Emma McIlroy – The CEO of Wildfang International

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This is the story of two girls who found each other in Portland Oregon. In 2013, they decided to borrow from the men’s closet and create a community of well shirted and panted women. Wildfang stands for tomboy in German, but also for a group of badass and independant women who want to take on the world as CEO Emma McIlroy would put it. Here is a sneak peak of what it is like to be Wildfang.


1/ What is the idea behind Wildfang?

Emma McIlroy: Wildfang is the home of the tomboy. It is as much about the spirit as it is about style. Wildfangs are confident, independent, badass women who are ready to break the rules when they don’t make sense to them.

Our style is a spectrum in a sense that there is everything from the more tailored and buttoned up sophisticate, to the prep to the more rebellious rock and roll tomboy. Our consumer tells us she hasn’t been able to feel like herself as well has not being able to express herself. That is why Wildfang exists. We are here to set her free and make her feel like her very best self.

2/ How did this project came to life?

Emma McIlroy: I remember the first time we had the idea. Actually Julia has to get the credit for the idea. We were in the men’s department at a well-known store and I was looking at a men’s graphic tee which had a barely clad Kate Moss on the front. Jules was staring at a men’s blazer with patches on the elbows. She came over and just said “Ems, why don’t they make this shit for us?” And I didn’t really have an answer. We thought about it a lot, talk to tons of women and fast forward four years and here we are!

3/ Describe your typical day at Wildfang.

Emma McIlroy: 6.45am // my alarm goes off and the first thing I do is put on music. Usually upbeat, something to put me in a good mood and kickstart my day. Yesterday it was Haim, the day before it was Heart and Blondie. My musical taste is seriously eclectic. 7.30am // I am tea obsessed and can’t leave the house without a cup of British tea. My mum ships it to me from Belfast. I like to make time for breakfast at home with my cat, Raffi, before work. Usually involves eggs, toast, tea and a banana. I find it helps balance me and ground me for the day ahead. // 8am I call my mum and dad on the way to work every morning (using my headset, of course!). It’s hard being 5000 miles away from family but Viber and Skype are lifesavers. // 12 noon We are in midst of building out our second retail store so most mornings I’m in the space, ensuring everything is going as planned.

// 3pm Weekdays are usually 12-13 hour days for me. As co-founder, CEO and Marketing Director I fly high and low. One minute I could be replying to a tweet, the next I might be pitching an investor for $250k. I love working in a start up is that we wear a lot of hats and we move really quickly. You can’t do that in corporate America.

// 4.30pm I find myself leading a marketing brainstorm around our Fall 2015 calendar. It’s compulsory that late afternoon brainstorms are accompanied by tootsie rolls and Swedish fish. // 7pm My happy place is on the track doing a hard workout. My brother was an Olympic athlete and I ran middle distance growing up. If I can get 90 mins on the track it helps me stay sane. // 9pm I’ll usually grab food from food carts on my way home. We have some incredible food carts in PDX. My favorites are carte Blanche and Pyro Pizza.// 11.30pm I’ll sneak a couple more hours of work in while watching Veep or true Detective. Me and Raffi normally hit the hay just before midnight.

4/ In Quebec, women eager to start businesses can benefit from a lot of, both monetary and psychologically support from the government and non profit organizations. Were you able to benefit from this sort of help when you first started the brand?

Emma McIlroy: When we started we were entirely self funded. Julia and myself took out our 401k, our savings, and even equity in our house in order to build our website and buy our first collection. We then raised $650k from a group of amazing angels, friends and family.

5/ What piece of advice would you give to women looking to start a business of their own?

Emma McIlroy:

I would probably say 3 things :

1/ Become the world’s greatest salesperson. You will sell every single day, so you better get good at convincing other people to do things for you.

2/ You’re only as good as the team you surround yourself with, so find the best people, the hungriest people and do everything you can to keep them motivated.

3/ It’s the loneliest thing you’ll ever do. Make sure you have a great support network and don’t be scared to ask for help.

6/ What are the next steps for Wildfang?

Emma McIlroy: We are opening our second store in Portland’s West End in September. We definitely have some surprises in store for you there!

7/ For someone who has never been to Portland Oregon, what is the one thing you would recommend to do (appart from visiting the Wildfang store, of course ;)) ?

Emma McLlroy : Do the Shanghai Tunnel Tour. It’s very cool. Takes you back in time to Portland’s murky past and you might even see a few ghosts.


Shop Wildfang at http://www.wildfang.com/
Or visit their store in Portland Oregon :
1230 SE Grand Ave, Portland, OR 97214, United States

By Justine Paquette


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