WHAT GIRL didn't want to run amok all summer like Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird? The freedom of a tomboy is a powerful call of the wild, and Portland's Wildfang has managed to lasso the moon with their particular boyish brand of womenswear. The trick? Carry iconic menswear for jocks, preps, rockers, and androgynists, all specifically made for women—and brand the holy hell out of it. It's proving pretty darn popular.
What started as an internet sensation early this year in the form of a celebrity-studded commercial/manifesto for the nascent company—long before Wildfang had anything to sell—has grown into a realized brand with a dedicated following (umm, hi Tegan and Sara!). The lack of physical product and location changed last month when Wildfang threw open the doors to their first store. Filled with wood fixtures, a fort-like dressing room, and tons of well-designed button-ups, blazers, bowties, and hats, it's like playing dress-up in a more delicate dad's closet. And seeing Wildfang's aesthetic in person, it quickly becomes a revelation that no one's harnessed the buying power of tomboys before.
Co-founder Emma McIlroy says: "The word 'wildfang' itself means tomboy in German, so we really think about the spectrum of tomboy. When we chose our collection, the real heart of it is menswear-inspired silhouettes. You probably won't see us, ever, carry dresses or skirts or high-heels."
The fledgling company's founders have a deep and burning dedication to their brand and customer. McIlroy and co-founder Julia Parsley, both Nike veterans, know their consumer well. "For both of us it was about creating a brand, creating something that meant something to girls, creating something that really allowed them to be who they wanted to be," McIlroy says. "In all the consumer research we'd done leading up to this business, we realized our girl had a need. She didn't have anywhere that she loved to shop. We're here to provide a place that these girls love to be, want to hang out, that they call their favorite place."
It's already become a beloved brand of many, not even counting the long list of celebrities who've come knocking on their door wanting to get involved. McIlroy's passion for Wildfang is palpable. She frequently calls her shoppers "our girls" and often speaks of the company's values and purpose. And her lilting Irish enthusiasm is clearly infectious; in just six short months, the company has already outpaced their initial business plans—opening a brick-and-mortar tomboy sanctuary and selling their Wildfang line of button-up shirts like hotcakes.
"We're on a mission. We believe we're here to do something much bigger than just sell product. We believe we're here to create community and a brand for our girls," McIlroy says. "This is a much more emotional thing than a piece of clothing."
The Popcorn Sessions at Wildfang, 1230 SE Grand, Tues Oct 8, 7 pm, free.