Wildfang CEO Emma McIlroy Is Breaking Down the Gender Barriers Between What We Wear and Who We Are
Ladies First 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 — for clothes she felt good in, clothes that made her feel like herself — and coming home with nothing. The men’s section stocked things she liked, but the clothes didn’t fit her. The women’s 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’t express who she was, she decided to make the kinds of clothes she wanted to wear — not just for herself, but for everyone who felt like she did. And that’s how Wildfang was born.
“My best friend and I were shopping in the men’s department at a local clothing store. I was shopping for a bold, provocative graphic tee — which you never find in women’s section. Everything there is always floral and bohemian. My best friend wanted a cool blazer and found one she loved in men’s department but it was way too big for her. That got us thinking: Why are there certain styles you aren’t allowed to wear because of your gender? Why are women restricted from buying certain styles?
“We decided to start a company that allowed women to express themselves however the hell they wanted,” says McIlroy. Wildfang’s 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’s in the company’s mandate to donate a portion of their profits to the ACLU and Planned Parenthood and they regularly host “Free Speech” safe space storytelling gatherings at their Portland store. Some of their customers have responded by tattooing themselves with the Wildfang logo — the kind of devotion that’s 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’re 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’t 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’ve always had that at our core.
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B+C: Can you share with us some of the feedback you’ve gotten from your Wildfang customers? What has the brand given them that they couldn’t 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’ve had people get tattoos of our logo and of #YeahMaybe. We’ve had people change their flights to come to our store in PDX. We’ve 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 “borrowed” 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’t have the time or money to fight the big guys in court, so we’d rather just get busy creating and being original. That’s where our time is best spent. At the end of the day, we’d rather be leading the pack than following it.
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B+C: Your company donates some of its profits to organizations like Planned Parenthood and the ACLU. As the company’s 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’m 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 ‘Yeah, maybe’ person as opposed to a ‘Yeah, right’ person was the big thing that helped you launch Wildfang. Can you talk about that philosophy? Is it something you’re still using today?
EM: I remind myself of #YeahMaybe every single day. It’s a practice. And it’s the key to creating potential and opportunity. When you say ‘yeah, maybe’ rather than ‘yeah, right!’ you leave yourself open to possibility and usually end up achieving more than you could’ve imagined. It’s just the tiniest shift but it’s 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)
Pocket doors are so delightful in and of themselves. They appear when you need them, get tucked away when you don't, and make it easy to define rooms while keeping an open floor plan. Add to the pocket door a joyful patterned wallpaper surprise, and you will be sent right into fits of visual jubilation! Or something ;) Today we're sharing two simple and impactful pocket door makeovers that zhuzh up your space in a jiffy.
Anjelika Temple here, co-founder of Brit + Co and proud owner of several pocket doors! When I moved into my first real grown-up house a couple years ago, I knew I wanted to incorporate wallpaper so reached out to our friends at Chasing Paper to see how we might collaborate. It felt like a total lightbulb moment when I realized I could create a surprise pop of pattern on a couple sets of pocket doors.
Not only is it a whimsical way to bring color into a space, but the doors double as picture-perfect backdrops for all your SFH (selfies from home, obvs).
A few pro tips about install:
- Removable wallpaper is miraculously forgiving! You can take it on and off multiple times without it losing integrity (or mucking up your surface).
- I ordered this adhesive wallpaper installation kit with a squeegee and xacto knife and it worked super well. I also recommend a sharp pair of scissors for cutting longer lines.
- This is a two-person job! Get a friend, put on a playlist, and get ready to bond.
- Wild, organic patterns like Tally are great because it's challenging to spot any imperfections in pattern alignment; keep pattern choice in mind if you've got a lot of corners to match up. More geometric patterns and larger shapes leave less room for error (but are awesome in their own right!).
BATHROOM POCKET DOORS
In our primary bathroom, we chose the wallpaper pattern Tally, designed by Kelly Ventura, in White and Navy. In our space, the navy reads as a soft black, which is perfect for the space. It's easy to combine an ever-rotating collection of linens with the Tally pattern.
I love how the white trim becomes the perfect frame around this pocket door piece of art.
My favorite moment in this space is the fact that you actually get a third pop of pattern thanks to our serendipitously placed mirror!
And yes, this one works pretty darn well as a backdrop too ;)
LIVING ROOM DOUBLE DOORS
This set of doors is definitely a focal point of our home. It separates our living room from our primary bedroom which opens onto our backyard. The doors are pretty much always open, but when they're closed we wanted to evoke a fun, nature-inspired vibe. With that in mind, we selected the Lines and Moons pattern by Thimblepress in Green and Brown.
Earth mama vibes up in here! I love how the shapes and colors echo the ferns you see through the windows and the acorn wood details throughout the house.
Love this pattern moment, and xacto-ing out the door handle is def on the oddly satisfying DIY list.
For a pattern lover like me, I love that now I have this instant photo backdrop!
Thanks to Chasing Paper for providing these rolls of pure pattern amazingness. Head to chasingpaper.com to find our own favorites and start adding patterns to your home!
(Wallpaper wingwoman: Kayla Haykin; Photography: Kurt Andre)