How Josie Natori became a self-made millionaire in the US

By Don Tagala, ABS-CBN North America Bureau

Posted at Feb 28 2013 12:09 PM | Updated as of Feb 28 2013 08:32 PM

NEW YORK – Immigrants from all over the world come to America hoping to make their American Dream come true.

Immigrants not only bring diversity to America but their unique skills and fresh ideas make them great entrepreneurs.

Today, 1 in 6 small business owners in the US are immigrants. Many of them are successful self-made millionaires, including Filipino fashion designer Josie Natori.

Natori carved a niche of her own in the multi-billion-dollar fashion industry.

From creating barong-inspired fashion runway-ready ensemble to elevating "bakya" to classy catwalk clogs, her unique design is a blend of East and West.

Her latest fall collection is inspired by Chinoiserie - a 17th century European artistic style which reflects Chinese influences, and a lot of Philippine-made accessories.

"This season I was frankly very impressed, I love the touch of Asian and bold colors especially very risque for the fall, all in all I was very impressed," Betina Ocampo, student fashion designer, said.

“It’s so heart-warming to just see her blend where she comes from, she always bring in something from the Philippines, that makes every Filipino proud,” said fashion buyer Kathy Sio.

Natori came to the U.S. to earn an economics degree at Manhattanville College in the early 60s.

"Alam mo sa umpisa, it was not that easy. It’s a different culture when I came in the 60s. The sense of humor is different, the cold, the food is different. You just realize, it made you stronger, more independent,” said Natori.

With her economics degree, she worked at Wall Street for Bache and Company, then moved to Merril Lynch in the 70s.

But for Natori, there's more to New York than just working in the corporate world. She said she wanted to create something of her own.

She took her oath as a U.S citizen in 1974 as she started a family of her own. By 1977, the Natori fashion brand was born.

Her high-end sleepwear collection became a big hit at Bloomingdale’s. Later, she expanded her business to include ready-to-wear fashion lines, home furnishings, perfumes and fashion accessories.

Even her budget-friendly designs are available at mass retailers like Target which helped her company generate $150 million in retail sales in 2011.

Natori says being an immigrant is her biggest asset as a woman entrepreneur.

“My biggest asset is number one, being a woman and secondly being a Filipino. Both of them I used to my advantage, so look, I’m in a business for women, creating things for women, who knows best what a woman wants than a woman... Trademark ng Natori is the Eastern, Philippine-inspired designs, so for me, it became an asset that’s what make Natori distinct,” she said.

As a successful immigrant, Natori said she believes America is the only place in the world where immigrants can fulfill their dreams.

“Kaya to this day so many people, everyone wants to come here because they know here, you have a fair chance to succeed," Natori said.

Josie's secret to success is to never say that you have succeeded.

"First of all I will never once will say I've already succeeded, I really think the moment you think na dumating ka na that's dangerous because there's always another hill or mountain to climb. I don't think you can ever sit on laurels. 'Ah tapos na ako, ganun,' I like the challenge of keeping evolving... And I'm an artist at heart, I'm a musician, so I'm always looking for the next note, I'm always looking for a way to express it on the next collection," Natori said.

The founder and CEO of the Natori company may have already found her American Dream, but this 64-year-old immigrant from the Philippines continues to dream but only for bigger and bolder things to come in the world's fashion capital.