THE world knows Singapore as a vibrant destination and bustling business hub. But let’s not forget what makes this nation tick: our people. These are the stories of the Little Red Book, featuring aspiring Singaporean individuals who have taken their dreams and brought it to an international stage.
“We designed the Alala brand to go from the gym to the street, to empower women in every situation.”
WHO: Denise Lee, founder of Alala athletic wear brand
WHERE: New York City
HER PASSION: Designing quality and fashionable athleisure wear that can be worn from the gym to the streets
Behind the successful label of Alala, a global activewear brand, is savvy Singaporean businesswoman Denise Lee. Her brand is inspired by the bustling and energetic cities of Singapore and New York City, whose women are always on the go.
Its range, made from performance fabrics, is built for efficiency and versatility, and aims to represent a message of confidence and strength. “[They can] be worn all day, from going to morning yoga class, to work in the afternoon, to picking up your kids after school, all the way through to meeting your friends for dinner,” says Denise.
Her own lifestyle is not unlike the Alala ideal she designs for. On any given day, you might find her overseeing a scheduled photoshoot at one moment and critiquing the new season’s design the next.
LIFE IN ANOTHER CITY
Fashion and entrepreneurship were always a part of her Singaporean upbringing . Her father was an independent garment manufacturer and her mother, an interior designer. Alala is a blend of those sensibilities, buoyed by sheer grit.
She left Singapore when she was 19 for Northwestern University in Chicago. After graduating, she went on to business school at New York University before working at Armani Exchange as an assistant marketing manager.
Her next job: a three-year stint as the right-hand woman of entrepreneur Chris Burch, co-founder of fashion label Tory Burch, as well as US retail brands, C. Wonder and Poppin.
Armed with know-how of what it takes to launch a brand, sustain it and make it profitable, she’s driven Alala to success. The label has an online store — alalastyle.com — and is also at more than 100 stockists, including major US retailers Bloomingdale’s and Neiman Marcus. The sweat-wicking workout wear is also a favourite of celebrities from Jessica Alba to Naomi Watts.
Living alone in a foreign city like New York was initially challenging. “I didn’t recognise all the TV show and music references my friends were making. But as time went on, I found my group and made connections, which were what truly made me comfortable being in New York.”
The scariest part for Denise was jumping off the precipice of the familiar into the unknown. “I gained a lot of confidence from the people around me – my parents, the rest of my family, my former boss. They all encouraged me to pursue my passion and to live my dream, and I think having them behind me was what helped me take that leap.”
“Most people don’t realise how difficult it is to start your own business. It is a rollercoaster every day, every hour, and it takes a certain level of confidence and mental strength.”
She constantly strives for the next level of excellence but has her feet firmly rooted in reality. “The journey of getting here over the last four years has been incredible, and I cherish every moment. But I wouldn’t say that I feel like I’ve accomplished my dream yet.”
More than being remembered as a great business woman, she says, what would give her the most joy would be to make her mark as a leader who nurtured her team – the people who worked with her to help make her passion possible.