Meet Joanna Dai, the Entrepreneur Designing “Feels-Like-Yoga” Power Suits for Women Who Mean Business

Meet Joanna Dai, the Entrepreneur Designing “Feels-Like-Yoga” Power Suits for Women Who Mean Business

In 2016 she swapped in the corporate boardroom for the creative atelier. The conventional office might be crumbling, but banker-turned-entrepreneur Joanna Dai is on a mission to empower working women through their wardrobes, one high-performance garment at a time.

Dai’s path to fashion design isn’t so ordinary. She
didn’t spend her late teens cobbling together an off-the-wall
graduate collection or burning the midnight oil as a seamstress at
a Parisian fashion house. Instead, she dived headfirst into the
world of finance, working her way up the corporate ladder, from
analyst to Vice President at J.P. Morgan.

She’d known since the first summer she spent interning at a bank
in New
that the working woman’s wardrobe – for the most part
scratchy, crinkly and exhaustively uncomfortable – was a huge
barrier to professional advancement. And so, in 2016, she left the
corporate world behind and enrolled on a womenswear course at
London College of Fashion with the aim of making “feels-like-yoga”
workwear that was as faultlessly stylish as it was versatile.

After a brief internship at Emilia Wickstead, Joanna launched
Dai in 2017.
Quickly, it gained traction, with on-the-go women in metropolises
across the world hankering for a pair of Dai’s now legendary
trousers. Over the past few years, the collection’s grown from a
small capsule collection to a lifestyle brand with eco-friendly
fabrics and principles at its core.

Here, Joanna shares her expert insight into launching a
business, packing for a trip, where SUITCASE
readers must visit in London
and New York, and the future of workwear in a world of
Zoom-mediated office drinks and non-stop

Since founding Dai, what has been your proudest

We’re three years in and I still think our trajectory forever
changed two months after our soft launch when The Times published a
full feature article called “I Found the Perfect Trousers”. We sold
out before I woke up, it nearly crashed our site which I was
debugging myself, and I was fielding volumes of customer service
requests the entire weekend as the only full-time employee. Looking
back, it was incredibly validating to witness my vision of
“feels-like-yoga-but-looks-like-a-power-suit” get endorsed so
readily by thousands of real women.

Our work routines have been hugely disrupted in 2020. How do
you see the future of the professional working woman’s

The working woman’s wardrobe will have to be that much more
versatile and the concept of a capsule wardrobe will be more
relevant than ever. Our designs will need to take her from the
office office to her home office to her commute to the school run
to evening events to weekend occasions and more. Equally,
sustainability will become increasingly important. I think we all
realised during lockdown that we value quality over quantity, and
at Dai we’re always pushing boundaries when it comes to
sustainability and the circular economy.

Can you remember the worst item of workwear you’ve ever

Where to begin? Probably the first ever suit I wore for my
summer banking internship in New York City. It was made of this
non-stretchy wool that wrinkled within minutes of putting it on and
was unbearable in the
NYC summer
humidity. I didn’t feel confident or like myself.
While I’ve tried to curate a working wardrobe that reflects my
personal style, I still feel like high-performing fabrics are
lacking in the market. So, 13 years after my first suit memory,
here we are with Dai.

Which destinations have inspired your work the most?

In terms of style and attitude, New York. The city and the
people are fast-paced, modern and ambitious. In terms of comfort,
SoCal. I grew up in Orange County, California and always
appreciated the effortless ease that came with the sunny beach
lifestyle. In terms of design aesthetic, it’s a blend of London’s
Savile Row tailoring, Scandinavian minimalism and Parisian

Where would you say SUITCASE readers must visit when in New

Start in Tribeca for brunch, walk west towards the Hudson River
until you hit the shops and restaurants spilling out of Tribeca’s
old warehouses. Stroll up the Hudson River Parkway, duck out on any
street in West Village and get lost exploring the little shops,
cafés and restaurants. Finish for a drink and shopping in
Meatpacking District. Oh, how I miss pre-lockdown New York!

Where are your favourite spots in London to decompress after a
long day of work?

Running is my jam. You’ll probably find me
along the River Thames, through St James’ Park and
Green Park, along Regent’s Canal or doing laps around Victoria
Park. We’re based in East London and I love our local watering
holes in
, such as The Buxton and The Culpeper.

Any hacks when packing for a work trip?

This is my bread and butter. I usually wear our wide-leg,
elasticated waistband Collateral Pant for the flight because they feel like
pyjamas but are chic and ready to roll off the plane and into any
meeting. I love our Trail Blazer as my in-flight layer; it’s also
meeting-ready and the passport/ smartphone inside-breast pockets
are a bonus for conveniently passing through all the airport
points. It folds up wrinkle-free in your suitcase too. If you wear
your work clothes in-transit, you create so much room in your
carry-on luggage for fun after-hours pieces, a change of shoes or
your gym kit.

What advice would you give to women keen to launch their own
enterprises but unsure where to begin?

If you’re really passionate about an idea – so much so that it
keeps you up at night – you should seriously consider at least the
first steps in pursuing it. Do more research, start networking and
speaking to experts in the space, and do the work before you invest
money into it. The rollercoaster is real. The grass is not
necessarily greener on the other side and it is really hard work in
ways you cannot even imagine. The moments on the edge of failure
are real and terrifying, and you will feel like you want to quit.
So before you begin, you have to identify your purpose, your true
“why?”, and this needs to be unwavering and strong enough because
that’s the grit that will carry you through the toughest

Where do you see Dai 10 years from now?

We believe the world is better when women succeed and our vision
is to deliver comfort-empowered performance. In 10 years’ time, Dai
will be a global go-to brand of performance wear leading the way in
innovation and sustainability across categories that empower
comfort and performance for women who mean business.

Can you share three things that you’re obsessed with right

The Daily podcast from The New York Times is a great 30-minute
feed of what you need to know with lots of credible experts and
quality reporting. I’ve been cooking a lot more during lockdown,
particularly recipes from my talented friend Yasmin Fahr’s
cookbook, Keeping It Simple, which launched just before lockdown.
It’s great for delicious 30-minute meals, many of which are one-pot
with a handful of ingredients. On the culinary theme, I’m also
obsessed with negroni sbagliato, a cocktail made from Campari,
sweet vermouth, prosecco and ice. Add an orange peel too, if you’re
feeling fancy.

And finally, what’s in your SUITCASE?

I’m always plugged in to work, so my laptop along with a tangle
of chargers. I usually throw in a few bikinis, my running kit,
white Birkenstocks, my Sarah Haran leather camera bag – which is
small but deceptively roomy – and a couple of books. I’m currently
reading Educated by Tara Westover and Eating the Big Fish by Adam
Morgan. It goes without saying that I always have my Dai Explorer face mask and a locked-and-loaded squirty
hand sanitiser ready to go.

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