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A Lycra Birthday Suit

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DA Designs Celebrates 30 Years in Dancewear

In the 80s, women across America united in aerobics classes, donning flashy leotards and Reeboks. And while most would rather forget these neon memories, Dennette Nakamura remembers them nostalgically. It’s how she got her start in the business, after all.

“I made all of my clothes my entire life,” Nakamura, owner of DA Designs, says. “I also wanted to make my own leotards—the ones in the store just didn’t fit me right anyway.”

She loved her new leos, and so did her fellow aerobicizers. Soon enough, she began selling them at her gym. Then at gyms across town. Then at a local dancewear store. And that’s where the fun began.

Since 1982, Nakamura has created everything from cycling wear to dance recital costumes—and everything Lycra in between.

Now, 30 years later, Nakamura has grown her business to one of the most successful in the dancewear world. Her fabulously outfitted clients include the Oakland Raiderettes and Phoenix Suns Dancers—among hundreds of others.

But the road to the costumed top hasn’t always been easy.

“Business has changed a lot in the last 30 years, but maybe it is mostly me that has changed,” Nakamura wonders, noting that the recession has been challenging for small businesses. “Recently, fabric vendors and manufacturers have tried cutting corners, resulting in inferior fabrics coming onto the market. It threw us for a loop for a bit, but we figured out which suppliers were not willing to sacrifice their principles for profit, and we stuck with them.”

This commitment to quality—and a willingness to roll with the punches—has helped DA Designs create show-stopping dancewear and costumes for her customers. Nakamura also points to three other factors that contributed to three successful decades: Danette Thomas and her daughters Kaelin and Kristen.

In 2000, Nakamura hired Thomas; together, the Dennette-Danette duo took the dancewear industry by storm.celebrate 30

“I had been all over the place with Lycra—dancewear, cycling wear, triathlete outfits, fitness wear, gymnastics, you name it,” she explains. “But when I hired Danette to come work with me, she really brought focus to our dance business.”

Thomas proved to be the perfect business partner, combining her industry know-how with customer focus to help clients design unbelievable competition outfits and studio wear.

But even more importantly, Thomas became a friend. Someone Nakamura could count on.

“She has really brought a great camaraderie that was missing when it was just me, and all the stress that was only mine,” she says. “Now I have someone to laugh with and even cry with.”

And recently, the DA Designs family has grown even more, with the addition of Nakamura’s two daughters, Kaelin and Kristen. Together they’ll celebrate 30 years in the evolving business—one filled with innovation, inspiration and a whole lot of fun.

So what’s in store for the business’s big 3-0? “We’ll have a nice party,” Nakamura says. “Me, my family and all the wonderful people that put up with me and continue to help me bring the dance designs to life.”

Read more below about Nakamura’s experience—and her hopes—in the dancewear world.

Can you share some of the secrets of your success?

I don’t compromise my principles or quality. We make every costume to the best of our ability. So much thought goes into every outfit. I have to make sure that the outfit looks like the design, fits well, holds up to repeated wear and flatters the dancer. I have a great team of seamstresses who bring decades of sewing knowledge to every project.

What tips would you give your clients to ensure success in the industry?

The most important thing is something I hear Danette tell clients all the time: “You are not running a club, you are running a business.” They need to make decisions that are best for them in their business … not what other people are pressuring them to do. And they need to always be honest and straightforward with customers and vendors.

Why is there a need for custom design?

Custom design is what takes your group or team to the next level. It is a great way to brand your team, identify a theme or make a statement.

What have been your favorite dancewear trends over the years? What about your least favorite?

My favorite—the curly slip, which we use a lot. My least favorite—the 80’s workout wear—leotards, leg warmers and sweatshirts that are falling off the shoulder.

What do you hope for your and DA Designs Dancewear’s future?

I just want to keep doing what we are doing: growing with the dance business as it evolves. I love all the new trends and changes that keep coming in our business. Dancing With The Stars, So You Think You Can Dance, etc. have really changed this business in the last few years. Also, the evolution of semi-pro sports teams has really blown up the pro dance team market.

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