In celebration of International Women's Day, we speak to Joanna Dai, Founder of ethical fashion brand Joanna Dai Limited, based at E1 Studios in Whitechapel. She shares her entrepreneurial journey, along with tips and advice for female founders.

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How did your entrepreneurial journey begin and what were you doing before you launched Joanna Dai Limited?

Before I launched Joanna Joanna Dai Limited, I was an investment banker at JP Morgan in New York and London. Long hours, really busy days, and a lot of travel in uncomfortable clothes pushed me to find a solution for the working woman. There were so many times that the tag or the lining on a garment would scratch or my skirt would ride up. It got frustrating and I wanted to change it.

I saw a gap in the market for comfortable, versatile, easy to care for clothes that didn't wrinkle when you got on the plane or sat down for hours in a meeting. That's how the idea for Joanna Dai Limited came about. I had a vision that the company would enable women to wear high-performance clothes that would empower them to perform at their very best. I eventually took the leap and began working on that vision and bringing it to life.

What does Joanna Dai Limited do and what's its USP?

The whole premise of launching the brand was to do something of value. I was stuck in the banking guild for so long that it was all about money and I wanted to change people’s lives instead.

Clothes can be restrictive when you're trying to be a modern career woman making your personal brand and impression on the world. When speaking, women shouldn't be distracted by some little detail in their clothes restricting them. Through the comfort, quality and performance clothes, Joanna Dai Limited is unique in the fact that it helps women be their best, confident self and fully perform in their jobs and in their lives.

But, beyond the clothes themselves, I actively look to support, collaborate with or partner with Dress For Success Greater London, women's networks and general women's organisations. It's very much about contributing to the community as a whole.


What's been the biggest learning curve on your start-up journey?

I'd say the product side. A lot goes into the garment construction and technical side of producing a high-quality, premium product. That's something I had no previous experience in at all, so I held my breath and threw myself into the world of fashion. I took a course at the London College of Fashion in design and pattern-cutting. I then went off to do an un-paid fashion internship with Amelia Whitstead. This was ultimately my introduction to fashion.

How have you assembled the right team around you?

At the London College of Fashion, I was able to find Marion Thomas, a super 30-year-experienced luxury women’s pattern-cutter, garment technologist, head of production and head of product development. This helped the Joanna Dai Limited concept really fall into place and has been critical to the success of the product. For me, it was a lucky find. Often, you'll come across great people when you throw yourself into your industry of choice. I found her through the learning process and launching myself into fashion.

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Have you noticed any personality traits in yourself that have helped you excel in business?

Probably perseverance. I guess people around me would say I'm a hustler (laughter) or a warrior - I just don't give up! For me, this means thinking of creative ways to overcome hurdles, not feeling defeated, and not giving up. I like to think I always push to make my vision come alive or whatever task at hand come into fruition.

Sure, the entrepreneurial journey can be a rollercoaster, but it's about having faith that you can do something when in reality a lot of previous entrepreneurs will tell you how hard it is. As an entrepreneur, I think you have to be a real optimist. I doubt a realist or a pessimist would take that first bold step in the first place.

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What would you be doing if you weren't running Joanna Dai Limited?

I think I would have left banking just to get a different experience, probably with a consumer-tech enabled company. I thought if Joanna Dai Limited didn't work out maybe I could apply for a job at Amazon Fashion because they're trying to disrupt. They're extremely innovative on the technology side of things. Or I might've joined another start-up to really roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty in building a fresh business. The idea of gaining entrepreneurial experience has always been an exciting one.

Being a female entrepreneur, what has been your biggest challenge so far and what would your advice be for the future female entrepreneurs out there?

My initial reaction is there shouldn't be male entrepreneurs and female entrepreneurs, we're all just entrepreneurs. That's how everybody that we interact with on the journey should look at us without a differentiation. I may not represent the majority population of female entrepreneurs out there in the fact that I haven't experience the same unconscious biases or struggles a lot of female entrepreneurs face in setting up companies in male-dominated spheres. However, my advice would be keep pushing, persevering and believing in your mission and vision. Only you as that entrepreneur has that vision and that is what makes the whole proposition unique in adding value to society and to people - men and women.

Don't be shy about genuinely raising the topic if you're experiencing gender biases. I'd suggest opening up that dialogue. In the era of #metoo it's time that these are conversations are approached openly.

Is there anything else you'd add to encourage more women to launch their own business?

There's always going to be an element of fear. Launching your own business is taking a blind leap of faith. But, if your idea excites you and it's all you can think about, you only live once - go for it. No one else is going to do it. No one else will have the exact same vision that you have. In the very early stages, get feedback from friends, family and market research. This can be key to really shaping your idea going forward. Tweak and adapt it as you go along. This will build your own confidence in your idea.


What podcast would you recommend for fellow entrepreneurs?

How I built this, Guy Raz. This tells the stories behind some of the world's best-known companies. It's great.


What's on your bookshelf?            

Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike, by Phil Knight. It's a beautifully written book in a way that it almost makes it sound like fiction. It spans the time before he founded Nike to 18 years into his start-up journey. At numerous times, he was on the brink of failing but it shows the real grit that goes into creating a successful business. It was a very motivating reality check for me. I thought if he could survive such challenges, I have to keep going - this is just the beginning.

Read more about Joanna Dai's story and other fashion brands pushing for ethical operations and transparency in business. Also, check out what experts, including Joanna, discussed at our WBI event A Fashion Revolution: The future of the industry and your wardrobe

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