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Women's Day: Josie Natori champions 'Made in the Philippines' to the world |

Fashion and Beauty

Women's Day: Josie Natori champions 'Made in the Philippines' to the world

Dolly Dy-Zulueta -
Women's Day: Josie Natori champions 'Made in the Philippines' to the world
Filipino-American world-renowned designer Josie Natori
Rustan's / Released

MANILA, Philippines — Talk about women empowerment, and, in the Philippines, we’ve got Josie Natori championing the cause of women and opening doors for Filipino women to come on up to the international stage and take a bow.

She achieved this at a time when the international fashion scene revolved around American and European talents and rarely let anyone else, much less an Asian, in. Natori’s talent was way too big to be ignored, though, and so her work got recognized and before long her name shone beside the best in the fashion industry. Her brand, Natori, became “prime commodity,” recognized mainly for its lingerie wear, but now also produces sleepwear, ready-to-wear clothes, and accessories and sells them in upscale department stores in the United States as well as over 15 countries worldwide. Eventually, she also came up with home furnishings, perfume, towel, and eyewear lines bearing her name, Natori.

Despite being based in the U.S. and being a U.S. citizen, Natori capitalizes on her Philippine and Asian heritage, which has been the core of her East-Meets-West mix of culture and design. She also makes sure her businesses give jobs to her countrymen, as 70% of her products are made in the Philippines.

Now, she celebrates 45 years of Natori.

“After a tumultuous three years of the pandemic, I am so excited to have our final celebration of 45 years of Natori at Rustan’s, our partner in the Philippines for over two decades,“ said Josie Natori, founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of The Natori Company.

“Natori is a total concept, a way of life. I just happened to start at the back door with lingerie. Now, as the company grows, we grow our sensibility, too, taking our concept and making it a whole world."

Born for success

Natori, it seems, was born to be a success no matter what field she finally ended up with. Born Josefina Almeda Cruz, one of the six children of construction magnate Felipe Cruz and wife Angelita Almeda, Natori loved playing the piano and showed tremendous promise as a kid. She even had her first solo performance with the Manila Philharmonic Orchestra at age 9. But, being surrounded by businessmen and businesswomen, she eventually chose to pursue a career in business.

In 1964, when she was 17, Natori headed for New York to study economics at Manhattanville College. After graduating from her course, she worked for stock brokerage firm and investment bank Bache & Co., for which she moved back to Manila to open a branch. At 21, she was assistant manager, a position she held for two years, before moving back to New York to work at Merrill Lynch, where she became the first female vice president in investment banking or corporate finance. While in Wall Street, she married Ken Natori, who was executive managing director of Smith Barney, and gave birth to their son Kenneth Jr.

By 1977, Natori was bored with Wall Street and wanted a business of her own, and that was when she made the leap from Wall Street to fashion. She considered several options, but what made her decide to go into fashion was when she brought an embroidered blouse from the Phiilippines to a buyer at Bloomingdale’s. The buyer suggested that she lengthen the blouse and turn it into a sleepwear, Natori followed the advice, and she got herself a business.

“At the time, lingerie was either lewd or frumpy,” explains Natori, who thus worked to fill the void between lewd and frumpy and became a tremendous success.

“I’m proud of my heritage. I’m proud to have built a brand where 'made in the Philippines' is synonymous to quality. Without the exquisite craftsmanship from the Philippines, Natori wouldn’t be what it is today,” she said.

More than four decades later, everything is still intact — and even growing new categories, spawning new ventures, and earning awards and accolades. “I feel very fortunate and proud that after 45 years, we are still privately held, family-owned, and closer to the lifestyle company I imagined it to be. I’ve always had the vision to build a brand that will live beyond me,” she said.

“I have always believed there are no boundaries. I feel that the best is yet to come,” such words, coming from a person who exemplifies her own mantra, crossing continents, navigating varying careers, and surmounting countless obstacles to create a global brand.

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