LONDON — London-based label Dai had workwear and in-person events at its core, ever since Joanna Dai, a former investment banker, founded the brand in 2017 to bring women together and offer them comfortable tailoring.
When the pandemic hit, she was in the middle of raising a new investment round — and against the odds — closed it, with backers including Tom Singh, founder of New Look; Jonathan Heilbron, former chief executive officer of Thomas Pink; banker Arnaud Massenet, and Redrice Ventures, which earlier this month unveiled a new, 50 million-pound fund to back digital-first brands and marketplaces.
Dai also pivoted its offer from work to work-from-home wear — with less tailoring and more jumpsuits, basic T-shirts or relaxed, elasticated trousers. In addition, it gave up the lease on its Spitalfields store in east London.
Now, as restrictions ease across the U.K. and with non-essential retail having reopened on April 12, Dai is back with a new store at 11 King’s Road and renewed confidence in its mission to offer the kind of sustainable, hassle-free clothing women need to ease back into the world.
“It’s not back to work, it’s back to life. There are going to be higher expectations on comfort no matter what a woman’s new work situation is going to be and we are so perfectly positioned to capture comfort,” said Dai who, when she worked as a banker, spent long days wearing uncomfortable tailoring in boardrooms and planes.
“That’s why we exist in the first place and we’ve got all the design and fabrics innovations to deliver that,” she added. Her aim is to offer professional women sleek office wear options, be it shirts with four-way stretch or tailored trousers that are designed to be as comfortable as yoga leggings.
“You might be in a boardroom full of senior men, and when it’s your turn to speak, you don’t want to be thinking that your waistband is sticking in,” she added.
Prices range from 50 pounds for a top to 495 pounds for a tailored blazer.
Dai is also a firm believer in the power of physical retail, and offered her take on what a post-lockdown concept should look like. That’s why the brand’s new King’s Road store is as much about community and socializing as it is selling product.
The store includes a workout space in the basement — for women to test the brand’s claims that its trousers are as comfortable as yoga leggings — a coffee bar and community boards where customers can leave handwritten notes.
Education is another big part of the space, which includes walls with graphics outlining different female body shapes and the corresponding trouser silhouettes that will most flatter each shape.
“We originally went virtual with this concept, which is all about styling and helping women to understand their body shape, so that they can dress their best and optimize their personal brand,” said Dai. “That type of conversation has done really well for us online, so we wanted to bring it to the physical dimension.”
Other corners feature installations and writing on the walls, outlining the sustainability credentials of the Dai eco-Ts, made of 95 to 99 percent reused resources, such as beechwood and eucalyptus trees.
“We’re making the store concept bigger and better and more focused on sustainability than ever,” she added, also pointing to the sustainable yoga mats in the workout space and the information plaques across the store, highlighting which products are biodegradable, which are recycled and how they’re sourced.
“One of the biggest hurdles in fashion is bringing mainstream consumers up to speed with sustainability. For us, it was about just making it really easy to read across the store and also talking openly about our goals, like using over 50 percent recycled fibers by the end of this year,” said Dai.
Her brand was one of the first ready-to-wear labels to receive a certification as a B Corporation at the end of last year. It’s now second to Patagonia in the apparel sector, in terms of B Corp ranking, and aims to become carbon neutral by the end of this year.
As the brand continues its growth trajectory, a retail rollout in London and other key markets, including the U.S., is in the pipeline.
“Women being able to drop by, try items on, get the right size and then become online customers is so valuable for us. The face-to-face interaction and the service we are able to provide in-store also creates a much longer last in customers,” said Dai.
“Especially now the cat’s out of the bag, everyone’s on Facebook and Instagram doing sponsored ads: People swipe up, they see something quite glossy or generic, but it doesn’t create the lasting conversation later. It’s a great way to get that brand awareness at a bigger scale and more quickly, but that’s not all there is to our brand. People already associate some digital brands as Instagram brands and that signals that there’s nothing else to it. But our vision is much bigger, we don’t want to be just an online brand.”
With indoor gatherings still restricted, and people more focused on getting a restaurant booking and reuniting with friends, the new Dai store will be looking at delivering more bespoke, one-to-one appointments for its first few months and introducing new casualwear to its offer, with the aim of blending polish and comfort.
“It won’t be pajamas or total loungewear that you can’t go out or be seen in — [your] personal brand is still important,” said Dai.