We love sharing insights to the creative industry incorporating all aspects of design and innovation. Recently Editor Natasha had the pleasure to talk to Joanna Dai, founder of fashion label DAI on her inspirations and advice on entering a creative career.
Founder Joanna’s vision is to offer women the perfect blend of style, function, quality and value. The fashion label DAI represents performance wear for the professional woman with smart, technical fabrics blended with elegant tailoring and modern design.
Joanna, please give us a little insight into your creative background.
I didn’t take the traditional path to becoming a creative as in, while most creatives studied the arts in university, I studied engineering and subsequently had an 8-year career in investment banking. My mom now shows me my childhood art projects which I had forgotten about, and they show I could draw and had a point of view. When I left banking, I rediscovered drawing which led to a series of watercolour paintings of everyday things and travels. From there, I studied fashion design and pattern-making at London College of Fashion which taught me there are no boundaries for creative design and gave me the foundations for tailoring, style lines and dart manipulations.
What was the main influence for starting your own label?
My influence is the population of high-performing working women, especially in male-dominated professions such as finance, legal, consulting, tech, and so on. It is true that the female population faces attrition, or decline, going into the mid-level ranks. One of the main drivers is a balance between career ambitions and maternity, and each woman must prioritise within the realities of her work and personal life. I genuinely want to see more women retained and succeed. I want to create a brand of not just impactful styles for women, but a platform and community that advances the dialogue for working women and gives back to women’s organisations.
Describe your key inspirations for your design and concepts?
Timeless silhouettes from the 40s, 50s and 60s modernised by clean lines and geometric angles created by minimal architecture and shadows. Overlay onto this the element of thoughtful functionality, such as spacious hidden pockets to fit a large smartphone, foldable cuffs to roll up or down, and our detachable bow on the blouse to easily transition and style up or down.
What is the essence of your label?
Smart, technical fabrics combined with elegant tailoring and minimal aesthetic. Designs are clean yet thoughtfully functional and seamlessly versatile. Easy-to-wear pieces that are transitional from day-to-night and every scenario in between. An advocate for sustainability and social impact.
Why does your brand stand out in this competitive industry?
I saw athleisure take off and smarter textile technology readily accessible for leisurewear. So I questioned if I could create a solution for working women – one that is technical yet tailored. I believe comfort is confidence, and confidence is key to optimising performance and presence.
The use of smart, technical fabrics is not commonplace in women’s workwear market. I’ve seen the technical trousers as a one-off in a few places, but I wanted to introduce to the market an entire capsule collection that is fashion-focused, design-led and technical. That includes 5 dress designs, our blazer and blouse (and of course, trousers). Our main technical fabric has attributes including 4-way stretch, breathability, extra comfort, wrinkle release and several styles can be machine washable.
Our position on sustainability and social impact is another standout in the competitive landscape. There are high-end sustainable brands such as Maiyet and Stella McCartney, and high street’s introduction of ethical practices and collections. The average consumer still probably thinks eco-fashion is a shade of natural off-white and for hippies. I believe sustainability is beyond just raw materials, and stems from the core of the brand ethos which feeds into decisions across the supply chain and beyond. In our commitment to advocating for women, we are committed to donating a portion of net profits to organisations which support women.
Are there enough opportunities for emerging designers to showcase their designs and enter this competitive industry?
I think the traditional route of breaking into fashion as an emerging designer is extremely challenging, costly and saturated. Aligned with our commitment to a sustainable supply chain, Dai sells direct-to-consumer so without the traditional retail markup. This allows us to maintain the premium quality and craftsmanship at contemporary prices for our customers. This also means an overhaul in our grassroots marketing efforts with our consumers, real professional women, via a series of trunkshows and events. Digital marketing and social media today is also an effective tool for emerging designers to showcase their own platform.
Is the fashion industry campaigning enough for boutique labels and recognising emerging talent?
The initiatives are established such as BFC’s NewGen program, CFDA’s equivalent program and LVMH Prize. The spotlight on Graduate Fashion Week in London is also encouraging. I think these programs are searching for the next visionary with avantgarde design. I am a designer with a focus on creativity and also functionality, and a clearly defined target demographic. So I would align my brand more with the new generation of startups that are direct-to-consumer, consumer experience focused, and e-commerce driven. I hope the gap for my product and message of my brand would be recognised by the fashion industry.
Describe is your ideal customer?
The fashion-conscious, high-performing professional woman who values presence, ease and function.
What has been your most memorable success to date?
The reaction of real women to the products have been positive and validating. A few quotes from our fittings with real women have included, “the pants feel amazing, there’s nothing like it”, “the jacket is so strong and comfortable”, and “the collection is so bloody good.”
What has been the most challenging stage when bringing your fashion label into the industry?
One of my biggest challenges is budget. It has been entirely self-funded out of my savings. While I sourced premium raw materials and top ateliers in London to develop the products, I bootstrapped everything on a shoestring budget. I constantly had very humbling open conversations with talented freelancers and suppliers around my situation and vision, and am very thankful for the goodwill people have shown me along the journey.
What is your fashion label’s signature style?
Clean, minimal aesthetic with strong tailoring and thoughtful function. Large discreet pockets. Subtle yet elegant details like exposed rose gold or gold zips.
Describe are the key images you want to portray when people see or hear your brand name?
Calm, confident, and elegant woman, moving, effortlessly.
On a personal note, how would you describe your style?
Less is more. I love clean design and timeless silhouettes with subtly interesting or modernised details. Pockets always – I even prioritised this on my Emilia Wickstead wedding dress. On my casual days, cut-off vintage Levi shorts and a cropped vintage tee with Rainbows. Even after years in NY and London, I still can’t shake the California comfort and ease out of me.
What is your hope for the future of the label?
I hope to create a brand that is beyond just impactful pieces for women, but a platform and community for women, sustainability, and social impact. My goal is to apply for B Corporation, the certification for a new type of company that uses the power of business to solve social and environmental problems.
British Style Society would like to thank Joanna for chatting with us and giving us an insight into the industry. We can’t wait to see what the future holds for this fabulous label.