Fashion designer Josie Natori exemplifies the true American entrepreneurial spirit. She was one of the first female vice presidents of investment banking at Merrill Lynch when she decided to make a change and start her eponymous fashion line. Here she tells the fascinating story of how she started her business and the important life lessons she learned along the way. In the afternoon session Josie Natori will talk with Simmons professor Teresa Nelson on how she has turned her business into a lifestyle brand.
How did you get started in your career?
I had a very untraditional entrance into the fashion industry. Throughout the 1970s my career on Wall Street was budding and I had worked my way up the corporate ladder at Merrill Lynch, where I was named the first female vice president of investment banking. I grew tired of my position and was ready to take on a new challenge. My entrepreneurial spirit led me to many new ventures, but none of them seemed to stick. One afternoon I found myself showing an embroidered blouse from the Philippines to a buyer at Bloomingdale's. The buyer advised me to turn my blouse into a sleep shirt and that's where it all began. Our sleepwear designs quickly broadened into lingerie followed by multiple brands and markets. Then came our perfume, home accents collection, towels, swim, ready-to-wear and the World of Natori began to develop.
What do you like most about your job?
I love being able to create products that make women feel good. In my line of work it is so important to use both my left and right brains and that is something I cherish. I love that nothing is ever the same and that one can start with a blank canvas every season and create something new.
What's the best piece of career advice you've gotten along the way?
Not to be afraid to make mistakes and to take risks. My father, a self-made man, passed on so many lifesaving lessons. Another is to always look at the opportunities in times of crisis rather than looking at it as a tragedy.
Any tips for work/life balance?
When you love what you do, this is not so much an issue. However, I believe in having space and down time. For me it is sleeping, having a massage and shopping! And for sure being on the piano is my ultimate escape.
Was there a mentor who made a difference in your career, and can you share his/her guidance?
My Lola Naga (grandmother). She was a very strong-willed woman who taught be how to gain my independence. In the Filipino culture women are encouraged to be entrepreneurs; my grandmother always said, "Don't put yourself in a position where you have to depend on anyone."
Another mentor was my piano professor, Madame Olga Stroumillo. She taught me that everything in life connects in the same way, just like how every finger has to connect playing the piano to make beautiful sounds.
Were there any turning points in your career where you had to make a pivotal decision that changed the course of your career? What did you learn from that experience?
The major turning point in my career was when I decided to leave Wall Street in search of a new challenge. I had a budding career in finance and had just given birth to my son Kenneth but I decided to roll the dice and take a chance on a new venture... I haven't looked back since!