It takes a creative mind to draw inspiration from baby clothes and turn that into an athleisure-inspired workwear brand. That’s Tanya Lee’s genius. And it landed the UBC Sauder alum on BC Business’ 30 Under 30 list.
Tanya Lee grew up in the textile industry. Her family owns a manufacturing business in Taiwan, where she spent close to the first decade of her life before moving to Vancouver.
“I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur,” she says. “I come from a family of entrepreneurs - it’s all I know.”
After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology, Tanya followed in her brother’s footsteps and applied to the Master of Management (MM) program at UBC Sauder. She hadn’t yet found her entrepreneurial niche though.
“Before the MM program I didn’t know myself well,” she says. “I didn’t know what I was good at.”
It turns out she’s good at building a clothing brand. When she graduated from the MM program she started going back and forth between Vancouver and Taiwan, helping run her family’s textile company overseas. The soft, incredibly comfortable fabrics of the baby clothes they manufacture got Tanya thinking: Why shouldn’t women’s workwear be this comfy?
The concept behind Lezé the Label
Tanya turned to her business partner Karen Lee, a longtime friend she’d collaborated with many times before. Together they took the concept of athleisure and applied it to a workwear context. One successful round of crowd fundraising later, Lezé the Label was born.
That was a year ago. Now, Tanya and Karen have made the BC Business 30 Under 30 list.
“It’s incredibly validating,” Tanya says. “I still haven’t wrapped my head around it.”
It’s easy to see why their brand has caught on so quickly: their clothes are easy to wear and easy to care for, yet look boardroom-ready. The twist? Their fabrics are spun from recycled material: 14.5 plastic bottles go into a single pair of pants.
“I got so many “nos” when I was asking the team to spin fabric out of recycled materials,” Tanya says. “You might try something 13 times and it won’t work, but then on the 14th try you’ll get it right – that’s my greatest joy.”
A life-changing experience
In many ways, it was the knowledge and experience Tanya gained in her MM that has allowed her to accelerate her business’ growth.
“My MM gave me a foundation in business that I draw upon every day,” she says. “I struggled with Accounting. It was my best and worst class – I found it incredibly difficult but I have come to rely on it every day now that I’m running Lezé. Reading financial statements, costs breakdown – those skills are critical and I didn’t learn them during my undergrad.”
Tanya said the MM experience fundamentally changed her as a person – transforming who she is and what she’s capable of.
“All the courses I took play a part in my day-to-day, whether that’s logistics or operations or marketing – they each play a part in growing Lezé into the brand it is,” she says.