Get ready for an exciting Summer Series of Interviews with Inspiring Women, starting with none other than the award-winning London-based hotelier and interior designer, Dee Gibson. As the founder of luxury boutique hotel Kalukanda House in Sri Lanka, Dee has made a name for herself in the hospitality industry.
Kalukanda House is newly built, sustainable and design led and the destination has become a pioneer in Sri Lanka for conscious travel with social impact, with $50 per person from each booking being donated to local community projects offering shelter and education to abused women and children. The hotel is also a destination for retreats and wellness experiences for women from the West and East. Dee has recently launched HERA Project X, a series of events and retreats in London and Sri Lanka covering all aspects of self care, wellness and transformation for women everywhere seeking to re-discover themselves and their purpose in an increasingly noisy and marginalised world. Kalukanda House showcases a beautiful circular economy of women supporting women globally, impact travel and is a platform to voice the unsung dynamic and creative side of Sri Lanka.
I first met Dee at a dinner party at the AllBright Mayfair Club over a year ago, where she shared her fascinating story. We instantly connected and bonded over our shared passion for women’s empowerment. When Dee asked me to take her brand photos a year later, I was thrilled to collaborate with such an accomplished and incredible woman. We captured different stories in her stunning London home, and I can’t wait to share them with you. Join me in celebrating the achievements of inspiring women like Dee!
What career did you have before you set up your own business, and what made you start? How did your previous career influences the work you are doing in your business now?
I spent the first 10 years of my postgraduate life in Finance, working in the City, hitting glass ceilings, travelling the world and having a blast much of the time. However, I was a frustrated architect, the thing I had always wanted to be and couldn’t get into for various reasons, so when the opportunity came to switch career in my early 30’s to design, I took it with both hands. It felt a risky move at the time, I felt “too old”, the abject fear of giving up a good salary and experience to start from scratch – but I have never looked back. I gave myself a year to give it a go after retraining and the advantage of having that business training is that it was transportable; I could get set up pretty quickly. Having the confidence to price and pitch for work, strategise how to mine business and so on. I used to think that I had wasted a decade, but I look back, 20+ years into my new career and realise I could use the skills I had gained and that was not wasted time. I was so hungry for change by the time I switched career and I had the maturity to take it on. We are all different and HERA Project X has been set up to help others realise that we are never too old to change tack. It doesn’t need to be a big shift, incremental changes to the way we do things for ourselves can create a fundamental alteration to our happiness and wellbeing.
What was your main source of motivation when you started your own business?
I have always been an artist and creative. I drew constantly, it was my go to activity, but it didn’t feel like I could make that fly as a career. I was good at maths and interested in buildings and environments and so architecture felt a good option aged 18 but I was funneled into a different direction by my parents. I was motivated to switch after the loss of a close friend and my employer went bankrupt through a global financial scandal. While considering life, the universe and everything – the universe threw me a message and a lifeline – I am grateful that I took it.
What did you find hardest? How did you navigate the things you found especially hard — and do you still find these things hard?
The hardest thing was getting out of my own way – imposter syndrome is a real thing. Despite being naturally more creative than anything else, it only took 10 years in finance for my brain to rewire and write a narrative that I was a mathematician and not an artist. It took over 10 years to rewire it back and remind myself that I was following my heart and doing the thing I am best at. I still have these moments of imposter syndome now i am onto my 3rd career of hotelier. But I am a little better at looking back and realising that change is entirely possible. I think we should do that more often and remember the journey to now while also looking at where we want to go.
If you could go back and do it all again, would you do anything differently?
I would have jumped a little earlier – I was cruising the last 5 years of my finance career and thinking about paychecks and rising salaries rather than whether I was happy – which I was not. I wish I had paid attention, but I am very happy with where I am now and don’t see age or whatever others think as a barrier to me anymore.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
“80% yes is a NO”….in other words, follow your gut instinct. And if you don’t know where that is, find it!
How was your experience with the personal brand photoshoot? What made you decide it was time for some personal brand photos?
Petra was fantastic. She talked to me not only about the location but also discussed how/why/where I would use them. She spent time discussing beforehand all of this and potential outfits. I was keen to make the most of the session and maximise flexibilty of the photos I could use as I wear multiple hats so a diverse set of prints is key. I had cut my hair since my last shoot and had been using them alot – I had great use out of them and loved them but it was time for a change. I was excited to work with Petra after our chat and having seen her work.
How have your clients/ potential clients responded to your new branding photos? Has it made a difference in how you show up online for your business?
I’ve had some amazing comments when I use a photo – the results of the shoot have blown me way. There are lots of different looks/facial expressions and outfits and I find it really flexible to be able to use the photos in different formal and informal settings.
Do you have any pearls of wisdom for other women who have just set up their own business or are thinking about it? What’s been most useful to you along the way?
I would say we should never under-estimate how hard it can be. Going into it with open eyes helps set a context on the level of work required to earn every penny. The thing that overrides that 100 fold is being the mistress of your destiny, having full creative control of where you want to take your business and the sense of satisfaction. It’s important to have wise friends who have your best interests at heart to confide in and ask for advice. You need to have people in your life who give you a reality check and a boost as required who you completely trust. I have that and I am eternally grateful to have them in my life!
Who would be your 5 ideal dinner party guests?
GREAT question! Zaha Hadid, Tracey Emin, Minette de Silva, Miriam Margolyes and the late Queen Elizabeth. I’d love a conversation about what it is to be a woman leader in their worlds.
If you were going to write a book, what would it be about?
Expectation and Identity – 2 words that have played a big part in my life to date.
Special offer: Email Dee on email@example.com to find out about offers to book a stay at Kalukanda House and upcoming HERA Project X events. Use code PETRA2023 to request a Friends rate when booking either. If you are a woman in the creative industry please let Dee know as further rate advantages may be available. T&C’s apply.
Are you ready to take your business to the next level with a personal brand photoshoot?
If so, I’m here to help! Together, we can capture the essence of your brand and create images that resonate with your ideal clients. No matter where you are on your journey, I want to celebrate your successes and support you in achieving your goals. Whether you’re looking to increase your visibility, build your brand, or simply showcase your authentic self, I’m here to help.
Let’s chat about your vision and explore how we can create a personalized photoshoot experience that meets your unique needs. Click here to schedule a no-obligation consultation at a time that works for you. I can’t wait to hear from you!