Wildfang CEO Emma McIlroy has inspired a women’s revolution through tomboy fashion

Some people will see menswear; others, a women’s revolution. – Emma McIlroy, CEO of Wildfang

Emma McIlroy believes there are only two words standing in the way of your next big idea. She shared those words in her TEDxPortland talk last month, and it is one of the most moving and inspiring TEDx talks I’ve ever heard (embedded at the end of this article, and I highly recommend watching it in full to find out what those two words are). Emma has spread inspiration and a sense of liberation to women since she and co-founder Julia Parsley launched their online retail store over four years ago with the message: we’re here to liberate menswear one bowtie at a time, and we’re doing it ourselves because we want it done right. 

Wildfang (German for tomboy) was an instant success, and the brand has been represented by big names like Kate Moennig and Tegan and Sara, among other female celebrities known for rocking tomboy style with ease. Following the online launch, McIlroy and Parsley opened their flagship brick-and-mortar store in Portland, Oregon. Since then, Wildfang has continued to expand and attract a substantial following of women who want an alternative to the dresses and heels society attempts to dictate. This year, the brand will open its doors in Los Angeles, with other cities soon to follow. Needless to say, Emma McIlroy is a busy woman, but I caught up with her between business flights to talk about her vision for the brand, her personal fashion tips, and how she defines tomboy style.

photo via wildfang.com
photo via wildfang.com

Afterellen.com: What was your first inspiration for the brand?

Emma McIlroy: It all happened in the menswear department at urban Outfitters. I found a rad graphic tee that didn’t fit me in the hips, and Jules was trying on a blazer that was too big for her. In that moment we thought – why doesn’t someone make these styles for us? That was where it started.

AE: How has Wildfang evolved since you first founded the company?

EM: We are now 4 years old! It’s been a wild few years. Our team has grown to 22 people and we’ve got 2 stores now. We’re excited about opening an LA store later in 2017. That’s a really big deal for us. Next year we will hopefully be in New York. It feels good to bring the Wildfang experience to more cities in the US!

AE: What makes Wildfang different than other women’s fashion brands?

EM: I think we wear our heart on our sleeve. I’ve always tried to be really honest and transparent with our customers. I think that’s pretty rare in our industry.

AE:  I have always been drawn to Wildfang personally because it feels like more than just clothes. There is a story behind it. How has that story fed into the styles you choose to showcase and the models you work with?

EM: Everything comes back to our mission and our values. We only hire people who share our values and who want to change the world. We only work with partners who feel that way. It guides everything we do.

AE:  What is the most common mistake women make when shopping for what has historically been considered menswear?

EM: I think the biggest issue is that they don’t understand how men’s silhouettes fit on certain body types. It’s really important to know which styles are gonna work best for your frame.

Photo via wildfang.com
Photo via wildfang.com

AE: Is there someone whose style you admire the most? Who are your favorite fashion icons?

EM: My style icon is probably Keith Richards. I aim to look like I fell out of his closet in 1975. My style icons have always been men, actually.

AE: How do you define Tomboy style?

EM: Tomboy style is relaxed, comfortable, versatile, functional. It is inspired by menswear, but much more importantly it’s about how it makes you feel, and just being comfortable.

AE: How would you define your own personal style?

EM: My personal style is very rock ‘n roll. It’s relaxed, imperfect, and I try to provoke a reaction. I love creating conversation with my outfit.

AE: What’s your number one style tip for women?

EM: Honestly, style is all about confidence. If you feel good wearing it, then it’s a great choice. Internal confidence is the key to rocking any look. Once you feel good on the inside, you usually look f*cking fabulous on the outside. I’d also encourage people to try and take one risk with their outfit. Just one item, one step outside.

 Watch Emma’s TEDx talk: