Josie Cruz Natori is founder and CEO of the Natori Company. Exemplifying her own mantra, she crossed continents, navigated varying careers, and surmounted countless obstacles to create a global brand, Natori. Under labels Josie Natori, Natori, Josie, and N Natori, the House of Natori extends through ready-to-wear, lingerie, home, bedding, fragrance, and accessories. At the age of 17, Ms. Natori left Manila to attend Manhattanville College to study Economics. She joined the corporate world, and eventually became the first female vice president of investment banking at Merrill Lynch. But ultimately she wanted to have her own business and a connection to her native Philippines. She fell into the idea of importing embroidered tops, which became the catalyst for a lingerie business that has grown into an iconic brand three decades later. Using an Asian aesthetic, Ms. Natori was able build a distinct brand, melding the visual appeals of both the East and the West.
"I love my work, but success in fashion is not enough," says Ms. Natori, who sits on the boards of the Asian Cultural Council, the Orchestra of St. Luke's, and the Fashion and Design Council of the Philippines. She is also a member of the CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America) and the Committee of 200. She was presented with the Galleon Award in 1988 by then-President of the Republic of the Philippines, Corazon Aquino. She received the Lakandula Award, considered the highest honor for a Filipino citizen, and was recognized with the prestigious Humanitarian Award by Fashion Group International.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I was raised in a matriarchal culture in the Philippines. My grandmother always told me not to be dependent on anyone. So despite having a career I loved on Wall Street, I knew it was in my blood to start my own business.
How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at the House of Natori?
Working at Merrill Lynch where I was the first ever female Vice President of Investment Banking gave me invaluable analytical and negotiating experience. There aren't many of us in the rag trade that came from Wall Street, so I think my unique history works to my advantage.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at the House of Natori?
The highlight is staying in business for 38 years! We have built great brands through high-quality product and distribution. It can be a very tough business, and I'm proud to say that we remain completely independent.
What advice can you offer to women who want to start their own business?
It's not easy, but it's worth it! There is certainly nothing relaxing about building a business. You feel personally responsible for everything that goes wrong. But the feeling of success when something works well is like no other. It's wonderful getting compliments from fans and seeing your fashion on the streets.
What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
Work with good people. We have decided to surround ourselves with partners who we know have high integrity. To me, business isn't about size... it's about quality.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
What's life? Ha ha.. I work all the time. But my husband joined me in the business from Wall Street in the 80's, my son left Wall Street in 2007 to join, and his wife now blogs for our Josie collection as The Josie Girl. So that's my balance!
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
It's amazing to me that in 2014, there is still such a wage disparity between men and women. As our company is 95% women, it's really hard for me to imagine!
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I have been blessed to have so many wonderful mentors who have helped give me guidance over the years. Running a business, especially a fashion business, is incredibly challenging. I couldn't do it unless I had such a great support network.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Margaret Thatcher. She has always amazed me!
What do you want the House of Natori to accomplish in the next year?
Expand more globally! Our mission is to bring art into life with an East-West sensibility. Through strengthening and expanding our collections and brands, I hope to continue fulfilling that goal around the world.