Natori Company competes in the
international market by transforming
the Natori line into global brands.
A Woman Should
old love she can imagine going
back to and one who reminds her
how far she has come
money within her control to move
out and rent a place of her own
even if she never wants to or
perfect to wear if her date of
her dreams wants to see her in
youth she's content to leave behind
past juicy enough that she's looking
forward to retelling it in her
set of screwdrivers, a cordless
drill, and a black lace bra...
Author Unknown ~
upon a time in 1977, there lived
a Filipina in New York who saw
her Asian heritage and womanhood
to be the best assets she ever
had. With samples of Philippine-made
cotton-embroidered shirts on her
hands and a pocketful of guts,
she knocked on the snobbish doors
of Bloomingdales, where an interested
buyer suggested that she consider
turning them into nightshirts.
one magical suggestion was all
it took for Josie Cruz Natori
to begin The Natori Company, a
multi-million dollar empire built
around the creation of exquisitely
designed lingerie, selling in
over 40 countries and employing
a thousand people.
years after, the phenomenal founder
and CEO who found her global niche
in intimate apparel is now a celebrated
face gracing hundreds of success-story
books, fashion cum lifestyle magazines,
and newspapers all over the world.
The Natori Couture has a track
record of clever ad campaigns.
No wonder you would most likely
see a Natori ad along the fashion
pages where Versace, DKNY, Yves
St. Laurent, among others in the
similar category also appear.
days, Natori has every good reason
to pursue her favorite pastimes,
which include shopping, sleeping,
shiatsu massage, and most of all,
playing the piano (she is a concert-level
classical pianist) - a passion
that her family and close friends
are most aware of, especially
when some 2,500 of them once saw
her perform a private recital
at New York's Carnegie Hall, together
with an 85-member Orchestra of
St. Luke's on her 50th birthday
year also marked her 25th wedding
anniversary and 20 years since
founding The Natori Company in
East 34th Street in Manhattan.
Such lifelong dream allegedly
cost some US$500,000 to come true,
and should we add "only" after
citing that The Natori Company
earns an estimated US$50 million
annually? Moreover, the year 1998
was likewise remarkable as Natori
ranked #11th in Crain's New York
Business Top lists after achieving
US$80 million in revenues.
overall achievements landed Natori
in the ranks of the most widely
recognized and awarded internationally.
An inspiring symbol of success
to women in the Philippines, former
President Corazon Aquino presented
her with a Galleon Award in 1998,
the same year that Natori was
also chosen as the New York City
Partnership's Business Woman of
the Year and when she also served
as a Delegate to the White House
Conference on Small Business during
US President Bill Clinton's administration.
Most recently, she received the
Ellis Island Medal of Honor. The
honors have continued to accumulate.
as she continues to live happily
ever after with her family in
her homes in New York and Paris,
Launch Asia grabs this rare opportunity
to catch Natori in Manila for
a visit to the annual Manila F.A.M.E.
International, a cross-cultural
gathering and showcase of a large
pool of designers' talents from
various product categories.
time, it looks like her sights
are set on home furnishings. "I've
been asked by a couple of friends
here (in Manila) to do things
for the home furnishings," she
hints. "It interests me a lot
and I think the Philippines has
a great advantage in that so I
just might consider. I'm also
trying to see what materials we
can use for accessories although
they're (Natori accessories) being
made in Italy. I'm bringing my
design team from Italy so they
would see it."
this exclusive interview, Natori
shows up in a chic designer suit
whose color matches her well-polished
fingernails. Her signature look
- sleek and sharply angled bob
hair - complements her Filipina
features as her favorite photograph
would show. Every inch a fashion
icon, firing up a conversation
becomes fairly easy as the petite
lady flashes a friendly smile
that enhanced her bright red lipstick.
It is apparent, as you listen
to her, that her breathtaking
urbane sophistication has not
been able to erase her genuine
warmth and pleasant demeanor that
is distinctly Filipina.
her management team and staff
in Manila, Natori is still the
same "hands-on" and "motherly-kind-of-workaholic"
Mrs. Natori who remains fluent
in speaking Tagalog. "I like to
be very hands-on," she confirms.
"I started by doing everything
myself from the very beginning.
I'm probably not the best in delegating
although I'm getting better. I
have a president now and she really
runs the day-to-day stuff, but
I still can't get my hands off."
When it comes to decision-making,
the self-confessed classic entrepreneur
trusts her funny bone, although
she also listens to her staff's
suggestions. "I think that's in
my nature. I like how my husband
calls it - work is a vacation.
I choose to make (what I do) hectic.
I don't like to sit still."
most success stories we usually
hear, however, Natori's resume
has always been one of the best
one could ever see to begin with.
A fast-paced climber at Wall Street's
corporate ladder, she was the
first woman vice president of
Merrill Lynch in the 1970s. She's
married to Ken Natori, a third-generation
Japanese American investment banker
at Smith Barney Harris Upham,
who would later become The Natori
Company's chairman, and whom she
met in a blind date. "I'm a gambler
at heart. I take risks, " she
smiles. That's the same explanation
behind the astonishing turnaround
in her odyssey from a very prestigious
career in Wall Street to the exciting
but uncertain world of entrepreneurship.
1976, the year her son Kenneth,
Jr. was born, Natori began to
feel unchallenged by investment
banking anymore and started to
adhere to her entrepreneurial
calling - an inclination that's
been as natural as brushing her
teeth as she used to be surrounded
by entrepreneurial role models
back home. "I've seen it from
my father, my mother, and my grandmother.
That's not anything strange to
me," says the eldest of six children
of Mr. and Mrs. Felipe F. Cruz,
the Philippines' noted construction
magnate. Her grandmother also
ran a number of businesses herself,
including pharmacies, coconut
and sisal plantations. "I think
it's an asset for me because not
all Asian women have that cultural
background. I think in the Philippines
we've always had strong women.
They always have the purse. Although
the men brings the salary, it's
the women who makes the decisions."
knew there's got to be something
more. So after some time spent
window-shopping for possibilities
that included a burger joint franchise,
a car wash, and even a fertilizer
company, Natori concluded that
if she were to run a business,
it had to be one that would satisfy
both her deal-making skills and
aesthetic side. "I wanted something
that I can relate to," she says.
The business of fashion is pretty
much what she means.
in on distinguished Philippine
hand-works that range from exquisite
appliqués to intricate embroidery
detailing to all-over beading,
Natori explored not only lingerie,
but also everything from moderately
priced sleepwear and daywear to
haute couture eveningwear and
"at-home" wear. She also diversified
into slippers, sachets, and evening
bags. In 1993 she introduced an
upscale costume jewelry collection
under a worldwide licensing agreement.
In 1994 she launched The Natori
shoe collection and began a collection
of fragrance, bath, and boudoir
products licensed by Avon Products,
in a name? How does one spot a
NATORI from others? Natori seeks
to differentiate itself from another
by transforming its name into
global brands, much like Versace
and DKNY probably. This lets the
NATORI brand sell higher margin,
private label items, protects
it from price wars and gives it
more leverage with its suppliers.
her own words, Natori sees her
product lines as feminine, sensual,
exotic, elegant yet maintaining
the ease-ness, - something you
can immediately see from far away.
"Visually, people can see the
richness of the fabric and colors,
the luxury and detail aspects.
When you see the handbag we've
just launched, it's like a work
of art. Every Natori item has
an East-meets-West feeling," she
explains while showing me samples
of her line-up of new designs
from her 2001 catalogue. Her hallmark
- embroidery and appliqué work
of the Philippines, remains integral
in Natori's designs, translated
into a collection that now includes
three distinctive lingerie lines:
Natori Black Label, Natori White
Label and the contemporary and
moderately priced Josie.
idea now is to explore other product
lines. "We just launched in another
company a line called "Cruz" that
represents the more affordable
Natori line. It will start with
a lingerie first and then the
apparel. It will be available
first in New York stores and then
we'll take it from there," she
someone born and raised in a conservative
country such as the Philippines
until she attended college at
Manhattanville College in New
York at age 17, it seems odd to
pair the phrases "Filipina" and
paradox is probably explained
by the fact that Natori played
a significant role in revolutionizing
the concept of lingerie. Her product
lines Natori, Eve Stillman, and
Josie are all based on a vision
that challenges pre-conceived
fashion norms by offering lingerie
"so beautifully functional it
can be worn as regular clothing."
In that sense, you no longer see
underwear as something you'd rather
buy discreetly behind back-corner
stalls if not a pornographic item.
"I think I understand how women
want to feel," she says. "They
are very independent and they
want to feel feminine."
in life connects." Natori's personal
philosophy that originally came
from her piano teacher a long
time ago has an impact in the
way she does business. "It's a
philosophy for me that everything
happens for a reason. Even the
bad things in life - they're meant
to be. Something good comes out
of something. That's why I don't
regret things and I don't look
back." The world is not a big
planet for Natori, long before
the Internet era confirmed it
the United States, Natori is sold
at major retailers and specialty
stores, including Bloomingdales
- Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus,
Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue,
and Macy's. It also sells in Japan,
in the Philippines. She's currently
looking for a partner in England.
Moreover, Natori has faced ferocious
battles with France, the country
that supposedly defined lingerie,
by also putting up her own boutique
there. "I've got to adopt something,"
she stresses. "Natori is not American.
It's not Filipino or European.
It has to have a global appeal."
A market-smart global retailer,
Natori imparts the challenge of
marketing her products that depend
on what markets she's in. "You
have to rely on people who know
best in that country. You really
have to have appropriate partners
in each country. That's really
one of our strategies to find
the right partners to penetrate.
I do believe that the biggest
market is in the States but there
are also a lot of opportunities
elsewhere. We're not as penetrated
in Europe 'cause its impossible
to do it all by yourself in other
parts of the world so you have
to have partners. Rustan's is
our partner in the Philippines.
They have the exclusive franchise
typical licensing deal nets Natori
a royalty of between 5 to 10 percent
of the retail price of the items,
according to the book "Self-Made
Americans" by Margery Mandell.
"Natori comes up with the design,
and the manufacturer takes care
of the rest, including marketing,"
one thing, I don't ever sit around
to think about success," Natori
says when I asked what success
has taught her. "I don't feel
a success yet. I think it depends
on your definition of success.
If you mean have I achieve things?
Yes. Building a fashion house
and all that. But success to me
ultimately means something different.
It's doing what you've wanted
to do and for me, what I really
want is making a difference in
people's lives. That means the
ability of making major contributions
to society. So I see this business
as a means to an end. I think
there's more to do to make a major
impact to society."
she opened her first NATORI boutique
in Manila in 1995, she also used
the country's premiere Filipina
models like Tweety de Leon, Apples
Aberin, Patty Betita, and Angel
Aquino among others.
Philippines have such creative
talents that are just not maximized,"
she quips. "What we don't see
here is the 'brand'. We need to
see more from local retailers
and not just the foreign brands.
It's tougher in the apparel industry
'cause we don't have one here
yet, although the talents are
here. But in terms of giftware
and home furnishings I think that
designers have been much progressive.
But I'd like to see some things
made by designers themselves and
not just by exporters."
THE RIGHT BUTTONS
Creating products that
have global appeal but
with a distinctive quality.
'GloCal' strategy. NATORI
standardizes certain elements
while 85 percent of its
production is done in
depends on what country
and markets NATORI is
appropriate partners who
are established retailers
in the US, in Europe (Paris
and England), and in Asia
in order to penetrate
seeks to differentiate itself
from another by transforming its
name into global brands. This
lets the NATORI brand sell higher
margin, private label items, protects
it from price wars, and gives
it more leverage with its suppliers.
in life connects." Natori's personal
philosophy that originally came
from her piano teacher a long
time ago has an impact in the
way she does business.