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Founder Friday: Denise Lee, Founder of Alala

Founder Friday: Denise Lee, Founder of Alala

portrait of Ella Swanstrom
Ella Swanstrom
Brand Coordinator

As a #ByWomenForWomen company, we love celebrating brands that are led by fellow female founders. Our new series, Founder Friday, is a chance to get to know some of these standout women, including our very own Heidi Zak!

As an exercise junkie, Denise Lee saw a missing link in the marketplace for a performance-driven, fashion-forward activewear brand. So in true #bossbabe style, she decided to create it herself. Enter Alala.

Leaning into her entrepreneurial background, Denise built Alala on the premise of female empowerment. Equal parts sophistication and downtown swagger, Alala is all about the balance of form and function. The name “Alala” is inspired by a Greek goddess and signifies a call to arms and all that we aspire to be as modern women. It was important to Denise that she creates a brand that lifted other women up, inspiring them to find their voices, embrace their individuality, and live a life without apology. Alala embodies the “audacious” belief that women can do—and have—it all.

Read on to learn more about Denise and how Alala crushing the luxury athleisure industry—one workout at a time.

Why did you start your company?

None of the activewear brands resonated with me even though I was exercising all the time. I wanted a brand that designed activewear the way I thought it should and could be worn – in a way that was versatile, functional, sophisticated and would make me like a superhero when I was in it.

Tell us about yourself.

I grew up in Singapore and always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. My parents both work for themselves and were always encouraging of me doing something on my own. After business school, I worked for a very successful entrepreneur, and that finally gave me the last push to start Alala on my own.

What was one challenge you overcame during the early days of your company?

Creating apparel is not an easy process. There are so many steps to take to go from idea to sample to a finished garment that is hanging on a rack. One of the early challenges for me was to wrap my head around every single one of those steps in a way that was cost-efficient and fast enough for us to go to market with the idea in a timely way. I did a lot of quick meetings with people from my network in those early days – asking questions as simple as “how do I ship goods from overseas to the USA” or “where do I get a barcode for my hangtag?”

Was there anyone who helped pave the way for your business or your path as an entrepreneur?

There have been so many people who have been generous with their time, knowledge and support over the years. My father has been my greatest guide in all aspects of the business, from financial to emotional to business support.

What are some of the ways entrepreneurs today can help raise and inspire the next generation of women entrepreneurs?

There’s a tendency for everyone to put a shine on being an entrepreneur, especially in this Instagram age. And yes while being an entrepreneur has some amazing moments, I think one thing we can all do more of is tell the truth of what this journey is like, and that is what I aspire to do, whether through social media or in my conversations. This is a hard road, harder than any job I have ever had and the more we talk about the difficulties as well as successes, the easier I think they will be to handle.

Why is it important for entrepreneurs to put time into helping the next generation of women founders?

Because life is not just about your personal achievements and success. It’s about the impact you can have on the people around you. I am a minority, an immigrant, and a woman, and so I feel like as much as I can be a role model for younger women who might be want to be like me, the better the world is for it.

How would you describe yourself in three words?

Driven. Smart. Unfazed.

When and where are you happiest?

When I’m away somewhere on vacation.

If you could give your younger self advice, what would you tell her?

Do what you want to do. Don’t get caught up in what everyone else, even your parents, think you should do or how you should act.

What’s the top song on your playlist right now?

It’s not a “right now” song but when I need to motivate, I love Titanium by David Guetta + Sia.

What is your motto?

Die without regret.

What are the advantages or benefits of being a founder that many people may not realize or know about?

Its a journey of self-discovery that you will never have otherwise. A gift to discover what you are truly made of and how far you can push yourself.

Why is it important to understand both the challenges and benefits of being a founder?

Because every day is going to challenge you and some days might take you close to the breaking point. Knowing that beforehand will hopefully set you up for dealing with it better.

Do you think founders should take time to reflect on the pros, even if they’re constantly putting out fires?

Yes.

Can you share what happened when you finally felt like you were on the other side of the struggle?

Hasn’t happened yet. But I am learning day by day how to appreciate what I have achieved, even though there is so much more to do.

Looking back, what would you have done differently?

Moved faster. Made less excuses.

What does your morning routine look like?

I’m a forced early riser. My most productive time is in the early mornings so I try to get up at 6 am but it doesn’t always happen. I’ve moved my workouts to the evenings to try to free up maximum morning time for creative thinking, setting intentions and getting shit done.

What motivates you to keep going in the toughest of times?

Thinking about how much my dad struggled to give us an amazingly blessed and worry-free life and knowing that whatever I’m going through right now doesn’t compare in the least to what he went through.

What are your favorite ways to practice self-care?

Working out. Spending time with my dog. Sleeping more than 8 hours a night. Infrared sauna. Meeting up with friends to talk about our problems and support each other.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

To stop worrying, because it changes nothing for the better.

What’s the most fulfilling part of your job?

Being able to nurture a team and most importantly being able to have a platform to impact a greater group of people in a positive way.

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