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How Wildfox Built a Successful Fashion Business Out of T-Shirts

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 Kimberley Gordon, the founder and designer behind Wildfox.
Kimberley Gordon, the founder and designer behind Wildfox.

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Kimberley Gordon moved to Los Angeles to be a filmmaker, but like so many transplants, she was forced to do other jobs on the side to make money. Gordon's talent with sketching and Photoshop landed her a gig with a T-shirt designer who taught her the trade, and, in 2007, she ditched her Hollywood aspirations and launched her own brand, Wildfox, with her best friend, Emily Faulstich.

The 31-year-old clothing designer's tops were quickly picked up by the likes of Urban Outfitters and Kitson. Pretty soon, celebrities like Beyoncé, Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus were photographed in Wildfox, and Gordon had expanded the line to dresses, jeans, pajamas, and most recently, swim.

Racked caught up with Gordon to talk about the early years of her business, how she feels about festival fashion, and what's next for the brand.

Wildfox's Spring 2013 collection, with a photoshoot inspired by "Clueless."

What were you doing before you started Wildfox?
"I moved to LA when I was 19 because I wanted to do film. I was taking film classes here and it was all men and it was really intimidating so I stopped that and started waitressing, trying to make money. My dad is a cartoonist, illustrating children's books and I've been drawing my whole life. I was encouraged to get a job in fashion and a couple of years later, I found a job on Craigslist for the t-shirt brand Johnny Was. I was working as an assistant but I got the job for being able to sketch and knowing how to use Photoshop. I worked there for three years and ended up having my own T-shirt line there."

Why did you start your own line?
"The designer I was working for was amazing and taught me everything I needed to know about T-shirt collections, including the menial labor side. A lot of people who start businesses don't foresee things like buying fabrics, the wash, cutting, sewing, patterns. [At the time], my best friend from when I was 12, Emily, moved to LA and she was really talented. We got really tired of working for someone else. My dream was to be a filmmaker, and I never had the opportunity to use my directorial and leadership skills in that position. We felt like it could work to do our own thing. The business started in 2007, and we got an investor, who is our CEO today."

What were some of the early challenges?
"A lot of small things, really. Money wasn't a big challenge because we had an investor but there was the guilt of losing someone else's money and worrying that it wouldn't work. The other challenge was the actual physical labor. We didn't have a factory at the time so we'd find giant spools of fabric and lug them into the car. Emily's old Mercedes has no AC and it was boiling hot and we'd be stuck in the worst LA traffic. We also didn't have anyone advising us. We wanted really soft, vintage tees and there was no expense we wouldn't sacrifice. We went through processes where there was 70 percent damage and we lost so much money doing it. It was hard but it was really fun. The difficulty made it exciting."

A look from Wildfox's Spring 2012 Lookbook.

How did you get the business started and get your name out there?
"It was a combination of being young, having almost ignorant optimism and really good luck. When we first came up with the brand, we knew there was a hole [in the market]. We wanted to shop for vintage-looking graphic tees but couldn't find them. So we just filled that hole. When you're competing with other brands, it's hard, but we were lucky we picked something that there wasn't much of.

I was really into raves and festivals and wore crazy outfits with feathers and glitter. We couldn't get into Project or Magic [trade shows], so we had to go to an indie trade show called United. It was our only option, but we got lucky because all these boutique LA vendors came to see what it was like and we had a giant booth and we were hoola hooping and had models running around. Kitson came over and put in a big order. Kitson was the most monumental because once they had it in their stores, celebs like Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton starting buying it."

Are you happy about the popularity of festival fashion? Does it help your brand?
"I feel like that style, like Delia's, is a formula that's been around forever. Every generation has people that do that style, and I feel lucky to be a part of that. But when you are in a company, it's hard to see yourself as successful because you only see the bad things. It's hard to see it but we have glimpses, like when someone sends us an email or when we see our clothing at the beach."

Why did you recently move into swimwear?
"It naturally works for us to go into swim. [The person who wears our brand] is always going to the beach. It's a Wildfox thing to run to the sea side or keep a bikini in her purse. I had a friend from high school who is really talented and we have this great little swim collection now."

Some Wildfox tees.

What is coming up next for Wildfox?
"We have a perfume launching with Elizabeth Arden so we'll do a big campaign with that and we have a store opening in Sunset Plaza [in LA]. We're also trying to open a store in Malibu."

What lessons did you have to learn the hard way?
"There are some things I wish I had done differently. Doing denim is hard. It's the market that almost no one can make money [in]. It is a mistake when you can't make something that doesn't look original enough. That's the most important, to have an original product or to corner something. People want to get something new that they can't get anywhere else."

Does creating T-shirts ever get boring? How do you stay inspired and motivated?
"It changes a lot. Every season we do a different theme so that helps. It helps you feel inspired to design. I imagine a muse and design a collection for her. One way to stay motivated is to be inspired again and again by what you're doing. You have to love what you're doing. You do get really tired of it. People are under this illusion that you live a fabulous life where you are designing all the time, but it's hard work and 70 percent of the time, I'm planning. When I am designer, it's refreshing. I think of clothes in a story of who the girl is and where she is going to wear the clothes to. The visual [editorial], the lifestyle brand part of it is my favorite part."

An image from a recent Wildfox lookbook.

Do you have any advice for young designers looking to start their own brand?
"My advice would be to be as experienced in every aspect of what you're doing before you do it. Know the general knowledge of every single department in the business. Otherwise, if you only know creative and are alone, you need experience in the industry you want to be in before you go forth. You don't want to be stuck and not know what to do in tough situation. It's important to take classes in what you know you'll need. Also, you need to understand business in general."