52 Interesting People: Alala CEO Denise Lee

Staying active is a way of life for us and it is no secret that we are obsessed with finding stylish new activewear brands to sport during our favorite workouts. We have stumbled upon dozens of brands over the years but one really seems to stand out above the rest to us and that is Alala. We have worn multiple outfits by Alala on the blog and on our Instagram feed (which you have probably seen), not only because they are super fashion forward but also because they actually feel good when you are working out. Since we are able to try out so many different brands, we feel that it is our job to share what works and what isn’t worth your money and let us tell you, Alala is a brand worth investing in

Alala Fitness Blogger

Our partnership with Alala has grown over the past few months from styling a few of their outfits to being able to interview the CEO and Founder, Denise Lee. She is truly creating some of the best activewear in the business and we are so excited to share our exclusive interview with her and a sneak peak of what is hitting stores this Fall! We hope you enjoy!

Denise Lee - Alala

1. How did Alala come about? What was your vision and goal when you started?

I was training for a triathlon and was working out every day. I wanted to get some better looking workout clothes because personally, I feel more motivated when I like the way I look in my gear. When I started shopping around, I didn’t see anything that I really liked – everything looked the same and wasn’t exciting. That’s when I started thinking that there was an opportunity in well designed, fashion forward, functional activewear and that’s how I decided to start Alala. Also, at the time I had the idea of Alala, I was working for a retail entrepreneur, so I was exposed so every part of the retail business and learned a lot about starting a brand. That gave me the confidence to go out and do it on my own.

As any entrepreneur will tell you, there are so many things to figure out when starting your own business – from big-picture strategic decisions to the most basic administrative tasks. Knowing what to tackle when is something I had to figure out through trial and error. Thankfully through my past work experience, I had met many entrepreneurs and spoke with them about their stories and advice, so I had a roadmap for how to start a business.

We launched in Spring 2014 and were one of the first new premium activewear brands in the market. Even in the beginning, we’ve always had a very clear brand and product aesthetic, and I think this has helped us stand out from the competition. You can look at our pieces and know that they’re Alala and that you’re getting great style and quality from us. We’ve also built healthy relationships with our key retailers and that’s helped us become a brand that they want to carry season after season.

2. Alala seemed to be ahead of the athleisure explosion and athletic luxury trend, how did you know that there was a need for high-end athletic gear?

We launched Alala right when the awareness around activewear began to grow. Part of it was great timing and good luck, but I also spent eight months doing market research from the time I had my “aha” moment to deciding to leave my job and making our first hire. That research helped me gain confidence that my vision for a high-end activewear line would resonate with the marketplace.

Liquid leggings Alala

3. Alala began only a few years ago and now everyone is wearing your gear from influencers to well-known celebrities all around the world. What do you attribute your quick success to?

Thanks! We have worked really hard to create a beautiful line of great products. Not only do they function well but they are fashion forward, and our customers really respond to the innovation and novelty that Alala produces every season. We also take the time to listen to our customer’s feedback and create relationships with them, and that has helped us grow as well.

4. What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken? 

Starting the business was a huge risk for me. I gave up a great job and lifestyle to do something completely new and different, something I had never done before and didn’t know for sure whether it would succeed. I had to raise money from friends and family to start the business, and that’s a huge responsibility to know that they took a chance on me and that one day I have to pay that back. However, it was a calculated risk – I understood the marketplace and my target customer, developed a business plan and recruited the right partners to work with me. It wasn’t like jumping into a black hole.

5. What are some of your favorite pieces for fall?

I’m obsessed with our new Liquid Captain Ankle Tights – they are made of a shiny spandex but look super sophisticated. We also have some beautiful neoprene and puffer jackets this season that will elevate any activewear outfit.

Alala activewear

6. What trends can we look forward to in the athletic market in the future? 

We’re really excited to always be working with new technical fabrics and shapes – I think there’s so much potential in activewear design. For spring next year we are pushing the boundaries of fashion and function with some new active outfit pairings too, different than the bra + leggings combos that we’ve been seeing a lot of (but still love) !

7. What is your favorite way to stay in shape? 

I love Kayla Itsines Bikini Body Guide — it’s only 28 minutes long but it’s really effective. My team and I do her workouts at the office a few times a week before we start work!

On weekdays, I like to get my workouts in first thing in the morning –  I usually take a class before I head to the office. On the weekends, I catch up on my business reading (Business of Fashion, WWD & Fast Company) in the mornings.

I like to make plans to workout with a friend—- the accountability factor is high and I rarely skip a class if I know someone is going to meet me there, and give me a hard time if I don’t show up !

Alala fitness

8. If you had one piece of advice for someone who is looking to start their own business, what would it be? 

It’s better to make a quick bad decision than a slow good one.

Sounds a little contradictory but I’m a perfectionist and I could spend forever trying to figure out a problem. As an entrepreneur though, sometimes efficiency and momentum is more important than a perfect decision. More often than not, your first gut reaction is the right one anyway so don’t lose steam always trying to figure out the 100% right answer.

9. What has been the biggest challenge while building the Alala brand?

It’s keeping myself and the Alala team on our toes. I want us to keep innovating and keep exploring new ideas. It’s so easy to fall into a routine of doing things the way we’ve been doing them, but I think that’s when things start going downhill. I’m always encouraging us to think out of the box, be creative, and that’s not always easy considering how much work is on everyone’s plate! But from finding efficiencies in the way we work to exploring new fabrics and silhouettes for a new collection, to being nimble and executing new projects on tiny budgets and tight timelines. For example our customized legging project we launched in April, I think the creative challenge is also our biggest opportunity.

Alala fall line

10. People are focused on their fitness and health more than ever now and there are so many more options for attractive activewear, what do you see is next for the fitness industry?

Worldwide growth — we’re at the forefront of wellness innovation here in the US, especially in New York and California. As more people integrate fitness and wellness into their everyday lives, we will see much more acceptance of activewear as a way of dressing, which is very exciting for us!

11. What sets Alala apart from your competitors and what’s next for the Alala brand?

Alala really delivers on both the style and sport — our fabrics perform great and our designs are very fashion forward. We have developed a great relationship with our customers and work really hard to give them what they want, and new things they never knew they wanted! We are focused right now on perfecting our products and really growing our brand in every way.

Shop our favorite Alala looks below:

xo

Sarah and Michelle

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