"Everything in life connects." - Josie Natori
As founder and CEO of Natori Company, Josie Natori literally reconfigured an industry, erasing the boundary between innerwear and outerwear and bringing elegant, sensuous lingerie into the light of day. She started her business from scratch, twenty-five years ago, and has applied her taste and skills to an innate understanding of what exactly women want.
Born Josefina Almeda Cruz, the eldest of six children in a close-knit Filipino family, Natori grew up surrounded by strong, supportive role models. “Women in the Philippines are encouraged to be entrepreneurial,” she explains. “It's a very matriarchal culture.” Natori's earliest success was as a classical pianist, and she performed a solo concert with the Manila Philharmonic Orchestra at nine. But from a very young age she knew that business was her true calling and she left Manila for New York in 1964, at 17, to study economics at Manhattanville College.
After graduating, Natori began an astonishingly quick ascent up the corporate ladder. In 1971, she moved to Merrill Lynch as an investment banker.
While there, she met her future husband, Ken Natori, a third-generation Japanese-American, managing director at Smith Barney. Within a few years, Natori was married, had been named the first woman vice-president in investment banking, and given birth to her son, Kenneth, Jr. But by 1976, the year her son was born, Natori was ready to move on to something more creative. “The novelty had begun to wear off,“ she says. “I just wasn't challenged anymore. I knew there must be something else.“
“I was really looking for something that would allow me to take advantage of being Filipino and a woman,“ she explains. An old friend sent her a variety of hand-embroidered clothing, including some blouses that Natori took to a buyer at Bloomingdale's. When the buyer suggested lengthening them and turning them into nightshirts, an empire was born. Natori boldly quit her job, and set up shop in her living room. Although she had no experience in fashion or manufacturing, within a few years she was working out of an 11,000-square-foot loft on 34th street, complete with a showroom and sample and design workspaces. Natori intuitively understood what was missing from the lingerie market, and her confidence grew with her success. She soon became known for vibrant colors, bold patterns, and designs so sophisticated they begged to be worn beyond the bedroom. Her hallmark- the signature detailing, embroidery, and appliqué work of the Philippines- remains integral to Natori's designs, translated into a collection that now includes four distinctive lines of lingerie- Natori Black Label, Natori White Label, Natori Underneath and Josie.
An inspiring symbol of success to people in the Philippines, Natori was honored for her achievements with the Galleon Award, presented in 1988 by President Corazon Aquino. The honors have continued to accumulate: Natori sits on the board of trustees of the Asian Cultural Council; the board of directors of the Educational Foundation of Fashion Industries; the corporate board of Alltel Corporation and the boards of the Philippine American Foundation. She is a member of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, the Committee of 200 and the Fashion and Design Council of the Philippines. In 1998, Natori was chosen as the New York City Partnership’s Business Woman of the Year and she served as a delegate to the Clinton Economic Summit Conference in Little Rock in 1992 and as a Commissioner to the White House Conference on Small Business in 1993.
Passion is clearly one of the keys to Natori’s success: From the time she left the corporate world for the more creative realm of fashion, Josie Natori has held fast to the passions, both personal and professional that move her. Family retains pride of place, while music remains a cherished pursuit. Indeed, for her 50th birthday, Natori performed at Carnegie Hall with The Orchestra of St. Luke’s. Josie Natori has retained close ties to her homeland, as well. In the late 1970s, with her father’s help, she established a factory to manufacture her sleepwear. She now employs close to a thousand local craftspeople and has a showroom in Manila. Finally, Natori devotes significant amounts of time and energy to charitable efforts on behalf of women and fashion in the Philippines.
“I love my work, but success in fashion is not enough, I want to be able to give something back, to make a difference in people's lives. Only then will I feel as if I've accomplished something.”
Natori's Collection Ranges from Couture, Lingerie to Home.