Josie Natori: Heritage and Ambition

Josie Natori took to heart her grandmother’s advice to always be independent by first pursuing a career on Wall Street and then founding her own company. Drawing on the artistic heritage of her native Philippines for inspiration, she created a lifestyle company that employs more than 500 people — 90 percent of whom are women.

Here is a full transcript of the video:

Fashion was, it was really a great accident, honestly. It’s kept me going through the years. I never thought    it would last this long. But to me, as long as I am not bored, I will keep going. And certainly, in this business, you can’t possibly be bored.

I was born in the Philippines. I was the oldest of 32 grandchildren. I saw my grandmother working from 4 am until midnight, and still keeping a household. Philippines is a matriarchal society. She told me from a very young age, “Don’t depend on anybody. Have your own career.”

When I came to this country, I never realized that there was a little difference in terms of how women viewed themselves. But I think that my upbringing made me feel like there was no limitations actually for a woman.

So, I took whatever business courses I could in college and to me, I was clear I was heading to Wall Street. In what capacity? No idea. But I was offered corporate finance associate and that was what I learned. I had such confidence. I just did whatever it was, whether I opened a branch for them in the Philippines at age 21 and being the sole broker. And then after that subsequently being the first woman vice president of investment banking at Merrill Lynch, but I was bored. Basically, bored. I mean, I am artistic at heart, which is my left brain and I love the business. So, my right brain. So, mixing them together I want to do something that I can relate to. But clearly with the idea of having my own business down the road.

I love beautiful things. And whatever the fashion was, I just I never dressed as an investment banker. Lots of friends sent me some apparel that was embroidered, blouses from the Philippines and by luck a lingerie buyer at Bloomingdale’s who said to me, “Can you make this into a night shirt?” Which, you know, I didn’t even know, what’s a night shirt? She said, just make it longer, because it was a trend. I didn’t have a clue. I never went to those stores. And I decided to go back to the Philippines to see what we could do that took advantage of my ancestry and my heritage. It’s the Italy of Asia. Whether it’s the tablecloths my mother embroidered or whether it is the porcelain, it became an inspiration.

It’s not easy, you know… taking risks. Making mistakes. Working 24/7. But, you know, I think that when you love something, you’re good at it even through the difficulties. Obviously, lingerie is the core of where I started and it’s a very important part, but the business woman in me said, I want it to grow. So, today Natori is a lifestyle company. We have over 500 employees, and our own factories in the Philippines. 90% are women which is very rewarding.

I never in my wildest imagination would think that this so-called business would be what it is. But this is what capitalism is about, right? To dream about it, and make it happen.