Denise Lee is the founder and CEO of Alala, a luxury fitness line where the function of activewear meets New York’s downtown aesthetic. While training for the 2012 Montauk Sprint Triathlon, the former VP of business development at Burch Creative Capital noticed the market’s blasé approach to activewear and set her sights on creating more stylish options with former Champion designer, Christie Orlando. Earlier this year, Alala launched in over 20 locations of New York-based fitness club Equinox.
Before launching Alala, what were you up to?
Before launching Alala, I worked for retail visionary, Chris Burch, for three years as the VP of Business Development, after graduating from business school. During that period, several small teams and us worked to launch brands like C. Wonder and Poppin. Part of my job was to shadow Chris at meetings and when he travelled for business in order to advise him and provide follow up for our partners. Through that, I was exposed to an incredible breadth of experiences, which gave me a solid foundation on understanding how to build a successful business. I also managed Chris’ start-up retail investments. I met many designers and entrepreneurs and evaluated their businesses in order to make investment decisions. Needless to say, I apply those same principles to measuring the success of my own business today.
What was missing from the activewear market specifically that inspired this collection?
I wanted to start a line that authentically combined the function of activewear with the downtown NY aesthetic that many women across the country and the globe have adopted as their everyday uniform.
The line is currently sold in 27 Equinox stores – is this limiting at all to the gym-to-dinner ethos?
We are sold at Equinox and other high-end fitness stores, but also in ready-to-wear boutiques. I don’t think it’s limiting at all – the Equinox woman is a woman on the go and I know she can wear our pieces both while working out but also to and from whatever else she has planned.
How did you meet Christie, your design partner?
Christie and I met through the magic of technology! By that, I mean we met on LinkedIn via a posting I put up looking for a designer. We hit it off right at the beginning and have been working together for more than a year now – I think we make a great team.
Do you find any resistance from women about spending $70 on a sports bra?
No. I think our customers appreciate the quality and design that we offer in our bras and throughout our entire collection.
What special fabrics or unique design features are you using?
We spend a lot of time selecting our fabrics, both for performance and also to reflect our design aesthetic. Our customers fall in love with our fabrics when they put our gear on because they feel amazing against the body and look luxurious and sophisticated. Almost all our fabrics are technical in nature – they have sweat-wicking properties and are machine washable.
Why did you choose Canada for production?
We liked the proximity of Canada for us to be able to monitor the production process closely. Our factory partner has been making activewear for more than 20 years so they understand the importance of the technical elements included in our designs, but are experienced enough to deliver against our design needs as well. For Fall, we will start producing select styles in New York City, which I’m very excited about.
How will you be expanding the line in the seasons to come?
We see so much opportunity for Alala in terms of expanding our product assortment into different categories. As a young brand, for the next few seasons we’ll be focusing on perfecting the basics in the Alala woman’s wardrobe and offering her more fashionality in her activewear, maybe with a few surprises along the way!
The category has grown quite a bit – who are your main competitors?
Everyone and no one. Yes, the category has grown and there are some major players involved, but I still see a lot of opportunity for expansion and growth. I think that we are building a brand with a strong point of view that our customers can really relate to, and that’s really exciting.
Do you think women should be wearing sportswear for the entire day?
I think women should wear whatever they feel great in, whether that be our workout gear, or a pencil skirt and heels. I’m a big believer in looking good to feel good, so whatever works for you!