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Portland's Wildfang Wants to Clothe Hot Tomboys

Nestled closely to that reindeer Portland sign you see at the opening credits of 'Portlandia' are the offices for the newest clothing collection you were destined to love: Wildfang.

Nestled closely to that reindeer Portland sign you see at the opening credits of Portlandia are the offices for the newest clothing collection you were destined to love: Wildfang. Why? Because their clothes are made to fit you, you can wear them every day, and Wildfang won’t subject you to a seemingly endless line of cutesy, ironic, perennially “on sale” T-shirts in the process. For all you women who had to settle for the “boyfriend” jean cut to get a flattering, relaxed style, your options have just increased exponentially with Wildfang’s rad tomboy-inspired collection, which includes everyone from sub_urban riot and Neuw denims to shoes and boots from Matíko and Red Wings (i.e., classic meets inspired). We asked co-founders Emma Mcilroy and Julia Parsley, along with creative director Taralyn Thuot, how much they love PajamaJeans.


EMc = Emma Mcilroy, Co-Founder

JP = Julia Parsley, Co-Founder

TT = Taralyn Thuot, Creative Director

VICE: First off, you're in Portland, a city with a few big industry players (like Nike and W&K), but since you were already with Nike, did you find yourselves saying, "Hey, I've got one of the most coveted gigs in the city now! But I want more…?"

Emma Mcilroy: God no! I’m sports mad, and I’m a brand-marketing nerd, so I was in my dream job at Nike. As far as I’m concerned it’s the best brand in sports. The Wildfang idea came to Jules and I almost three years ago. The more people we chatted to, and the more consumer research we did, we realized it wasn’t just us who wanted Wildfang to exist. It was our friends and friends of friends. The demand for tomboy-styled clothing was huge. This is a labor of love for us. We are the consumer. We started Wildfang because we wanted someone to truly do it right. The decision to leave Nike was a scary one, but we really love what we are building here at Wildfang and we really believe in it.

Taralyn Thuot: Ha! I love this question because in my nearly 10 years working for Nike, I really consider myself holding some of the most coveted gigs, styling influencers and celebs, concepting and trend forecasting for the women's line, and designing both retail and energy experiences. I'm thankful as hell for all the opportunities and have loved every minute of it. But ever since I was a child and people would ask me what I wanted to do when I grew up, my response was "I want to start my own shop." Being able to come on with Wildfang as employee #3 as a partner with Julia and Emma on curating some of the best products and experiences out there for women is the opportunity to fulfill that childhood dream, and do it with two of the most badass women I know.


Further, how does the city of Portland in general inspire Wildfang?

Julia Parsley: Well, if it weren’t for Portland, Ems and I wouldn’t have met. And if it weren’t for Portland, Wildfang wouldn’t be Wildfang. Portland is our DNA, and the brand is really rooted in the spirit of Portland. It’s progressive, it’s welcoming, it’s fun, it’s human, it’s a little bit quirky and cheeky. People love coming to visit us here, and we wanted people to feel the same way about Wildfang.

EMc: If Wildfang had been born somewhere else, it would probably have looked very different.

JP: So true. Our team is from Portland, we met in Portland, several of our labels are from Portland, many of our influencers are from Portland, we shot our brand campaign here in Portland, the city is just at the heart of who we are. We really love this city and we’re proud to show it off.

In a way, your business model of finding an industry hole and filling the void is what ModCloth was doing when they set out to sell dresses that didn't look like body bags cinched with a belt. Please tell us why nobody has figured out that women want to look good and feel comfortable without having to resort to PajamaJeans.

TT: Are you telling me we should nix the pajama jean from our assortment?! Honestly, menswear-inspired fashion has been treated like a passing trend. When I look in my closet, which thankfully is robust, I see classic seasonless items like a button-down and wingtips, and I see pieces like my creepers that I have to wear to death now because I know in a year from now they won't be in style. But each of those pieces is stolen from the boys. Trends come and go and I am the first to try each one out, but tomboy style is timelessly chic.


Can you share a clothes-shopping horror story that led to making Wildfang?

EMc: 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, did a ton of consumer research, and fast forward two and a half years later, here we are. Launching Wildfang.

Who’s your favorite tomboy of all time?

EMc: Easy. Patti Smith.

JP: I'm gonna say Debbie Harry.

TT: For me it's Lauren Hutton.

Will you have a physical store in Portland that will become the next hot tourist destination after people get their hands all greased up at Voodoo Doughnut? If so, tell us about it. If not, why keep it online or through other brands?

JP: Great question. Right now we’re a small start-up. We don’t have a huge budget or a massive team, so we have to place our bets very carefully. We’re working our butts off to get this thing off the ground. We can’t do everything we want to do, and, believe me, we are dreaming big. Someday we would love to have a physical store here in Portland. A true home for Wildfang. We just need a little time to get there. Right now, we want to ensure we create a really great experience online, on mobile and in social.


What's the process like for Wildfang design? Does it start with fabrics?

TT: For me, curating our assortment starts with channeling our muse and trusting my gut. I know immediately when I see a piece if it is right for our line. Emma and Jules always joke about my "NO F*CKING WAY" face. The next step is to try it on. If it feels and fits great, then it makes the cut. Every piece we bought for our launch collection has been tried on by at least one person in our team. Emma ended up seminaked in most showrooms we visited.

EMc: Thanks, Tara.

Your press release mentioned that you would salivate over the designs in the men's section at Urban Outfitters, wishing you could wear those clothes. I gotta say, I think in the past few years, even the men's department has abandoned a "tomboy" look, opting for flashier, trashier designs. Wildfang might be the only brand making somewhat masculine-inspired designs for anyone. Would you outfit men if they came to you in need?

JP: Ha! Well, our inspiration and muse is the tomboy, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some guys loved what we are offering up. I mean, we have a bunch of guys on our team and they all love what we’re creating. Also, it’s fair to say that some of our consumers’ greatest style icons are men: Mick Jagger, James Dean, Keith Richards, Pharrell Williams, Bruce Springsteen. Our tomboy takes big cues from these guys.

What’s your favorite tomboy item in your closet?


EMc: My wingtips.

JP: My suspenders.

TT: Oooh that's tough. Why am I only allowed one? That's a stupid question.

You scored some fantastic models for the line, including Kate Moennig from The L Word and Hannah Blilie from The Gossip. How soon will it be before Wildfang is in Portlandia?

EMc: Well, we consider the very talented and very lovely Emmy-award winning stylist Amanda Needham, to be part of our family. Actually we’ve worked closely with both Amanda and her sister Jessica, who is a kick-ass hair and makeup artist. Wildfang is also a big fan of both Portlandia and Portland-local Carrie Brownstein. I think the correct response is “stay tuned." That’s all I’m saying for now.

For the most part, it looks as though you favor toned-down colors, like gray scales, blues, and buttery black leathers from a fall-winter season. Do you foresee Wildfang having traditional "seasons" down the line, and how likely is it that you'll make a tomboy bikini in the future?

TT: We want to make sure we always have  go-tos on hand, so expect to see really great jeans, and tees, and basics as a constant part of our mix. But we’re also excited about offering up rad new stuff every season. Those pieces someone just falls in love with, like the killer black leather motorcycle jacket. Our job is to deliver on all those tomboy looks she loves, while reinventing some of the classics and giving them a new edge.


EMc: And when Tara isn’t looking I’ll buy lots of tomboy bikinis for summer ’13.

TT: Whoa. (insert NO F*CKING WAY face here)

What tomboy celeb or icon is your personal style reference?

EMc: Tight call between Keith Richards and Alison Mosshart.

JP: God, I love Agyness Deyn.

TT: Why am I always only allowed one?!?! For me it's Alexa Chung. She's rad.

Photos by Lindsey Byrnes.