WILDFANG CAME OUT swinging. Early last month the Portland-based web retailer (wildfang.com) announced themselves by way of a stylish, moody video featuring actress Kate Moennig (The L Word), Gossip drummer Hannah Blilie, and pro soccer player Megan Rapinoe. In the background an older woman (later revealed as the grandmother of one of the company founders) speaks about not caring what others think about you, finding heaven in a good night out dancing, and being ahead of her time. Onscreen, the celebrity ambassadors and their posse drive through the streets of Portland, stopping to get down to a live band at a party, and to gaze over the nighttime industrial shores. All are kitted out in the style for which Wildfang aims to be the lightning rod, loosely defined as "tomboy."
Paired with the video—which quickly went viral, earning them spots on style blogs, BuzzFeed, and Vice almost instantly—was the equivalent of a posted bill on the internet: "Wildfang is not a brand. We are a band. More specifically, we are a band of thieves. Modern-day female Robin Hoods raiding men's closets and maniacally dispensing blazers, cardigans, wingtips, and bowlers as we roam from town to town in these stolen styles of ours... We're here to liberate menswear one bowtie at a time."
It was a heady combination, and it worked. Wildfang—which is very much a brand—has yet to offer up even one item for sale, but their following across social media is already strong, with over 5,000 thumbs ups on Facebook and nearly 4,000 Twitter followers, a number they've almost matched on Instagram. Although co-founder Emma McIlroy, who launched the venture with partner Julia Parsley, emphasizes the small size and limited budget of the fledgling company, they're carrying big guns. The founders, along with Creative Director Taralyn Thuot, all met at Nike, enjoying success and a good living in departments from styling to branding. McIlroy is a self-described "brand marketing nerd," who speaks effusively about the amount of consumer research interviews that went into the Wildfang concept, casually referring to their customer and what "she" wants. Their no-frills office space in Old Town houses seven full-time employees, with an extended network of part-timers and contributors that brings the tally upwards of 20.
Not to say advantage is a bad thing: These women know what they're doing, and are passionate about filling a niche. They've carefully vetted pieces across a variety of price points, running each item through a list of criteria that includes being tried on by at least one member of their team who deems that they would wear it, sometimes choosing just one item out of a label's season. The strategy is an unusual one. Most boutiques define themselves in part by their price point, and shoppers seek out shops according to how much they're prepared to spend. Wildfang—which means "tomboy" in German—is betting that their customers will come to them primarily for their aesthetic, augmented by a heavy emphasis on editorial content.
They make no bones about their ambitions, dropping comparisons to ModCloth and Urban Outfitters. And if things proceed as they have thus far, it won't be long before they reach them.