The 2003 AWIB Entrepreneurial Leadership Award Winner - Jay Lee

Jay Lee
By Design LLC

By Design LLC is a women’s apparel company that designs, sources and markets women’s sportswear.In fiscal year 2003 revenues, the company had $135 million in revenues, with a projected 2004 forecast of $165 million. Headquartered in New Jersey, with offices in New York, Hong Kong and Los Angeles, the company has 80 full time employees.

In 1980 Jay Lee came to the U.S. from Korea but with only a high school education, she found a job as a cashier. Within a few years she opened a retail clothing store, married and had twin girls. That business ultimately closed and in 1986, Jay went to work for Sim International, an importer of women’s apparel, where she designed and developed a line of embroidered sweaters. The line of sweaters eventually became 50 very popular designs and Jay reached the Vice President level.

A European investor, impressed by her designs, offered to provide financing if she would run a company. Taking the investor up on his offer, in October of 1994, Jay opened By Design LLC. As a start up, Jay was responsible for design, marketing, merchandising and just about everything to make the business a success. The company grew quickly under her leadership and what was originally just imports from Asia, expanded to products from Europe and Africa, for a total of 26 countries, all in an effort to find the right value and product for its expanding customer base. The company is now an established business with a reputation for excellent customer service and value, leaving time for Jay to concentrate on future directions, planning and business strategy. By Design’s major clients include the largest department and discount stores in the world, such as Federated, Walmart, JC Penny, Kohl’s and more.

Her advice to entrepreneurs is “If you don’t make mistakes, you are not doing your job. As long as you don’t repeat the mistakes, you can use that as a learning experience to help you go forward”.

Jay supports a variety of scholarship programs to give young people an opportunity to attend college. She started “By Design Foundation for Youth”, serves as a director on the board of the Korean American Scholarship Foundation and the Tomorrow Foundation for Youth. In 2001, she won the Ellis Island Freedom Award.

Jay lives in New Jersey with her husband, Gustave. Her twin daughters, Christine and Catherine are freshmen in College and her youngest daughter, Diana, is 12 years old.

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