Money & Power

Natorious: Work and Life Lessons From Global Fashion Icon Josie Natori

On the business of fashion, how millennials are today's reality, and gratitude.
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This year marks Natori’s 40th year in the fashion industry. The label's founder, Josie Natori, and its exclusive distributor in the Philippines, Rustan's, celebrated with a fashion show and a special buyers' night at Manila House.



The idea of Natori came about when Josie and her husband Ken—both investment bankers on Wall Street back then—were thinking of putting up a new business venture. A friend had sent them embroidered clothing items from the Philippines, and they decided to sell them at Bloomingdale’s. From there they progressed to nightshirts and undergarments since they saw there was a need for innovative ideas and high fashion touches in that sector. Natori bridged this gap, and from then on, the rest is history. Today, Natori is a global lifestyle brand that includes lingerie and resort collections (under Josie Natori, Natori, Josie, and N Natori), home and fragrance lines, accessories, and eyewear. We sat down with its founder and CEO Josie Cruz Natori, who was born and raised in the Philippines, and talked about the biggest lessons on building a global brand.


Find a way to fall in love with what you do.

It’s the only way anyone can succeed and feel fulfilled at work, says the 70-year-old fashion mogul. “If you don’t love it, quit. I don’t really like anyone who doesn’t love what they’re doing,” she quips. “Because then you know you’re not giving your fullest. If you’re not really happy, then you shouldn’t be here. I do say that. You’re not doing both yourself and the company any favor by being somewhere you don’t want to be.”

Fashion is a tough business to be in right now.

But there’s a way to thrive in it. Natori has been quoted saying over and over again that fashion is a business—a fickle world where brands come and go and competition is unforgiving. “It really isn’t for the faint of heart,” she says. “Again, unless you really love it, there’s a better way to make money—this is not it,” she says, laughing. “I’m fortunate that I love it, obviously, and I’m still in it 40 years later. I went through the usual ups and downs and all the other tougher moments because I loved the challenge. I think the challenge keeps me on my toes and I like that.”

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Accept that millennials are today’s reality.

In all its four decades of existence, Natori admits that the fashion world today is the most challenging for the brand, with the Internet being the biggest game changer and the lifestyles of every generation being strikingly different. “Sometimes I feel like I’m tired of hearing about millennials—they’re one of the biggest and important subject matters ever—but they’re the reality. We better be aware and figure out how to be relevant to the millennial. We have to think that this whole social media is a fact of life and traditional advertising is, well, dead.”

Keep in mind that a great product is nothing without great marketing.

There are several things one should keep in mind if you want to make it global, says Natori: a point of view, a bit of luck, staying power, and great marketing. How you reach the customer today has never been so relevant. “The marketing is as important as the product,” she says.


Look at your work as a means to an end.

For her, fashion is a business and a means to an end, which is to help change lives. Half of Natori products are made in the Philippines with the brand’s goal of giving back and providing livelihood for local artisans. “It's one thing to have a goal for the business, but it’s not necessarily my goal in life. I hope we have made a difference by giving jobs,” she says. Natori has also long been part of the Asian Cultural Council, which helps raise funds to give international grants to Filipino artists. “I have a real love for the arts,” she adds. “I believe the biggest asset of the Philippines is creativity, so I try to make a difference by helping more people reach their full potential in their artistry.”

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Craft a balance between your business and creative sides to make your company thrive.

“There’s the businesswoman in me and the creative person in me, and I’d like to think that both sides can work well together because I don’t let one overpower the other. In the end, you know it’s a business. So who cares how beautiful or creative something is when no one wants it or no one’s going to buy it or no one can afford it? I think I’m good at weighing both sides—making them talk to each other all the time.”

Who you are teaches people better than what you say.

Great leaders lead by example, and Josie Natori is among them. Her work ethic, energy, and passion have always been apparent in her dealings with employees, the media, and business colleagues—she never settles, she instills integrity, and she is always innovating. “You can’t ever think that you’ve done enough,” she says. As a boss, she prides herself on “being fair. I’m very driven so I’m very demanding and I really expect excellence and a sense of urgency,” she says. “I lead by example, and I can also be fun. I’d have a glass of Champagne with them and have a good time every now and then. So I think that people get inspired by me. But you know, I’m not easy. I think in a way, to the right people, they like it.”

Know how to take a break.

Good bosses are only as good as their ability to take a break from it all. Know when you need to get away and enjoy something special. “I’m good at that,” she says. “I sleep. I have a massage. I shop. I know how to de-stress. These things I have no problem indulging in.”

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Having faith takes you a long way.

There are many things we usually learn from our parents and one of them is the foundation of faith. “My mother is such a prayerful person,” Natori shares. “’Pray to St. Jude,’ she always tells me. He is the patron saint of the impossible. That is probably one of the things I’ve gotten from her. I’ve learned that having faith gets you through things. And with positivity, which was my father’s influence, I see that things happen because they’re meant to happen. So now almost nothing gets me down. Just keep on moving on, going with the flow. Having faith and knowing there’s someone there and you’re not alone is a very special thing.

Gratitude can change your life.

There are general things that will always be on everyone’s thank-you-for list—family, friends, life—which is good, but it takes mindfulness to think of the little details of everyday as things to be grateful for. “Gratitude makes a difference in one’s life,” she says. “Try it. When you find yourself about to complain about something, think of something to be grateful for.”


Rustan's founder Bienvenido Tantoco and Josie Natori closing the recent Natori at 40 fashion show

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About The Author
Nicole Limos
Managing Editor
Nicole’s career in publishing began in 2006. Before becoming Town & Country online’s managing editor, she moved from features editor to beauty editor of the title’s print edition. “The lessons in publishing are countless,” she says. “The most crucial ones for me? That to write best about life, you need to live your life. And another I still struggle to live by: ‘Brevity is a virtue; verbosity is a vice.’”
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