it would be worth the outlay.”

4/ Trust your instincts

“Go with your gut – every single decision I make is based on my instinct and is never trend-led.”

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