Denise Lee, #AlalaStyle

Welcome to the new fit.

Pilates? Yoga? Spinning? Soul-Cylcer (yes, that’s different than spinning they will tell you)? Running? Boxing? Whatever your athletic musings are you’ll need to make sure you’re showing up ready.

One gal, Denise Lee, is making sure you not only show up, but look good too when you do. Her new fitness clothing brand is Alala, promising quality, functionality, and taste (psst jump down to see how she came up with the name)!

Denise is a first time entrepreneur taking a crack at the game of fashion retailing. She’s not a newbie to the industry though, after serving under retail mogul Chris Burch for many years, she decided she was ready to pursue her dream and do it herself, her way.  I met Denise while I was on the road fundraising for my first startup, Thread. Small world, we not only had mutual friends in common but our husbands were already friends. Soon after meeting with her at Burch Creative / C Wonder, she let me in on her next (now) career move.

“The experience and exposure I received at Burch Creative Capital was crucial to my decision to leave and start my own company. Working for Chris gave me an amazing foundation in what it takes to start a retail business.”

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I was curious to find out how she prepared for this leap of faith and what was her inspiration behind building a fitness clothing brand, one of the hottest markets now a days!

“I was training for a triathlon two years ago and was working out six days a week. I started looking for stylish workout wear and couldn’t find anything that fit with my style. That started the wheels turning!”

Let’s take a peek at what’s on her desk at her brand new studio!

  • Fabric swatches for upcoming inspiration, planning, and design
  • Beautiful packaging
  • Samples from her latest collection
  • Alala’s lead designer
  • Denise’s initials beautifully engraved on her trusty date book
  • Lots of Poppin supplies (a Chris Burch brainchild)

Her days are split up between packing online orders (they’re starting off so doing it yourself is the key to success!), providing creative direction for the upcoming collection with her lead designer, and hustling to get Alala into a fast and growing wholesale distribution system.  They’re already at Equinox stores to start! I joked with her if “lunch”  was on her to-do list or else she’d forget to eat- something startup entrepreneurs share in common.

“I’m lucky that my parents are both successful entrepreneurs, so they were very supportive of my decision to strike out on my own. Even better, my father used to own a business in the garment industry so he gives me a lot of practical advice too!”

 

Denise’s work bag, err gym bag of choice, is her Hermes Birkin! Most of us could not imagine placing our sneakers into this covetable handbag, but Denise does so effortlessly like a pro. Sunglasses of choice? Celine.

“It is when I want to dress up my jeans and tees, but it’s a little heavy for me to use every day. I use my beat up old Proenza Schouler PS1 or Goyard totes a lot.”

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 The office “dress code” of Nike sneakers are not mandatory but it sure looks that way!

On growing up

Q. Where did you grow up? What did you want to be when you were a little kid?
I grew up in Singapore and lived there till I moved to Chicago for college. I’ve always loved fashion and always wanted to start my own business – so I’m fortunate enough to be doing what I dreamed of. My other dream as a kid was to have a job where I could ride horses all day long. I’d still like to make that part of my life one day! 

On working for Chris Burch

Q. What did you learn working with Chris Burch?
Chris was an amazing boss and still is a mentor to me. He taught me so much in my three years working side by side with him. One of the learnings that I use every day is that it’s all about the customer. Everything we do is to try and make the customer experience the best it can be. 
 (darn, she didn’t give me any gossip!)

On startup challenges

Q. What were your initial challenges in starting this company? Did you know anything about starting a business?
As any entrepreneur will tell you, there are so many things to figure out when starting your own business – from big picture strategic decisions, to the most basic administrative tasks. Knowing what to tackle when is something I had to figure out through trial and error. Thankfully through my experience working at BCC, I had met many entrepreneurs and heard their stories and advice, as well as had the opportunity to launch our internal brands with a small team, so yes, I had a roadmap for how to start a business.

On branding

Q. Who created your logo? What was that process like- finding the perfect logo / name.

The process of finding a name is not an easy one! It was a matter of finding something that I liked, then checking if I could secure the trademarks and .coms. I fell in love with the name Alala – we’re named after a Greek goddess and the name stands for a battle cry.

For our logo and branding, I worked with a small agency owned by my first-ever boss, Tom Jarrold. I had worked with him, and most of his agency team, when we were all at Armani Exchange together. It was really great to collaborate again on Alala. I loved the symmetry of the name and that was our starting point for developing the branding.

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On building a team

Q. How did you find your designer since you aren’t a designer yourself?

I found my designer on Linked In! When I decided to launch the brand, finding a designer was my top priority. I pursued a few different avenues, but finally found Christie on a group on LinkedIn. I’ve been very fortunate because she’s amazing and we really get along!! 

On balancing work and home life

Q. How has entrepreneurship changed your marriage, if it has? Share.

Elliot, my husband, is my number one supporter! We both work long hours so we see each other less these days, but it just makes the time we do spend together more special. 

On her personal style

Q. What’s your philosophy on style?

Make it your own! These days, I have a uniform of tees, skinny jeans and Alala pieces, but I also love to experiment with trends and interpreting them my own way. It should be fun and I believe that loving the way you look has such a huge impact on your mood.

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Fun fact, remember that Birkin work bag?

Not my first, but my favorite Hermes handbag is my black Birkin. Every girl dreams of having one and I was lucky enough to receive it as a wedding gift from Chris, who had it special ordered from Paris. A man after my own heart!! It’s definitely a special and sentimental piece for me. 
I had such a fun time visiting Denise.The mood boards are art in itself. It made me nostalgic with That’s Foxy and running my own e-commerce company!
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