PORTLAND, Ore. – “We are as much about feminism as we are about fashion,” Emma McIlroy explains. She’s describing Wildfang, an apparel company she founded with two partners five years ago – a company which, to her, is “equal parts fashion and activism.”
“Wildfang is really here to ensure that the gender roles that exist for women are broken,” she says, “and that we are really fueling women to be exactly who they want to be and unlock their potential, and destroy some of those stupid rules that exist about gender. We take that job really seriously.”
If there was one paragraph that would explain the synergy between the Rose City-based company and Portland Thorns FC, that would be it.
“Fueling women.” “Unlock their potential.” “Destroy stupid rules.” While ensconced in the week-to-week dramatics of wins and losses, it’s easy to forget the bigger picture. Sports, after all, will forever be a tool of escapism. But there is a reality to the Thorns’ existence that transcends each game’s result, one that can be seen in the inspired eyes of fans who pack Providence Park for each home match. Portland and every other NWSL team is about opportunity – about many of the same goals that fuel Wildfang itself.
Thus, McIlroy relays, the collaboration between Wildfang and the Thorns had a type of “duh, of course” feel to it, as relayed to her by fans. Revealed for the first time last week, the partners have collaborated on a five-piece capsule set – sweatshirt, two tees, mug and buttons – with a portion of the proceeds benefitting New Avenues for Youth, “a local nonprofit organization dedicated to the prevention and intervention of youth homelessness.”
It’s the latest implementation of Wildfang’s model. Founded by 2013 by McIlroy (CEO) and her partners, Julia Parsley (COO) and Taralyn Thuot (Creative Director), Wildfang has always put feminism at its core, not only in terms of the company’s messaging but also its actions. “We care an awful lot about the women in our community,” McIlroy says, “about every aspect of their lives, way beyond fashion.”
Part of that care is its give-back. “This year, alone, we raised over half-a-million dollars for a string of charities that we really believe in,” McIlroy explains, citing causes that run from promoting reproductive rights, protecting immigrant rights, as well as developing opportunities for minority youth. “We’re really here to ensure that the role women get to play in the world is a different one, going forward.”
That message is clear across every item in the capsule collection. “Come as you are,” emblazoned down the front-left of the collaboration’s sweatshirt, reinforces the ideals of acceptance and inclusiveness. “Squad goals,” printed into one of the collection’s tees, evokes unity, partnership, as well as pride in each others’ success, while the “playmaker, noisemaker, troublemaker, tastemaker, decisionmaker” shirt echoes McIlroy’s vision for “destroy[ing] stupid rules.”
“I talked about the charity give-back,” McIlroy says, speaking to ThornsFC.com the day before the collection’s Aug. 15 launch event. “That comes in unrestricted access to clothing and self-expression. That comes in body diversity on our website, and making sure we’re representing every woman, and not just the women that you are used to seeing in marketing. That comes through the events that we hold; the partnerships that we have; the partners that we work with that share our values. It comes in every single thing that we do – every aspect of our company.”
McIlroy’s enthusiasm for her company is contagious. It’s impossible to talk to her and not want to do more. Pride is evident in every word from the Ireland-born immigrant, who moved to the Rose City 11 years ago. “This city allowed me to build a business,” she said, “to give 30 people a job. I’m just really proud to be from Portland, and I’m proud that my brand is from Portland.”
It’s part of why Nadine Angerer, a former Thorns FC goalkeeper, current assistant coach and past FIFA World Player of the Year, has become such a loyal customer.
“She’s an inspiring woman,” Angerer said of McIlroy. “I love women like that. She’s full of energy. It is always fun to hang out with her and talk to her, and I just love being around those kinds of people.”
That energy rubbed off on one of the newer Thorns, too, with first-year fullback Midge Purce also playing a part in the project’s rollout.
“To be a part of the collaboration was actually a surprise when they asked me to be a part with [Meghan Klingenberg] and Nadine,” she explained. “It was incredible.
“Everything they stand for, my values align with and my principles align with. They are pretty simple, basic, good human values to align with. To help spread that word and those messages, that’s invaluable.”
Based on early reaction to the project, fans are finding the product invaluable, too.
“I was in our store on Saturday, and I was actually trying to buy a piece of the collaboration for myself,” McIlroy remembers, “and I was like, ‘where are all the sizes?’ The staff was like, ‘we can’t get them back out on the floor fast enough. People are literally walking in and going ‘where’s the Thorns stuff?’ They’re just grabbing it and walking out.’”
That the Thorns were even involved in the project is, in a way, a piece of validation for the club’s bigger mission. Wildfang is an organization whose entire identity is devoted to promoting women through their apparel. Every piece they produce, every partnership they form, every dollar they donate is focused on that goal. “We take that job really seriously,” McIlroy says, explaining, “We truly live and breathe what we do.”
That the company would get involved with the Thorns shows that, from Wildfang’s point of view, the Thorns exist in the same space. “We want to work with the best,” McIlroy says, “and we want to work with people who are breaking barriers for women. That’s definitely this team.”
And, that’s definitely cause to keep the partnership going.
“I’m so proud of [the collaboration],” McIlroy says. “We wanted to drop this capsule collection and see if people were as excited as we thought they might be. Based on that, we would like to do something bigger and better in 2019 … which I think we’re going to do, now.”
An opportunity to meet Midge Purce, Nadine Angerer and Meghan Klingenberg* and participate in a Q&A session at the Wildfang Portland flagship store (404 SW 10th Ave.). The event runs from 7pm to 9pm.
-- Enter to win a grand giveaway prize: signed jersey and two VIP Thorns tickets to our 9/7 game against Seattle Reign FC
-- Music with Live DJ
-- Hosted bar
-- 10% of proceeds from the collection will be donated to New Avenues for Youth!
*players subject to change