A Founder’s Journey Includes Turning Challenges and Frustrations Into Profitable Opportunities With Dora Lau

A Founder’s Journey Includes Turning Challenges and Frustrations Into Profitable Opportunities With Dora Lau

VENTEUR spoke with Dora Lau, founder and president of Dora L International, Inc., about her entrepreneurial journey. Lau founded DLI, establishing it as the industry partner able to create highly technical products using advanced manufacturing practices for women of every size. As an award-winning designer, Lau is known for her lingerie innovation and design expertise. Her industry knowledge and unique abilities have led to programs with an impressive list of brands. Industry peers recognized her for her achievements at the HUG Awards in NYC. Lau's passion for developing products for women of all sizes led her to launch Curvy Couture.

The Journey

The entrepreneurial journey is one of self-discovery. What have you learned about yourself while building your business?

While building my business, I've learned that you can take challenges and frustrations and turn them into profitable opportunities. For example, I became frustrated with the availability and variety of lingerie pieces available for women, especially women with curves. Yet, around the world, women told me they wanted intimate apparel that was beautiful, sophisticated, comfortable, high quality, and made them feel sexy and confident.

My team and I studied and fit our customers' shapes for two decades. We've developed our own set of sizing rules. We wanted to find out what women wanted and how it made them feel. 

Today, Dora L International is a global design and sourcing company that has developed programs for leading intimate apparel brands from concept to completion. Our customers come to us when other companies say, "it can't be done." By designing bras that fit and flatter all body types, ranging from bra sizes A-HH, we've become known for leveraging manufacturing technologies. 

The entrepreneurial journey is often lonely. Have you experienced loneliness as an entrepreneur?

The entrepreneurial journey is often lonely because it's your vision toward a goal that not everyone may understand. Know that you do not have to explain or prove yourself to anyone as long as your mindset is clear about your objectives and aim toward them.

 For example, growing up as a curvy teen in Hong Kong, I often felt lonely. At that time, the inclusivity movement had yet to start! As a result, I needed help finding clothing I loved and wanted to wear in the stores. So I started my journey working in my family's famous recording company. We produced top local artists with bestselling albums in the Cantonpop genre. 

My responsibilities included creating the artists' public image by choosing fabrics for their custom-design gowns and suits for performances. This gave me the idea and conviction that I needed to launch my own company and that I needed to design, develop, manufacture and deliver to clients the best intimate apparel. Of course, along the way, some people didn't understand. But I stayed focused entirely because I knew there was a tremendous need and I could do it.

Another Perspective

Video response provided by Isa de Burgh, CEO at The Social Tale

The Psychological Warfare

Entrepreneurs generally sleep less, work more, and let their health slip. This combination, combined with loneliness, often results in insecurity, self-esteem issues, and low self-worth. Have you experienced any of these issues as an entrepreneur? 

Everything needs to have a balance. Eat, sleep, exercise, work, and play are my daily orders. However, working smart doesn't mean having to work 24/7. An example is taking my dog for a walk or vacationing, which often brings creative ideas or solving problems that may not necessarily happen when you're at work.

Newer entrepreneurs often equate their success with the success and value of their business. If their business fails, they are a failure. If their business succeeds, they are a success. Have you experienced this warped perception of reality?

Personal success to me means happiness and fulfillment in one's journey in life. I strive for stability in my family, my health, and my desire for enrichment in everyday experiences.

Success in business means the products I offer and deliver exceed my reputation. Business fluctuates for reasons that may be beyond our control, like the economy, plus other challenges. Several companies we worked with filed for bankruptcy during COVID-19, which caused hardships to our cash flow. We honored our financial commitment by partnering with our long-term suppliers.

Entrepreneurs should know that a good reputation goes a long way–past practices determine your present and future businesses.

What are your three biggest fears as an entrepreneur, and how do you manage those fears?

I'm focused on being positive and surrounded by a highly supportive team. That being said, it's taken grit to follow through on DLI's ability to:

1. Invest in the Right Technology

This can be expensive, and there's the added challenge of finding talent that knows how to use it. Ultimately, it's the best way to increase efficiency and profits and offer clients a great customer experience. If your company is not up to date on the latest developments related to your industry, you risk falling behind.

2. Bring Solutions to Clients

Solutions can be to issues your client doesn't even know they have. It takes confidence and industry knowledge to bring ideas to clients that have yet to be discussed. For example, at DLI, we collaborate with fabric mills and universities and constantly speak to leaders in the industry to understand developments before they come to market. It's what gives our company its competitive edge.

3. Produce a Good Product That Makes Us Proud

Even though it may cost more, make whatever necessary changes to have the product you want. The rule I use is that if it is a one-time charge and will enhance quality, it's the right decision.

The Mistakes

What are three mistakes you made early on as an entrepreneur, what did you learn from them, and how can others avoid them?

1. Avoid Costly Mistakes

Entrepreneurs need to work for someone else and be an employee before going off on their own. I remember one collection I created was priced too high. I didn't realize it until after the product was completed. This experience taught me to price a project from the final retail price and work backward. It also taught me the difference between the product and retail price point. 

2. Be Patient and Learn

When we are young, we think that we know a lot. But it's essential to continually learn from coworkers, employers, and the whole team. Everyone has a job and a reason to be at the company. We are in an age of instant gratification, but you need the patience to play a long game and be successful.

3. Collaboration Is Key

Women think that they can do everything on their own. They want to take care of the kids and run a business. This leads to burnout and a lot of unhappy people. Teamwork is the beating heart of the company. At DLI, every team member is essential to the makeup of our DNA. Be open to delegating, collaborating, and sharing ideas. 

What are some things you see that are often overlooked by entrepreneurs you encounter, and how can other entrepreneurs be aware of these things from the beginning?

1. Asking "How are we different from our competitors? 

2. Remembering that the consumer is their final customer. 

3. Not letting success blind them.

4. Being truthful to and challenging themselves and their teams to make the best product.

The Successes

What are three seemingly insurmountable obstacles you've faced as an entrepreneur, and how have you overcome them?

1. Constantly Communicating Our Company’s Value

Sharing a company's value is a constant and needs to be maintained over time. We can understand marketing and advertising focused on shoppers. Brands need to communicate unique benefits in a relevant way that resonates with their key audiences. Speak with your client's marketing team to find ways to collaborate. At DLI, we often had to start small and slowly, but over time it's been a great success.

2. Getting Through a Tough Time (the COVID-19 Pandemic, in Particular)

Many companies did not fare well, depending mainly on the industry. The pandemic was horrific in so many ways. There was, however, a silver lining. Since our global business was almost entirely virtual before the pandemic, we were able to enhance our communication and efficiencies because we knew what worked. We could keep the entire team intact and maintain a high level of customer service.

3. Find the Balance in the Research Process

With research, development, and what will ultimately be purchased. Each industry is unique and has its nuances. Still, it is important to remember that exciting and new clients are searching for a partner with strong technical knowledge and the ability to translate trends into realistic products and services that will ultimately be purchased.  

What are three ways you have managed to boost your productivity without causing burnout?

1. Surrounding myself with those I love, including family, friends, and my precious dogs!

2. Using my vacation time to recharge and get inspired.

3. Hiring the right people. When you have a great team, productivity and a more relaxed environment are the norms.

The Advice

How can newer entrepreneurs develop a healthy work-life balance even when it seems impossible? 

Be your best self. You should accept who you are and all you can do. Self-funding DLI in a male-dominated industry could have been very intimidating, but with confidence and the belief that I could succeed, it became a reality. 

What three key pieces of advice would have made your entrepreneurial journey more manageable, and why?

1. Most new businesses fold within three years. Plan ahead for that amount of time to maintain your best team and budget for conservative growth.

2. Remember, Rome wasn't built in a day.

3. Be kind and generous to your team, and make them feel their contributions are valued.

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