Tanya Amini, Eli Caner and Bonnie Poon are three entrepreneurs and designers who couldn’t be more different.
Caner is a Spanish-born fashion designer and a co-founder of the company Lady and Butler with Amini. They make stylish and wearable uniforms for upscale restaurants and hotels.
“Eli is the creative and carefree Spanish rose who will always see the positive in any situation,” says Amini.
Poon, a sustainable manufacturing wiz, is the owner of Golden Times Group Limited. As the leading ethically manufacturing supply chain in China, Poon and her company are devoted to creating environmentally friendly and sustainable clothing.
“Bonnie is the uber-intelligent, research-minded leader who uses her Asian and American background for a deep understanding that answers ever-evolving global challenges and needs we all face,”observes Amini.
Meanwhile, the New York-based Amini describes herself as “extremely type-A, who refuses to believe that anything and everything is not doable with hard work.” As Poon observes, Amini has a fierce and practical mind for business.
As different as they are, their individual strengths and experiences unite them together in a powerful way. “All three of us also have an immigrant mentality. By that I mean we saw ourselves or our parents make a whole new life in a foreign land with nothing but hard work and determination,” shares Amini. “I think this is what binds us.”
Amini, Caner and Poon joined forces and talents to create the new fashion brand Better Off Alone (BOA). The brand makes well-designed, stylish, ethically sourced protective garments including hoodies, cool jumpsuits for kids and adults, travel kits, blankets, masks, overcoats and track pants.
“When researching what is currently out there, we saw that nobody was making cover ups that are 100% organic Egyptian cotton, never mind with an antimicrobial finish,” says Carner. “It was key that if we were making garments, that we did it with the best fabrics and finish. So, that’s what we did.”
Their mantra is that their items be fashionable, comfortable, environmentally sound and protective. All easily washable, the garments are layered with a Silverplus antimicrobial treatment.
“Everybody brings a completely different skill-set to the table and with that we have a great balance,” says Caner. Caner designs the products and creates content. Amini brings the business acumen. “She takes all of our ideas and blends them together so there’s a cohesive message and constant brand building without going too far over budget,” says Poon. Meanwhile, Poon brings her operations A game uniting resources to bring their ideas to life. “Whether it’s researching best fabrics and finishes to producing samples and the final product, I am very technical and love to research best practices for manufacturing,” she adds.
The idea to create Better Off Alone was born from their passion to make sustainable masks and outerwear that were also chic and offer additional antimicrobial protection. “Our coverups don’t feel like “pandemic wear.. The antimicrobial aspect provides that extra peace of mind while you look chic, modern, and feel really cozy,” explains Poon. “These are timeless pieces with a layer of protection,” adds Caner. “Plus, the person wearing the items feels good knowing that they are shopping ethically.”
Jeryl Brunner: Can share more how you were inspired you to create Better Off Alone?
Tanya Amini: For me it all came down to finding a piece my son could wear over his clothes while he was at the park. I was seeking something super cute and comfortable, but a piece I could take off him and throw in the wash as soon as he entered the apartment to offer extra peace of mind.
Bonnie Poon: I was in China, Hong Kong, and the United States between December 2019 and March 2020. So I saw the beginning stages and spread of Covid-19 in multiple places. The need for protection became a huge concern, so I developed a separate division of my manufacturing company, Golden Times Group, to focus on the sourcing of medical grade PPE. As this business grew, I looked into the environmental effects single use PPE has on our world. I asked my factory workers to move away from these items and instead begin to make face masks using recycled stock fabrics. I thought this could be provided to a wider audience.
Eli Caner: It was the necessity of safety. We needed masks to protect ourselves from the virus and travel kits to continue traveling. Our assortment of cover-ups hopefully provide a solution as that final layer of protection that can be worn over any outfit and match the style of the wearer.
Brunner: Let’s talk about your backgrounds.
Amini: I spent years at Conde Nast working my way up the ranks [in marketing], collaborating with who I still consider to be some of the best editorial and business minds in the world. While there, I was fortunate enough to marry my love of fashion and business by focusing my work on forming deep partnerships with some of the best luxury brands in the world like Chanel, Tiffany LVMH and Kering.
After close to two decades as a publishing executive, I knew I wanted to push myself further and venture out on my own. That’s when Eli and I spoke about me coming on as a partner for Lady and Butler. As a woman in her early 40’s, I knew if I was ever going to start a second act, now was the time and who better to do it with than a friend whom I respected and a business that I believed in passionately. For the past two years, Eli and I have grown Lady And Butler, creating fashion uniforms for some of the best hospitality brands in the world.
As most business partnerships tend to go, the onset of the pandemic pushed us to expand further and partner with our dear friend and manufacturing partner, Bonnie Poon, to create a secondary line, Better Off Alone.
Poon: I grew up around manufacturing clothes, as my family had factories in New York City’s Chinatown and Puerto Rico before moving operations to China. I took an internship in the New York office, where all the designing happened. I was always part of my parents’ succession plan and no matter how hard I resisted, I felt it calling me. I joined the family business 16 years ago. But seven years ago, I started my own subsidiary with a commitment to work alongside young, small business designers. I focused heavily on manufacturing practices that are socially and environmentally responsible. It was a key element and something that I wasn’t willing to waver. I knew that by providing partnerships, mentoring, and resources, the long-term health of the brand and the people it serves would benefit.
Caner: I grew up with my mother knitting me things and making patterns and dresses for me, so I understood the love you can have from sharing those moments with another person. I uprooted from Spain to pursue a fashion degree from FDIM in San Francisco. After graduating, I moved to New York City and I got my feet wet working closely with designers, but quickly realized I needed to do my own thing and work on my own ideas when the moment was right. That is when I started Lady and Butler. I was young, going out in New York, and saw the huge opportunity to design clothes for the hospitality industry that was as chic as the rest of the hotel or restaurant.
Brunner: Why do you think are your coverups unique?
Poon: There aren’t many other brands making versatile and stylish clothing that has protective elements while keeping sustainability in mind. Environmental and social responsibility were at the forefront when we first developed Better Off Alone. We made the clothes from 100% Egyptian Cotton, using fabric processes that are less harmful and chose Silverplus, an antimicrobial finish, that’s made from a natural mineral. We ensured that everything is easy to care for and we don’t have the need for paper or plastic packaging. Customers can go to our website to learn how to compost our clothing in order to minimize the impact to the environment. There is a full, eco-conscious life cycle to our pieces.
Brunner: So many people have a dream to start a business or do something so creative, but do not have the confidence or resources. What are some doable steps they can take towards their dream?
Amini: My dad, who was also an entrepreneur, always used to tell me patience and passion were the two ingredients for success in any aspect of life. Over the years, I havve come to realize just how correct he was. Being a small business owner can be extremely challenging. But, with all the responsibility and hard work, comes the knowledge that you truly do get what you put into it.
Every sleepless night, wondering if you can make payroll for your wonderful employees, or if a project will get done in time, is compensated for 1000 times over. That is done by knowing what you are doing is something that you feel passionately about and will hopefully solve a problem or fill a need for your consumer. The short answer is to make sure you are driven by passion and not just money. And be patient. It takes time to fully see your vision come to fruition but when it does, there is nothing like it.
Poon: Reach out to a community of people who are in the industry that you want to pursue, and be open to sharing your ideas. A lot of people are open to supporting dreams and more than willing to provide contacts, ideas or mentorship. Even criticism can help, no matter how hard it is to hear. You don’t have to do it alone and the support of others is key.
Caner: If you have a great idea and you have the drive to work hard, get on it. It’s a learning process you just have to start on it. Also, if you are in New York City, the opportunities to find people to support and advise you are endless.