Stories of Impact

Co-founder and CEO, Wildfang

Company: Wildfang
Year Founded: 2012
What They Do: Revolutionize fashion for badass women.
Vision: To inspire her to be her boldest, biggest self.

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: Making peace with fear.

As a girl I was a rebel, tomboy, thinker. The truth is, I always wanted to be a boy. Raised Irish, I had very supportive parents who reinforced that I could do anything I set my mind to. My father helped me understand that nothing can’t be resolved with charm and grace. It’s easy to be negative. But the leaders I look up to hold a state of grace in the face of conflict.

I had no plans to be an entrepreneur. Wildfang was not planned. The idea came in 2011, after I had moved to America and was working as a retail brand marketer at Nike. A friend and I were visiting Urban Outfitters, and we felt there was no reason women shouldn’t have wing-tip shoes, a great button up, or an edgy leather jacket.

I did a year of insight work during which I asked woman after woman what she wanted. There was this big population of women who wanted to steal their style from the boys. They wanted to add edge and confidence to their look. I began to reach out to mentors and role models and run my ideas by them.

I don’t know any entrepreneur who at one time or another hasn’t been crippled with self-doubt. Fear is something you live with every day.

OEN was one of the first groups I reached out to. As an entrepreneur, you have no idea where to go. OEN was a group that said, “Okay, I like your idea and here’s a list of people who can help you.”

They pointed me in the direction of resources, mentors, and other entrepreneurs who could share their journeys. In entrepreneur world, the highs are very high and lows are very low. The mission keeps you going. But to keep the fears at bay, I needed mentors as much as anybody. I’ve been overcome with self-doubt. For one thing, I don’t look like any other CEO. I’m a woman, I’m queer, I’m under 40. There are a number of reasons I stick out. I’m not from here. I don’t have an alumni network. My parents didn’t have money. And so, it’s a new world to break into. It’s scary and intimidating, and I feel a lot every single day.

So you keep your community tight and go to those people when you need it most. The first person I got close to at OEN was Jason Bolt, CEO at Revant. He’s now one of my best friends. We developed a thing called The Emergency Beer Club. When you had a terrible day and everything had gone wrong—and you don’t want to call a mentor because they would remind you of what you had done wrong—you just hit the emergency beer number to vent over beers. And no one would critique, they would just let you get it off your chest and give you love and support. There are some things that only another entrepreneur understands.

Having an organization like OEN give us the opportunities to succeed has been so validating. OEN’s Entrepreneurship Awards program announced us on the local scene. When we won, people were suddenly like, “Who is Wildfang? Why should I pay attention to them?”

The OEN award was a big deal for us, to be recognized by our peers and the community when you were so young and you felt like you’d made so many mistakes.

OEN’s judging committee said they had never seen a company form so quickly, where every single person on the team 100% believed in the mission.

I was so blown away when we won that award. Suddenly, people noticed us and gave us the opportunities that are the stepping stones to the success we have today. We’re on a mission, that mission is valid, and we’re going to change the world.

Credits  Videography: Shanti Martin, Freedom Street Studios | Photography: Shanti Martin, Niya Christine, Edis Jurcys | Content & Design: David McLaughlin, Niya Christine 

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