Emma McIlroy Creates an Inclusive Clothing Brand and Space for Women and the LGBTQIA+ Community
By Chris Olsen
Emma Mcilroy was having a visceral reaction to images of Melania Trump, who was visiting detained immigrant children at the Texas border. Across the back of the former first lady’s designer military-style jacket, a message was smeared in bold white letters: “I really don’t care. Do u?” Emma cared deeply. An immigrant from Northern Ireland, she’d felt welcomed since arriving in the U.S. But she was keenly aware of her privilege as a white person who’d come for a job at Nike. There were stark differences between her life and the lives of those fleeing their native countries in search of safety and solace.
It wasn’t the first time an article of clothing evoked a strong reaction in Emma. A few years earlier, as she and her friend and Nike coworker Julia Parsley were shopping at Urban Outfitters, they found items they loved in the men’s section. Only the clothes didn’t fit properly because they weren’t cut for all body types. Emma’s aha moment was the realization that there were lots of people who couldn’t find clothes that allowed them to truly express themselves.
Until then, Emma hadn’t considered entrepreneurship. As she and Julia continued the conversation, the idea for Wildfang (German for tomboy) emerged. They launched a Portland, Oregon boutique with a curated collection of menswear-inspired brands for everyone. As someone who identifies as queer, Emma envisioned creating a safe and inclusive space for women and people in the LGBTQIA+ community to connect and shop.
Wildfang quickly evolved into its own label after Emma realized the retail brands she’d been offering were not available above a women’s size 12. The limited options didn’t send the message of inclusivity and body positivity she wanted to convey. Today, Wildfang offers a full range of sizes from XS to 3X. It is known for its Wild Feminist collection of imprinted tees donned by high-profile activists, as well as its button-up shirts with no boob gap, suits with functioning pockets, and coveralls for every occasion—all made to fit a variety of bodies.
That military jacket that evoked a gut-deep bodily response in Emma? She took action by printing a rebuttal message on a similar style offered by Wildfang. It said: “I really do care.” The jackets quickly sold out, and 100 percent of the proceeds were donated to the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Educational and Legal Services in Texas. Emma continues to demonstrate her commitment to social justice by supporting nonprofits she believes in. To date, Wildfang has raised more than $650,000 for organizations that support human, women’s, reproductive and immigrant rights.
For Emma, Wildfang is about something much bigger than money—it’s representative of the values she lives and breathes every day. It’s about empowering others to live freely and boldly and to be their best. “I want to know that whatever impact I make is creating a more positive life for people around me and particularly for minorities and people who are underrepresented.”
To learn more about Emma’s business, visit Wildfang.com.
About the author: Chris Olsen is a radio veteran turned communications consultant, educator and author of “Whyography: Building a Brand Fueled by Purpose”. Through her work as a consultant partnering with startups, Chris realized her WHY—to support women-owned businesses in confidently communicating their purpose and impact, setting them up for entrepreneurial success. She created Publish Her Story (formerly My Founder Story) and Publish Her as platforms for doing so.