When we hear the word leader, we might picture the person in charge of our team or organization. On a larger scale, we might think of an elected person in our community, state or country.
Often the word leader gets confused with manager, but the former is not a person whose sole job it is to give orders.
Real leaders emerge via unconventional paths—and not always up organizational ladders—during tumultuous times in which like-minded people are swept up in a movement, united for a common cause. The real leaders may not even consider themselves leaders, despite the way others see them.
When former Nike executives Emma McIlroy and Julia Parsley founded Wildfang, their goal was to give women options beyond what they considered “nonfunctional” fashion. While they had always intended for their brand to inspire and empower women, a combination of philanthropic outreach and serendipitous timing has positioned the two entrepreneurs as leaders in today’s women’s movement.
“People say to me, ‘Well, wait, why is Wildfang political? Why did you go make a political brand?’” explains McIlroy in a conversation with journalist and author Cal Fussman on Life is Beautiful’s Beautiful Moments podcast. “I say, ‘we never intended to make a political brand, but we also never intended for it to be political to be a woman.’
“Something happened. Things shifted in the last 12 months and it did become political to be a woman. It did become political to be a queer person. It did become political to be a person of color.”
Women now look to the duo for designs—such as their Wild Feminist line—that express their own feelings about society and gender politics.
Adds Parsley: “[Wild Feminist] was definitely at the heart of people saying, ‘I need something that I can convey with one look that I don’t agree with what’s happening and that I’m going to fight back.’ So, we were there for people, obviously, as a community, but from a product perspective, that was what really resonated.”
While they’ve embraced their unconventional path and roles as leaders, McIlroy and Parsley are adamant that others in a position to lead and speak out not stay on the sidelines.
“In the wake of the election, if you’re quiet, in my opinion, you’re picking a side,” McIlroy says. “So if you’re not speaking up and you’re not taking action right now, by your silence, you’ve spoken light enough as far as I’m concerned.
“I think more than ever we all need to make sure that our personal lives, our professional lives, are aimed at the values that we believe in as humans. At Wildfang, that’s diversity, that’s inclusion, that’s women’s rights, and we’re not going to stop doing what we did.”
You can hear the complete conversation with McIlroy and Parsley on the Beautiful Moments Podcast below. Want to listen on the go? Download the podcast here.