Five Minutes with the Founder

Joanna Dai, Founder, Dai

Today we meet Joanna Dai, founder of Dai: performance wear for women who mean business. Joanna, who is an advocate and thought leader on environmental sustainability and gender equality, tells us the story of how she founded her brand, and where she sees it in 10 years time.
23rd Mar 2020
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Five Minutes with the Founder  Joanna Dai, Founder, Dai

TELL US THE STORY OF HOW YOU BUILT YOUR BRAND I worked eight years of very long days in investment banking and experienced first-hand the importance of how we look and feel to empower our confidence, especially as women in male dominated fields. I saw a huge gap in the market where women’s workwear was concerned: it was all made from traditional fabrics that were restrictive and high maintenance, and very few options offered performance, comfort and function.

My eureka moment came I was on a same-day work trip to Stockholm. I got dressed at 4:30am and was on the last return flight home 16 hours later after a long day of meetings. The waistband was digging in, I couldn’t move my arms, and I wished I were in my yoga leggings. I thought to myself, “could workwear feel like yogawear and still look like a power suit?”

It was 2016 and athleisure had totally boomed, so with all these technical fabrics readily available on the market, it was obvious to me that there was an opportunity to innovate and revolutionise workwear with fabrics that were 4-way stretch, breathable, wrinkle resistant and machine washable. In a leap of faith, I left my comfortable job in finance and gave myself a crash course in fashion. I took design and pattern cutting courses at London College of Fashion and did a 3-month unpaid internship with Emilia Wickstead, who I knew from when she designed my wedding dress.

I went to Premiere Vision and sourced over 60 technical fabrics, tested all of them for tailoring construction and selected the best to create our first collection. I bootstrapped using my savings and launched in July 2017, and we just took off.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO SET UP YOUR BUSINESS IN THE LUXURY SECTOR? Our designs are rooted in a timeless aesthetic. Every style is meant to be a versatile, functional investment piece and created to last. As I reflected on my own relationship with my wardrobe, my favourite pieces were premium or luxury items which stood the test of time, from brands whose values were ingrained in quality and craftsmanship. We only use premium manufacturers in the EU while our products are priced as direct-to-consumer and without the middleman mark-up so everyday women can access premium quality.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE THING ABOUT YOUR JOB? I love all the unpredictable ways I learn about stories and experiences in Dai clothing out in the wild. It’s so rewarding to see our vision and products making impact in the real world. Most recently, a Telegraph editor reached out - not because we had a PR agent - but because her finance friend raved about how she biked to work, crushed an 11-hour work day, and then biked to drinks in Soho all in her Dai dress.

WHAT AND/OR WHO IS YOUR SOURCE OF INSPIRATION AND MOTIVATION? Every day I am inspired by our Dai women – the ambitious, bold and intelligent modern-day female. At the core of our brand and our mission is designing for what our customer needs so that she’s most empowered to perform her best. When we look good, we feel confident and we make impact. For us, this means always pushing the envelope on innovative fabrics meeting comfortable, functional design in a way that is environmentally responsible for our planet.

IF YOU COULD HAVE ANY OTHER JOB IN THE WORLD WHAT WOULD IT BE? I’d want to be Elon Musk. I think his vision to achieve both clean energy through transportation and the advancement of space exploration are revolutionary and pioneering for our time. I believe clean energy is mandatory for our future, and I’ve always had a nerdy obsession with astrophysics, cosmology and space travel, and Elon has successfully managed to do both.

IF YOU COULD DO SOMETHING DIFFERENTLY IN YOUR CAREER WHAT WOULD IT BE? I made a very big career pivot from finance to fashion after eight years in investment banking. Looking back, I sometimes wish I would have realised this sooner and started pursuing my purpose and building my vision earlier in my professional life, but I believe everything in life happens for a reason and my career is unfolding exactly as it should.

WHERE DO YOU SEE YOURSELF AND YOUR COMPANY IN 10 YEARS’ TIME? We will be the go-to global brand for sustainable comfort and performance across multiple categories and be the gold standard company with a 360-degree approach for environmental responsibility and social impact. We will have a B Corp score above 125. I will continue to be an advocate and thought leader on environmental sustainability and gender equality.

WHAT DOES SUCCESS LOOK LIKE TO YOU? Success is the intersection of understanding your true purpose and making impact that fulfils that purpose. It’s easy to define success by some external recognition but if it doesn’t bring personal fulfilment, it’s meaningless.

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR ANY YOUNG ENTREPRENEURS LOOKING TO START THEIR OWN BUSINESS? If you’re really passionate about an idea and it keeps you up at night, do it. Naivety is bliss. But it’s a roller-coaster, and the moments that teeter on the edge of failure are real. Your unwavering purpose and true why need to be strong enough because that’s your source of raw grit and hustle that will carry you through.

WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST LUXURY UNDER £10? A full 8+ hour night’s sleep.