Fashion for the home office that’s also easy on the planet
Co-founders Tanya Lee (right) and Karen Lee of Lezé the Label.
UBC Sauder alum Tanya Lee co-founded a sustainable clothing concept perfect for the WFH era.
- UBC Sauder alum Tanya Lee co-founded Lezé the Label, a brand making clothes that look like they belong in the boardroom, yet feel like they belong on your living room couch
- Lee and her co-founder use materials from sustainable sources, which brings with it many challenges
- Lee credits UBC Sauder’s Master of Management program with giving her the business acumen she needs as a founder and the resilience she needs as an innovator
Long before working from home (WFH) became a necessity for many of us, UBC Sauder alum Tanya Lee created the ultimate WFH clothing concept.
Lee and her friend Karen Lee co-founded Lezé the Label, a line of women’s clothing that takes you from your couch to your video-conference call. The concept is unique – office-ready clothing with a bed-ready feel – but so is the way the clothes are made.
“We want to use recycled materials or sustainable materials or materials that are part of the circular economy,” explains Lee. “Our aim is to be 100 per cent sustainable – in our yarn, our materials and our fabrics.”
That would be more easily done if Lee were okay with using fabrics that weren’t particularly structured, like, say, the kind you’d find in sweatpants. But Lee’s goal is to create clothes that strike a balance; they need to feel soft and comfortable like athleisure, yet look polished and professional like workwear.
“A big part of our challenge is finding those delicate, sustainable yarns,” she says.
That’s in large part because Lezé the Label doesn’t use the cottons and polyesters of traditional workwear.
“We’re using beech trees, coffee grinds, fishing nets and plastic bottles,” Lee says. “But those yarns come in a very fine form, which is okay for the comfort side of our business, but in order for someone to be presentable at work, it needs to have structure.
“That’s something we’ve had to push through because it just hasn’t been done before.”
Reducing waste in the fashion industry
Innovating on that level isn’t easy; Lee received quite a bit of push-back when she set out to create material from unexpected sources.
“I’ve always been stubborn but I think UBC Sauder nurtured that into what it is today,” says Lee, who graduated from the UBC Sauder Master of Management (MM) program in 2014. “Stubbornness is definitely a healthy flaw and UBC Sauder helped cultivate my resilience.”
That persistence proved essential for going against the status quo. And Lee was particularly motivated to do so; her background in clothing production meant she’d had a front-row view of the waste the clothing industry typically creates.
“I see how big brands do it, I see how much waste is generated from people wanting to create something new,” she says. “Seeing that first-hand made me want to create something that wouldn’t generate waste.”
In 2019 Lezé the Label eliminated all single-use plastics from their offerings.
“All of our packaging and all of our garment bags are made out of cornstarch,” she says.
Lee comes from a family of entrepreneurs but she didn’t rush into business. Instead she pursued a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology before enrolling in UBC Sauder’s Master of Management program. The one-year program is designed for recent graduates with non-business backgrounds to acquire an essential foundation in business. It was there that Lee learned everything from marketing to finance.
“The MM program gave me the technical skills to thrive as a founder,” she says. “Whether it’s the right way to audit books or brainstorm or bring ideas together: all that I got from UBC Sauder.”
Her education also gave her the leadership skills required to lead a company that’s pioneering a new way of doing things.
“Because of the small cohort, I was able to work closely with my peers and learn how to maximize people’s strengths,” she says.
Leading by design
These days, Lee is being recognized for her success as an eco-entrepreneur. She and her co-founder have been featured on magazine covers and landed on 30 under 30 lists.
“For me, leadership means letting people grow into their own,” Lee says. “It means taking responsibility for all the things that go wrong and then letting other people take the glory of all the things that go right.”
Now, Lee and her label are hitting their stride.
“I don’t see it as work. I see it as an opportunity to create something new and disrupt an industry that hasn’t been disrupted in a long time,” she says.
Though she doesn’t consider herself a “fashion designer,” Lee hopes one day to inspire designers to create clothes in a more meaningful way while expanding her label’s scope in the process.
“Growing Lezé into a household name is something we’re super excited about,” says Lee.