An ex-banker launches a fashion startup that makes luxurious women’s suits and shift dresses that live up to 18-hour days at the office.In her former life as a banking executive, Joanna Dai sometimes worked 18-hour days and regularly walked out of 10-hour flights directly into business meetings.
She was up to the rigors of her high-powered job, but her clothes weren’t. Her expensive, tailored suits and beautiful silk dresses would be a sweaty, crumpled mess after a long day. “There are plenty of brands that sell beautiful, well-made clothes that you can wear to the office,” Dai says. “But they don’t seem particularly well-suited to the way we work today.”So, with no experience in fashion whatsoever, Dai decided to create a new clothing label focused on inventing the workwear of the future. Dai, who studied electrical and computer engineering in college before spending a decade at Bear Stearns and J.P. Morgan, wasn’t particularly worried about her lack of design experience. She took a two-week course at the London College of Fashion and then interned for designer Emilia Wickstead. And last year, she launched an eponymous brand, Dai, in London. She personally designed every piece in the collection. “In some ways, I think the fact that I did not spend a lot of time in the fashion industry was an asset,” she says. “I didn’t feel constrained by industry norms.”
One industry norm she’s tackled head-on is what materials can go into luxury garments. The luxury industry focuses on using premium fabrics like top-shelf silk, cotton, and linens. These fabrics are beautiful and well-made, but after a few hours, they tend to crease, wrinkle, and stain, which doesn’t look very polished or professional. Dai wanted to experiment with incorporating some of the most technical fabrics on the market–the kind that activewear brands use in their performance gear–into high-end professional clothing. So while the outfits have classic workwear silhouettes, when you put them on, they feel a lot more like the clothes you wear to the gym. The clothes in her line start at $115 for a simple shell blouse, which puts it squarely in the entry luxury category and at a similar price point as competitors like Theory, MM.Lafleur, and Hugo Boss.