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In October 1999, Diane Linston opened a boutique with $5,000 from a friend. She says her friend took the money out of her 401K plan, “and we just turned this little rinky-dink place into an elegant boutique.”

Fifteen years later, Linston has shut down the 22×15’ storefront as well as a second boutique she opened to focus on designing rather than retailing. And she’s used a $10,000 loan she received from the City of Cleveland to grow her business. “I went to China and I found a manufacturing company,” Linston shares, explaining how she spent some of the loan.

But even though she’s enjoyed working with her overseas manufacturer since 2007, Linston has her sights set on full control of her garments’ production.

We asked the emerging designer how she got to where she is — and where in the world she plans to go.

MadameNoire: What is your background in fashion?

Diane Linston: I have really almost 20 years in customer service and retail. I was the assistant manager at a Wilson Leather store. I was the assistant manager at Lane Bryant. After I graduated from [Virginia Marti] college, I became an assistant merchandise planner at Things Remembered. [While I was at Things Remembered], it just so happened we came about my first boutique store… a storefront down the street from where I live.

MN: How long did you have your store before you decided to close down and focus on designing?

DL: In 2007, I opened up another boutique in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. It was short-lived, because I had partnered with somebody else and that was just not a good thing for me, but it just made me realize that when these people were coming in the store, they were really liking my fashion. So I literally closed both boutiques and I concentrated specifically on being a designer putting my merchandise in other people’s boutiques. Not being knowledgeable at all, I thought, ‘I’ma go into Macy’s and Dillard’s and those department stores,’ not realizing it didn’t work like that. [Having learned from] all the mistakes that I made, I was able to get a lot of funding through the city of Cleveland. I took that funding and I went to China and I started, my first collection [after] finding a good manufacturing company. And I’ve been working with that company ever since.

MN: So you still manufacture in China, but also manufacture here?

DL: I have two collections.  One of them is the NGU Designs, and then one of them is called DYL, The Diane Linston Collection. [The warehouse in China] manufactures my more high-end [line, NGU].

MN: Why is it important to you to manufacture your garments yourself?

DL: I wanted to just take control of my own garments. When the clothes are shipped to different boutiques, I want to make sure that the buttons are on, the zippers are working.

It is [also more convenient having my own warehouse capabilities], because when [I’m] communicating [with the warehouse in China] and going back and forth, it takes so long. Everything just has to be right from fabric to where this button is going to go when you’re dealing with the company that I deal with in China. It takes so long and sometimes communication can become a big factor.

MN: Is it your goal to take on more of the production yourself in the future?

DL: That’s what we’re starting to look at. Our goal is, next year around this time to have a really big, huge warehouse and office space.

Shop Linston’s designs on

Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond is the author of the novel Powder Necklace and founder of the blog People Who Write. Follow her on Twitter @nanaekua.

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