At Paceline, we’re all about the intersection of fitness and finance. So what’s more apropos than fitness entrepreneurship? That’s the thinking behind our Fitrapreneur franchise in which we ask those who’ve been able to turn fitness into a profession how they did it, what inspired them, and any advice they have for others trying to live healthier. Next up, founder of activewear brand Alala, Denise Lee.
Female empowerment is something that Alala, and its founder Denise Lee, emanate. Alala is run by 12 committed women on a mission to make great products and to inspire others to reach their goals, whatever those may be. As for Lee’s personal aspirations, she has several, including continuing to learn to listen to her intuition, tapping more into her feminine spirit, and not being afraid to fully express herself.
Here, the Fitrapreneur shares her hurdles, triumphs, and the best advice she’s received during her journey thus far.
In the market for some Alala gear? Head to the Paceline app to unlock $50 off your first order, or $150 off a Heron jogger and sweatshirt set, when you hit your streak! And Paceline Card members can get up to 5% cash back on Alala purchases¹.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and concision.
Describe your path to becoming a fitrapreneur in 150 words or less.
As I was training for my first triathlon 10 years ago, [I was] looking for clothes to inspire me to want to work out and do all the training. At the time, there wasn’t anything in the market that really spoke to me as someone who loved fashion and style. [I identified] that there was a white space in this activewear market that wasn’t being filled. I wanted something more elevated, more inspired, and that’s how Alala came to be.
What hurdles did you face and how did you overcome them?
I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur. So, a lot of things in my life kind of led up to that moment. All the jobs I had gave me aspects of understanding how to run my own business.
But, there’s definitely mental hurdles I think you go through and have to overcome to even feel comfortable [calling yourself an entrepreneur] and not have that sense of imposter syndrome. I think a lot of it is building your confidence to feel like you [can] do [it].
And then externally, building an apparel brand has so many different parts to it, not just design. It’s also where are you going to make the stuff and how are you going to market it? There [were] a lot of things I needed to learn from an external standpoint to be able to run a business successfully.
What’s your personal fitness routine?
I kind of go in and out of different trends. Before COVID I was very into studio fitness. My current fitness routine is more intuitive. I love being outside, so on the days that it’s sunny, I’ll go hit tennis balls against one of the walls in Chelsea [in New York City], which is great exercise, I think both mentally and physically. I’ve also been trying to get in touch with my more feminine side. Somebody that I trust in my life [suggested that I] try belly dancing classes to tap into [my] feminine spirit, which I’ve been really enjoying. I think there’s mind-body connection stuff that happens when you’re doing something new. But it’s also expressive in a way that running or playing tennis [aren’t]. And then I like to mix in more low-impact Pilates and things as well.
Where would you like to be in five years?
Business-wise, I would love to see Alala grow and be able to impact the lives of more people and more women. We are a very female-focused organization so a lot of our mission is to be able to empower women in their own ways to achieve their goals. Being able to have our message and our products reach more women, that is a huge dream of mine. And we’ll be working towards that over the next five years.
My big goal for myself is to become the best version of myself. There might be many ways in the next five years that I do that, but I think it’s just learning how to listen to myself and bring out the great parts of myself and not feel like, ‘oh, I shouldn’t,’ or ‘I’m embarrassed.’ [I’m] working towards being a fully-expressed version of myself.
What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received?
My old boss used to say, “It’s better to make a quick bad decision than a slow good decision.” I think as women, we are overthinking. We always want things to be perfect before we do [them]. And I think in business and entrepreneurship, it’s difficult to ever get to that stage where you feel prepared enough. So I think the idea of that advice is to tap into your own gut and intuition a little bit [and] feel what’s right for you. And then don’t be afraid to take those steps to get there.
What’s the best wellness advice you’ve ever received?
My best wellness advice and something I live by is to be more gentle with yourself. As very Type A people, we like routines, we like checklists. We like saying “I’m going to work out five days a week” and “I’m going to eat vegetarian three times a week” and drink eight glasses of water a day. When you don’t meet that checklist, then you get stressed out. You feel like you failed. I’ve grown into more of a person that, if this week my body feels tired, I’m okay to give myself the permission to sleep more. I think there’s a lot of things that we still feel guilt around, especially with our own wellness, that it would be better for us to just let go.
What’s the best wellness-related investment you’ve ever made?
I actually made a very big investment in a spiritual coach a couple years ago. At the time I was running my business, I was trying to do it all, [I was] super stressed out and I had all these expectations on myself. She taught me what triggers my stress, what foods I could eat to nourish myself and feel good, and what breathing or meditation techniques I could use. It was a very big investment, but I feel like I was transformed through that experience and became a better version of myself.
If you can afford an expert in anything that you’re trying to learn about, whether that’s your physical training or nutrition or anything, being able to get some customized advice for yourself really is a huge luxury. And I think investing in yourself is always the best investment.
What role does fitness play in your business life?
It plays a big role just to regulate my own body and my own personal needs. But it’s also a really great way that we’ve been able to bond as a team. We’ve done a lot of group fitness activities [and] not only is it a great way to showcase the beautiful clothes that we make, but doing a [challenging] activity together is a really nice way to connect with other people and to start to build relationships.
What advice would give any aspiring entrepreneur that wants to get into the health and wellness space?
Even though the health and wellness space has been in the forefront of everybody’s minds over the last [several] years, there’s still so much space for self-expression and for different faces and different ideas to come through. If you’re interested in entering the space, I would say to bring your personality with you. There are so many ways to be able to express your unique view on health and wellness.
What are your thoughts on Paceline’s mission to change the nature of preventive health in society?
I love it. I think any motivation for us to do things that are good for us is great. And Paceline does it in such a beautiful way because you have so many great partners and everybody can tailor their rewards to what they’re interested in.
Is there anything else that you want the Paceline community to know about you or your brand?
Alala, not just myself, but the whole team, we do believe in what we do. And we take a lot of care and thought in the product that we put out, down to making sure our customer service is really great. Are we perfect? No, but I do want to show people that there are real people who really care about this brand behind the clothes that you see.