The Vendeur Profile: Joanna Dai
Joanna Dai is the former City worker turned fashion designer changing our expectations of workwear. After the success of her recent London Pop Up shop, we spoke to Joanna about creating a brand that both social responsible, empowering and sustainable.
It’s generally acknowledged that women design well for other women. We see the short falls in what is currently available and seek to fill the gaps in the markets that male designers cannot. So who better to design modern workwear for busy women than Joanna Dai? Originally from South California, Dai graduated from Cornell University with a B.S Degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering. Not the typical CV associated with a CEO of a successful womenswear brand but then Joanna isn’t your typical CEO. We meet on a gloriously hot day at her Pop Up Boutique in Marylebone, London. Even the heat cannot dampen her enthusiasm for the space and the collection as she showed us around. So how did it all start?
‘I wanted to do something more creative,’ Joanna explained. Working in The City in London, she began to question her career trajectory and what she wanted to do with her life. The idea for Dai came to her when she was on a business day trip to Stockholm. After a full day of meetings, on the flight home at 8pm she couldn’t believe how uncomfortable her suit was. ‘My waistband was tight, I couldn’t move my arms in my jacket. I just thought, why doesn’t this feel more like yoga?’ The question led her to the solution. ‘In a time when athleisure is a permanent category why hasn’t anyone tried to use performance fabrics to make workwear?’ So Dai was born. A range of workwear for women, made from technical fabrics that allowed for movement and breathability but were practical to wash, dry and travel with.
After a stint at London College of Fashion and an internship with designer Emilia Wickstead, Joanna felt ready to begin. An obsession with finding the right fabric for her vision lead her to Eurojersey. Based in Italy, the technical jersey fabric is spun in mills that invest heavily in reducing waste and water consumption. The fabrics are also REACH and Oeko-Tex certified to ensure the chemicals used are environmentally responsible. Her first collection was made from Eurojersey, meaning that even the trouser suits have amazing four way stretch and durability. This allows the wearer freedom of movement, not to mention the knowledge that their pieces have been created sustainably.
‘In a time when athleisure is a permanent category why hasn’t anyone tried to use performance fabrics to make workwear?’ – Joanna Dai
Once Joanna got the bug for sustainable fabrics, there was no stopping her. The Pop Up store featured the four exciting innovations that she is currently using in her collections. Moving around the light filled store, she points out each individually, encouraging us to touch the fabrics and feel their stretch. The new Eco Layer on Top is an exciting first in what will be a new collection of Eco Essentials. Created using Micro Modal from Lenzing, the roll neck top is uber soft but thin, making it perfect for layering. Lenzing Modal is carbon neutral, due to the nature of its production. Sustainably managed Beech trees are pulped into liquid form and forced through tiny holes to create a super strong fibres. It’s also fully biodegradable, something incredibly important to Joanna as she seeks to make Dai more circular.
Other fabrics in the range include REVIVE, used to make the Oversize Box Top. A first for Dai, it has been made using ECONYL yarn and 35% elastane to give it a flattering stretch. ‘We are totally aware that the technology currently doesn’t exist to separate the polyamide from the elastane,’ Joanna tells us. However her team are tireless in their search for the best option on the market. She is excited for new technology that will allow her to properly recycle pieces like the Box Top in future. For now, she says, her pieces are created to last. Timeless design, durable fabrics and a simple colour palette make Dai pieces hard working in any women’s wardrobe.
Another innovative addition to the new Collection 4 is a printed Eurojersey. ‘The stripe is our first print,’ Joanna explains as she shows us the Technical Grey Stripe sleeveless blouse. ‘The printing process uses 50% less water and 35% less carbon emissions than a traditional Eurojersey print – which is already reduced compared to other companies.’ Joanna herself is wearing the new 4-Way Trapeze-y Top that can be worn, you’ve guessed it, four different ways. Therefore making it the perfect item to pack for trips. ‘A lot of our customers find our clothes convenient for travel because they don’t wrinkle, they pack small and are versatile.’
‘A lot of our customers find our clothes convenient for travel because they don’t wrinkle, they pack small and are versatile.’ – Joanna Dai
Dai’s mission doesn’t end with sustainable fabrications. ‘I wanted to create my supply chain to be the most sustainable and ethical I can,’ she told us. ‘The concept of the brand is to create clothes that optimise women’s performance at work. We believe in empowering women, it’s part of our social impact vision.’ Dai Wear encourage customers to return gently used pieces they no longer wear which are then donated to women’s causes such a Dress for Success. They also donate a portion of their net proceeds to the charity too.
After the roaring success of the week long pop up in London, which featured a full timetable of talks around sustainability and female empowerment in the workplace, Joanna is riding high. Customer feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. As Dai is sold straight to customers online, Joanna sees the pop up spaces as important relationship builders, a bridge to her customer. The new stripe print has been popular. ‘We’ve had a great response to this new style,’ she tells us. ‘When we start a new style we start small to see what the response is and then we build on that.’ Small production runs keep the processes manageable and sustainable. Plus, due to the timeless nature of the collections, they never go into sale she explains.
Joanna’s enthusiasm for making Dai a circular fashion brand is palpable and explains why the small brand is becoming so well loved. A buzz word in business circles, Dai is the brand made for women by women.
Disclaimer: The people and models in the images featured are not associated with The Vendeur and do not endorse it or the products shown. This post may contain affiliate links. Prices correct at time of publishing.