In the next inspiring interview for our Brand Transformation campaign, we meet Dee Gibson is an interior designer at Velvet Orange who transformed her brand by entering into the luxury travel market when she bought a stunning villa in Sri Lanka.
Tell us a bit about who you were before the change? What was your personal brand (i.e. how other people perceived you). What were you known for? How would you compare today’s version of you to the one before?
Before impulsively, crazily buying the land in Sri Lanka I was working on residential projects in London and feeling a little frustrated with my work life. I love my clients but had hit a bit of a creative impasse and I was excited to have signed up for an 8 month photography course starting post holiday. Getting to Sri Lanka with my family was a deep yearning I had had for some time, but my family had never been and they were not that excited at the time. I think I was seen as capable, driven, and creative – I don’t think I had a personal brand – apart from being perceived as very good at what I do and determined (from what I am told). I probably didn’t stand out from the crowd too much as there are a lot of great designers around.
Tell us where you are now and how your brand has changed?
Today I am writing this 22 months after we first saw the plot. The villa has been built and we are already taking guests and running a few immersive experiences. I think I am perceived differently now – my creativity is more at the forefront of my brand, I get things done to a high standard, and I think I am seen a bit more as a force to be reckoned with in the design arena. I do a lot of photography and get asked to do a few event shoots and other bits and pieces – this more rounded repertoire of creativity has also helped me as I am now seen more as multi-disciplined. My brand is (perhaps?) more polished, and the Sri Lankan connection is very much pushed to the front of all of it – it was never a consideration before.
What made you think you needed to change? Was it a bolt of lightning moment or did it happen over time?
Total bolt out of the blue – but I am highly impulsive and go with my gut instinct/fall in love with an idea, commit and worry about the “how” etc. afterwards!
How did you set things in motion? Did you leap in or make the change in increments?
Most of my big decisions I make are impulsive – or rather I will grab an opportunity if it presents itself, I will do everything in my power to make something happen. Although looking back at old planning journals the Sri Lanka idea was written in pencil over 6 years ago – before even my family knew I wanted to take them there! So I guess it was a change that I wanted somewhere in the back of my mind, but it felt like a very sudden action.
What was the reaction of others? Did they support you or did they resist the change?
Generally everybody was very supportive, some were more surprised than others – some more genuinely happy than others. It took a while to tell people as I had to absorb it myself. Once the cat was out of the bag though, I ran with it and blogging about it was a nice way of including everybody. I think they liked reading about it and started to understand that I really had a genuine, deep seated passion and connection with Sri Lanka – I had never talked about it before, so the blog helped them see it was something that actually was not such a daft idea for me to take on, and I was going to make it work.
What was your most valuable resource/what kept you going?
We had the most brilliant builders. It is so important to have a good team with you – managing it remotely was tricky at times but it was made infinitely easier by having a rapport with my contractors and a deep trust that remains to this day. They are now good friends. My husband and girls were utterly invaluable and incredibly supportive, they never flinched in their belief in me. I kept going because I had to – we had a financial commitment and the project had to finish in a timely way so we could start making bookings!
How do you feel now that you’ve made the change?
I LOVE it! I would never have thought I could achieve so much, on such a whim. I look back now and wonder how on earth it happened – but I do believe in fate. As someone said to me, this is a “love” project. The stars aligned. This plot was meant to be bought and rejuvenated as it has been and by me – now my plans just keep getting bigger and bigger, I can’t seem to stop.
What’s your advice to anyone contemplating something similar?
Be prepared to take at least a year out of your life to manage the project properly – you can’t do a proper job if you have other focusses. Do your plans, get your costs in upfront and know exactly what you are getting into before you embark – it makes it so much easier to deal with inevitable hiccups. Get a good team in, and then ENJOY every moment of it. See every hurdle as a challenge. See every opportunity as a fateful decision that has to be a “yes”. What an enormous privilege to work abroad on our own project – I am grateful every single day and I have not taken any of the people or events for granted. I would do it all again in a heartbeat.
Thanks for the inspiring inverview, Dee!