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Dai founder Joanna Dai on

Here are Red Online we are big advocates of the capsule wardrobe. In recent years, we’ve been stripping it back to basics, buying less and buying better. And, in the process, we’ve discovered a plethora of beautiful independent fashion brands, designing investment pieces from more sustainable fabrics that will last a lifetime.

On our journey to improve our shopping habits, we discovered B Corp certified, London-based label Dai. Founded in 2017 by California native Joanna Dai, the fashion brand prides itself on being purpose-driven, empowering women to look and feel their best in comfortable yet stylish staples crafted from easy-care fabrics with the planet in mind.

From its workwear essentials (invest in the Liberty Trousers, and thank us later), to chic knits and midi dresses that will take you from the office to the weekend, it’s quickly becoming one of our go-to destinations for basics that look polished yet feel like activewear – because tailored trousers can look smart and feel like yoga leggings, who knew?!

Red Online sat down with Joanna Dai to get an insight into her career so far. From the highs and lows of business, to the challenges that come with building a brand for people and the planet. Plus, Joanna gives us behind-the-scenes access, sharing an insight into her working day – check out her Day In The Life video below.

Tell us about the moment you came up with the idea for Dai

JD: “I was eight years into investment banking, working really long hours, with lots of travel and wearing suits that just weren’t comfortable. One day, I had a 4am cab pickup for the first flight out of Heathrow to Stockholm. I spent the day running around meetings, and then boarded the last flight home that night. As I sat down in my seat, I wished I was wearing my yoga leggings. And, I thought to myself: ‘Can this feel like yoga and look like a power suit?’ That’s when I came up with the idea for Dai. I had no idea how to bring that to life. It was a six month journey before I found myself enrolling in the London College of Fashion, studying in design and pattern making. From there, I gained the confidence to really go for it and give it a try.”

What’s been your career highlight so far?

JD: “The whole Dai journey has been a highlight. Being able to create a brand from scratch with a purpose that we can share with our community. Getting a B Crop certification with a score of 97.4, and being a part of that overall fashion ecosystem where we can show what responsible manufacturing looks like, that is really rewarding.”

What’s been the biggest challenge so far?

JD: “The early days spring to mind. Those moments when your printer breaks down and there’s no-one you can call to fix it except yourself. Building the business up in those days were challenging. The product manufacturing side of things was a bit of a surprise. And, we’re still always thinking about where our impact lies and how we can educate our consumers, but really it all starts with our product and our use of materials.”

What’s one piece of advice you wish you could give ourself at the start of this journey?

JD: “It’s hard, because you don’t know what you don’t know at that time. I had all the right intentions for building a brand that had a positive impact for people and the planet. But, now I’m really interested in our responsibility and what that impact will be in five years time. There are some products that I’m not proud of any more from the early days, because we’ve come so far since with our manufacturing and craftsmanship, that I wouldn’t want another woman to experience that. I want her to experience the latest technology that we’ve developed. We’re now thinking how we can use those materials. While it’s not at scale, and not something people want to hear, it shows the intention of the business.”

Marija Vainilaviciute

How do you find a work-life balance?

JD: “It’s hard to switch off, even when I’m not working at my computer I’m thinking about the brand and getting inspiration from everywhere. Boundaries for me are switching off after dinner, definitely taking the weekends off unless I absolutely need to do something for a deadline. We encourage the team to do the same and on Fridays, if people feel they are no longer productive after 2:30pm we encourage them to sign off and start their weekend early so they come in feeling fresh on Monday. There’s nothing worse that counting down the clock on a Friday, and feeling like you have to stay online even if you’re not getting anything done. I’m also doing a yoga teacher training programme. I have six months to go, and that forces me to do two and a half hours of yoga every week, so it’s great to have that in my life.”

What does a typical work week look like for you?

JD: “It’s very varied. For example, today after our chat I’m giving a talk on fashion and sustainability. Sometimes I work full days in Surrey with our pattern maker to try on and test products which is always really fun. I get really involved in the marketing, I still work on all the copywriting and tone of voice for the brand which is a creative outlet for me. Other times, I have board and investor meetings or strategic finance work to do. It’s a good balance of creativity and innovation with operations.”

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What do you enjoy most about your job?

JD: “There are parts of the business that are unique to me, that only I can provide the vision or direction for. So, it’s really important I clear my time for those so we can really drive the business forward. Plus, they give me a lot of positive energy.”

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How do you come up with ideas for products?

JD: “It’s not just fashion for us, we want clothes that perform well. It’s the performance of the clothes that empower the performance of the women. Underpinning all of our designs is a beautiful aesthetic that’s elegant, but we also consider aspects like comfort, sustainability, function, versatility (can you have at least three excuses to wear it, whether that’s to work, on the weekend, to a wedding or even to the gym). Every product we design, we look at what body shapes it would suit. We go through the questioning ‘what if I had bigger a bigger bust?’ or ‘what if I was an apple shape?’ so we can make sure our products suit a range of body shapes.

“Once we’re happy with the fit, aesthetic, sample and fabric, we go into testing with a size set. We test across the product development team, and I try them out. Recently I was testing our first skinny jeans which have been 10 months in the making. We had a few failed samples, now it finally looks good I have to make sure it performs. I went to a climbing gym to see if they really do offer the stretch that they need.”

What’s next for Dai?

JD: “We’re in the final testing stages of our new skinny jeans. When we launched Performance Denim in 2021, it was incredible. The Straight Leg Indigo was sold at 86% after the first three weeks so we quickly ordered more. There’s been a shift from skinny to straight in recent years, but I think a skinny jean will always be in, it makes woman feel good. We’re launching a curve style in our Power Move design, and petite styles in our bestselling pieces which our customers have been asking for.”

What are your top tips for budding female entrepreneurs?

JD: “Keep going. If you’re driven by a purpose and a really brilliant idea, you just need to keep going. Keep talking about it and testing it at the early stages. If you give it a try, there’s always more to gain in terms of the lessons you’ll learn. Purse your passion and purse your purpose.”

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