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Emma McIlroy – Co-Creator of Wildfang Clothing

By PDX People

Up until a few years ago, it was almost impossible for women to find tomboy clothing in shops or stores in Portland but thanks to Emma McIlroy and Julia Parsley that changed after they created Wildfang Clothing, a tomboy clothing line for women.

Thanks to the creative genius of Emma and the Wildfang Team, women in Portland Oregon and around the world can now find tomboy clothing which perfectly fits their frames instead of having to choose clothing which was created for men or choose overly feminized clothes for women.

Giving Women a Voice

In today’s world, women need to express themselves more than ever before and thanks to Wildfang clothing it’s possible for women of all ages to express who they are and look great doing it.

The decision to start Wildfang clothing wasn’t hard to do for McIlroy and Parsley, the pair quickly realized that there weren’t any stores that really sold tomboy clothing and so they decided to quit their jobs at Nike and start the now famous clothing brand.

In 2010, Emma McIlroy was working at Nike and struggling to find clothes that fit her style and her body. One day, she and her co-worker Julia Parsley decided to hit a department store and shop for new work clothes, first visiting the women’s section. Amidst dresses and floral pants, they found themselves bored with the women’s fashion on offer. A self-proclaimed tomboy, McIlroy craved blazers and tailored pants that fit her small, female frame.

McIlroy and Parsley eventually found themselves asking questions that would set them on a course: “Why the hell can you not get a great blazer in the women’s department? Why can you not get a great jean jacket in the women’s department? Why are they all cropped and tight and pastel? Why are we forced into this particular box?”

Emma McIlroy

Emma McIlroy And WildFang Clothing

Soon after Wildfang clothing was launched, the company quickly became a fast-growing brand as women from around the world quickly started to buy Wildfang shirts, jackets and outfits.

Wildfang’s most popular collection is Wild Feminist, a range of T-shirts, jackets, and accessories that tout the provocative eponymous phrase. McIlroy came up with the phrase in early 2015.

“I was nerding out with the creative director, Taralyn Thuot, about what the consumer was thinking. We started interviewing consumers and when we asked them about feminism, we got some confusing answers back,” McIlroy explains.

After hearing excuse after excuse about why people refused to call themselves feminists, McIlroy decided she wanted the brand to embody her feminist ideals, and also wanted to give Wildfang loyalists a feminist mantra to live by — and thus, Wild Feminist was born.

“If you’re not a wild feminist,” McIlroy says, “Then don’t fucking bother.” 

The Reluctant Entrepreneur

Like many great entrepreneurs, Emma didn’t start Wildfang Clothing because she wanted to get rich or make a name for herself, her original plan for her life didn’t involve starting a business at all.

As a girl, I was a rebel, tomboy, thinker. The truth is, I always wanted to be a boy. Raised Irish, I had very supportive parents who reinforced that I could do anything I set my mind to. My father helped me understand that nothing can’t be resolved with charm and grace. It’s easy to be negative. But the leaders I look up to hold a state of grace in the face of conflict.

I had no plans to be an entrepreneur. Wildfang was not planned. The idea came in 2011 after I had moved to America and was working as a retail brand marketer at Nike. A friend and I were visiting Urban Outfitters, and we felt there was no reason women shouldn’t have wing-tip shoes, a great button up or an edgy leather jacket.

I did a year of insight work during which I asked woman after woman what she wanted. There was this big population of women who wanted to steal their style from the boys. They wanted to add edge and confidence to their look. I began to reach out to mentors and role models and run my ideas by them.

Over the years Emma has gone from being the reluctant entrepreneur to being someone who is outspoken and a voice for other women and entrepreneurs around the world.

Some of her many tips for success include the following:

Fail fast and reflect on every failure.

 “I’ve worked in several places where there was no room for failure, in fact, we created spin to cover up our failures. At Wildfang we have a culture of discussing failure, assessing our failures and learning from them. In order to have an accountable team, you have to allow them to fail. I utterly believe that those who can learn fastest and can recover fastest from failure, are ultimately the most successful.”

 Try to say “Yeah, maybe” more than “Yeah, right.”

 “It’s easy to shut ideas down and criticize others, or even yourself. It’s easy to break things down — it’s so much harder to build things up. Some of our best ideas have come from either failures or unlikely sources, so I try to remain open to the possibility. It’s a mental skill for sure. If you can be a ‘yeah, maybe’ person [instead,] you’ll be someone others want to follow. Remember opportunity often comes from the unexpected.”

 Surround yourself with fucking awesome people.

 “Accept nothing less. If you look around you and the people you see aren’t amazing — then something has to change. It takes a village to create anything great and at some point, you’re going to fall and need someone else to pick you up. In the past, I’ve settled for average partners and I’ve learned to never do that again. Surround yourself with people who care as much as you and are willing to work as hard as you — your momentum will be unstoppable.”

To learn more about Emma McIlroy and Wildfang Clothing visit her website at

Mt Hood

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