Trusting Your Inner Voice: A Q&A with Alala Founder and CEO Denise Lee
Brands x Better is a coalition of like-minded companies fostering stability in a time of crisis. We asked 10 members of the Brands x Better family a few questions about what they do, why they were drawn to BxB, and what this pandemic has meant to their company. Up next is Alala, high-end women's designer activewear. We caught up with founder Denise Lee to learn more about Alala's core values, who has inspired her, advice she has for other entrepreneurs. Here's what she had to say.
Tell us how Alala came to be. What is your origin story?
I was fortunate to start my career when “business casual” was really building momentum in New York City. I was working in a pretty progressive environment. We were given the enviable freedom to work from home as needed and the opportunity to dress down on those days was really convenient. Way more in line with my personal style.
On my remote days, I would keep up my daily routine of going to the gym in the morning then laptop in-hand head to the local coffee shop to pick up Wi-Fi. The day would usually speed by and before I knew it, it was time to meet up with friends for happy hour. This meant getting creative about wardrobe choices that would allow me to go all day.
Over time I noticed my closet wasn’t really about the hanging pieces, it was about the folded pieces: leggings, tanks, bra tops, and sweat tops. Interesting, right? The next thing I noticed was just blacks, grays, and whites staring back at me. So I become obsessed with testing out ways to infuse textures and interesting patterns to switch things up: oversized sweatshirt, layering tanks, colorful running shoes.
At the same time, social media was exploding with girls showing how they were embracing this high low style. So I decided I couldn’t stand by any longer. I wanted to spearhead the next phase of this new All-Day style movement. Alala was launched in the spring of 2014.
What are your Alala’s core values? Do you have a mission statement? If so, what is it?
Here are some of our core values:
Put Customers First
The only judge of our success is our customer, period.
Speak the Truth
Transparency builds trust, and trust builds love.
Commit to Inclusion
Be yourself. Build together.
At Rhone we talk a lot about our customer’s pursuit of progress. How do you feel like you as a company help your customer progress?
Our customer is a powerful woman and is active in championing causes she believes in. As a brand that serves her, we have always been committed to the discussion and furthering of women's issues. We believe that we have an obligation to use our platform to advance the issues that are important to her.
What motivated you to join Brands x Better?
From when this crisis began, we wanted to find ways to give back. When the opportunity to join the BxB coalition came along, we jumped at the opportunity, because not only can we give back, but we are doing it on a scale that makes a significant impact.
As a member of Brands x Better, you have pledged to donate 10% of your proceeds until May 1. What charity are you donating to and how and why did you choose that charity?
We are donating to No Kid Hungry and Citymeals. It was a team decision to choose these two charities. We felt strongly that we wanted to help those who are least able to help themselves.
If you had one piece of advice to give to young entrepreneurs what would you say to them?
Trust your inner voice. Looking back at when I started, I wish I had trusted my gut more. I still believed there was a certain way to do business, and I listened to people who were more experienced than me. When in reality, if I had listened to my gut more, I think I would have gotten to some goals faster.
What’s one of the hardest obstacles you’ve overcome as a company and how did it shape what your company is today?
This current crisis is by far the hardest thing I’ve had to handle as a CEO. Everything else pales in comparison. It’s hard to say how we will come out of it, but I am proud of the actions we’ve taken in the last few months.
What’s one takeaway you’ve had as a company during this recent pandemic?
That we are a resilient, committed team, even when we are apart, and we can do amazing work even when we face some huge challenges.
What mentors and influencers have been important in Alala’s success?
My dad has always been my mentor - he is a businessman and an entrepreneur himself, so I trust his opinions and insights. He has also been in the apparel business for many years so he has a lot of practical knowledge that I lean on too.
What’s your favorite product you’ve ever made and why?
The Captain Tight has been an Alala signature tight since our first season. It’s my favorite style because it was our first ever bestseller and even 6 years later, still looks sleek and sophisticated.