The “athleisure” trend has created a major new fashion category – upgrading the styling of gym wear and making it an everyday clothing option. Now you can you look fiercest whether crushing your next boxing workout or meeting the girls at Sweetgreen for lunch. While Lululemon and many other new entrants compete in this space, for me there’s only Alala. I was lucky enough to speak with Denise Lee, the founder of Alala, on all things athleisure and her secrets to success! Read on for more…
FO40: Denise, tell me a little bit about your life before Alala?
DL: I grew up in Singapore in a family of entrepreneurs. I moved to Chicago for college and then to New York to pursue my love of retail and marketing. After attending NYU Stern School of Business, I worked for a retail entrepreneur in brand development and venture capital and that’s where I gained the knowledge and inspiration to start Alala.
FO40: What made you want to start your own fitness brand?
DL: I was training for a triathlon in 2012 and was working out 6 days a week. As someone who loved fashion, I tried looking for active wear that I could be excited to wear, but to no avail. There wasn’t anything in the market that I thought reflected my sense of New York style. That’s where the idea for Alala came about.
FO40: What does Alala stand for?
DL: Alala is the name of a Greek goddess and it represents a battle-cry. I chose the name as a rallying call for all the women who are chasing their dreams and exceeding their own expectations every day.
FO40: How did you feel about quitting your job and going out on your own?
DL: Excited and a little terrified! It felt like it was what I was meant to do, but also like I was stepping off a cliff!
FO40: What has been your biggest challenge and your greatest accomplishment so far?
DL: One of our biggest challenges is how to stand out in a very crowded marketplace, differentiate ourselves from our competitors, and connect with our customers. My team and I work on refining the Alala brand every day through every brand touch point, whether it’s a piece of clothing, a hangtag, an email, or a photo on Instagram. We always strive to make sure we remain relevant to our customers. Our greatest accomplishment is… everything! Being in business, striving and thriving. Most new businesses fail in their first year, and we just celebrated our third birthday. I consider every sale, every new employee added to our team, and every new customer who tries and loves Alala a source of pride.
FO40: Your brand is sold by many major retailers. How did you get them to carry Alala?
DL: It’s not easy- and not everyone signs on to carry us. My team and I work hard at building distribution relationships and a network of believers. We are fortunate to now be stocked at some of the best stores in the athleisure space, like Bandier, Carbon38, Revolve, Lane Crawford, Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom.
FO40: What do you use as inspiration for your clothing designs?
DL: We are inspired by the energy and style of New York City women. There’s a sophistication and an edge to the way they dress- they have an ability to make a look completely their own.
FO40: What advice do you have to other women looking to start their own business?
DL: Do your research, and don’t let fear stop you from trying. Before I started Alala, I did a lot of research into the active wear space and I became convinced that there was a space that we could fill. At the same time, I didn’t have sales experience- or design experience! I didn’t let that stop me though from going after my dream. I recruited a great team along the way, and even though we made a lot of mistakes (and still do!), we never stop forging ahead.
FO40: Is there any advice that you were given by a colleague, mentor or family member that has helped you be successful?
DL: My mentor, Chris, always said: “It’s better to make a quick bad decision than a slow good one.” While this might sound counterintuitive, it speaks to an idea that is really important to how I run my business: momentum. As an entrepreneur, you never have all the answers and rarely do you make a decision with 100% certainty. If you choose to overanalyze, you are going to grind your business to a halt. Taking risks and trusting your gut instincts to keep your business moving forward – that’s way better than analyzing a situation to death in my opinion.
FO40: What is next for Alala?
DL: A lot! New styles, new product lines, new marketing campaigns – we aim to delight our customers. There’s a lot in the pipeline to look forward to for 2017!
For more on Denise and her amazing line, visit www.alalastyle.com