Three years ago, Emma McIlroy and Julia Parsley were wandering around men’s clothing in a department store when they fell in love with a blazer and graphic tee.
“Why don’t they make this stuff for us?” Parsley wondered.
If men’s styles for women ever popped up in the ladies’ section of a shop, they only stayed for a season or two, she said. The women in her life agreed. The world needed a home for tomboys.
In March, McIlroy and Parsley, former Nike employees, plan to unveil an online empire made by and for tomboys. Part e-commerce shop and part blog, Wildfang will both curate clothing and accessories from retail brands around the world and offer editorial content that highlights the “tomboy spirit.”
“We heard that girls had a flaw in their closet, so we’re serving that up,” Parsley, 32, said. “These girls tend to have attitude. They tend to share similar values. That’s part of her world. We’re trying to create a home, a community for her.”
Wildfang, literally meaning “tomboy” in German, set the fashion world abuzz with their early February pre-launch. Within a week of their sneak peek online, Wildfang had more than 3,000 followers on Twitter and more than 3,500 “likes” on Facebook. Big names such as soccer star Megan Rapinoe, fashion blogger Nadia Sarwar and Kate Moennig of “The L Word” have also joined the cause.
The website, so far just a landing page, beckons fellow tomboys to “join the family.” An all-caps manifesto rallies all manners of tomboy, wingtip-wearing, menswear-loving women, from the rocker to the sophisticate, from the prep to the jock and the androgynous. Wildfang is as much about the attitude as it is about the look.
“When we say tomboy, it’s about being bold, strong and confident, not taking yourself too seriously,” McIlroy, 29, said. “It’s the girl you want to go get a drink with. It’s about the personality and the style.”
Contrary to what some media have said, they’re not clothing designers. McIlroy was a product manager for the Nike+ FuelBand, technology that tracks and monitors an athlete’s activity levels. Parsley worked for the Nike Foundation and helped build programs for adolescent girls in developing countries.
In October 2012, the two quit their jobs to buckle down on their fledgling startup. They believe so much in their brand, they’ve poured their 401k savings, houses and personal savings into the business. But they’re quickly growing: They now have 21 team members and are working out of an office in old Chinatown.
Their marketing knowledge from working at Nike came in handy when they surveyed friends and potential consumers. The two sorted through hundreds of brands to narrow down the collection and now have a good grasp of what a tomboy would want to wear and read about, Parsley said.
Though they won’t reveal too many details about the Wildfang brand, their business relies on the merge of fashion retail and technology.
The website will include editorial content and articles from “people you know and love” to complement the shopping experience, Parsley said.
The founders also expect to heavily integrate social media such as Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram. They look up to and are in talks with innovative Portland-based e-commerce site Chirpify, which lets people buy or sell products through social media, such as a reply with the word “buy.”
For now, they plan to sell only online.
“We love the idea of a concept store or popup store at some point in the future,” McIlroy said. “For the short term, we are definitely focusing on online.”
Written By: Dominique Fong