By Chris Olsen
Emma Mcilroy was having a visceral reaction. A gut-deep bodily response to images of First Lady Melania Trump, who was visiting detained immigrant children at the Texas border. Across the back of her 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 and supported 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 the female body. Emma’s aha moment was the realization that there were lots of women who couldn’t find clothes that allowed them to truly express themselves.
Until then, Emma hadn’t thought about entrepreneurship. As she and Julia continued the conversation, the idea for Wildfang (German for tomboy) emerged. It began as a Portland, Oregon boutique with a curated collection of menswear-inspired brands for women. As someone who identifies as queer, Emma envisioned creating a safe and inclusive space for women and people in the LGBTQ community to connect and shop.
Wildfang quickly evolved into its own label after Emma realized none of the other retail brands they offered were 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 also has locations in New York and Los Angeles and offers a full range of women’s sizes from XS to 2X. They’re known for their Wild Feminist collection of imprinted tees and other items, proudly donned by high-profile women’s and human rights advocates like Janelle Monae and Evan Rachel Wood. Customer favorites also include Wildfang’s Empower Suit, tailored button-up shirts, and workwear jumpsuits, all made to fit the female frame.
That military jacket that made the hairs on the back of Emma’s neck stand up? Emma took action and made a positive impact by printing a rebuttal message on a similar style jacket offered by Wildfang. It said: “I really do care.” The jackets quickly sold out, and 100 percent of the proceeds—more than a quarter of a million dollars—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. Last year alone, Wildfang raised $400,000 for charities 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 womxn-owned businesses in confidently communicating their purpose and impact, setting them up for entrepreneurial success. She created My Founder Story as a platform for doing so.