Ladies First聽highlights women and girls who are making the world better for the rest of us.

Emma McIlroy was all too familiar with the experience of going shopping 鈥 for clothes she felt good in, clothes that made her feel like herself 鈥 and coming home with nothing. The men鈥檚 section stocked things she liked, but the clothes didn鈥檛 fit her. The women鈥檚 section offered clothes in her size but not in styles she wanted to wear. Instead of resigning herself (and her look) to something that didn鈥檛 express who she was, she decided to make the kinds of clothes she wanted to wear 鈥 not just for herself, but for everyone who felt like she did. And that鈥檚 how Wildfang was born.

鈥淢y best friend and I were shopping in the men鈥檚 department at a local clothing store. I was shopping for a bold, provocative graphic tee 鈥 which you never find in women鈥檚 section. Everything there is always floral and bohemian. My best friend wanted a cool blazer and found one she loved in men鈥檚 department but it was way too big for her. That got us thinking: Why are there certain styles you aren鈥檛 allowed to wear because of your gender? Why are women restricted from buying certain styles?

鈥淲e decided to start a company that allowed women to express themselves however the hell they wanted,鈥 says McIlroy. Wildfang鈥檚 growing fan club (including some super-famous trendsetters like Janelle Monae) is proof that McIlroy and her collaborators are onto something. That brand love encouraged McIlroy to make Wildfang into something bigger and more meaningful than your average clothing retailer.

It鈥檚 in the company鈥檚 mandate to donate a portion of their profits to the ACLU and Planned Parenthood and they regularly host 鈥淔ree Speech鈥 safe space storytelling gatherings at their Portland store. Some of their customers have responded by tattooing themselves with the Wildfang logo 鈥 the kind of devotion that鈥檚 usually reserved for hometown teams.

We talked to Emma McIlroy about her close relationship with her Wildfang community and how they inspire her to continue to give back.

B+C: Fashion can be used to tell the world something about who you are and even what you believe in. Style is so personal and we鈥檙e curious to know why you wanted to make menswear clothing designed to fit women as opposed to, for example, completely unisex clothing?

EM: Well, unisex clothing didn鈥檛 seem as fun. It seemed to be missing personality. We felt more like female Robin Hoods who were stealing our styles from the mens department. This brand was founded by a few rebellious women who wanted to break all the silly gender rules in fashion. We鈥檝e always had that at our core.

B+C: Can you share with us some of the feedback you鈥檝e gotten from your Wildfang customers? What has the brand given them that they couldn鈥檛 find before? It seems like the kind of thing that might affect people beyond just giving them one more place to shop.

EM: We have the most amazing fans. We鈥檝e had people get tattoos of our logo and of #YeahMaybe. We鈥檝e had people change their flights to come to our store in PDX. We鈥檝e had people travel to PDX to shop our store with completely empty suitcases, just so they can carry all the clothes they buy back. When we funded the abortion clinic in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, many women wrote to us or came into to our stores to tell us about their abortion and say thank you for the support and love. When we supported Joyful Heart on Giving Tuesday, customers wrote to us about [sexual assault] and how thankful they were that we were trying to help. This is why we do what we do. We exist to serve our community and to hopefully create a place where women can be their truest, best selves.

B+C: We covered the whole situation where a certain major retailer (*cough* Forever 21 *cough*) may have 鈥渂orrowed鈥 one of your most iconic designs, the Wild Feminist t-shirt. As a smaller retailer, how hard is that to go up against and to get the credit for your own work?

EM: Yeah, that sucked. The problem is we don鈥檛 have the time or money to fight the big guys in court, so we鈥檇 rather just get busy creating and being original. That鈥檚 where our time is best spent. At the end of the day, we鈥檇 rather be leading the pack than following it.

B+C: Your company donates some of its profits to organizations like Planned Parenthood and the ACLU. As the company鈥檚 CEO, what does it mean to you to support those organizations?

EM: Supporting the community is a critical part of being a feminist. You have to work hard to give a platform and voice to those in the community who need it most and giving back is a part of that. I鈥檓 so f*cking proud of the work we do and the impact we make.

B+C: We watched the TED Talk you did last year in Portland about how being a 鈥榊eah, maybe鈥 person as opposed to a 鈥榊eah, right鈥 person was the big thing that helped you launch Wildfang. Can you talk about that philosophy? Is it something you鈥檙e still using today?

EM: I remind myself of #YeahMaybe every single day. It鈥檚 a practice. And it鈥檚 the key to creating potential and opportunity. When you say 鈥榶eah, maybe鈥 rather than 鈥榶eah, right!鈥 you leave yourself open to possibility and usually end up achieving more than you could鈥檝e imagined. It鈥檚 just the tiniest shift but it鈥檚 really hard to remind under stress, when sh*t is hitting the fan.

What does your personal style say about you? Tell us about it on Twitter.

(Images via Wildfang and Emma McIlroy)