Clarita Farrugia, CEO and Founder of Tom-Boi started her underwear label in 2014, which was born from frustration with a fashion industry that produces almost exclusively gender specific clothes. So this Physical Education Teacher, who loves the tailored, simple styling of men’s fashion decided to take action and produce a clothing line that doesn’t conform to a standard society has set on how to dress. And clearly because she believes that being a tomboy conveys an attitude of girls and women living their lives on their own terms.
Based on a belief that women of all shapes and sizes should feel empowered, valued, beautiful, confident, happy, loved, and respected always, Clarita decided to start with producing underwear, but intends to grow the product range with customer demand and feedback. You only have to read the comments from customers to know that Tom-Boi‘s loyal following is building fast. Lauded for their comfort, practicality and style, Tom-Boi underwear are also guaranteed to stay in place, so are perfect for exercising or women who have active jobs.
How did you come up with the idea for Tom-Boi?
The motivation behind starting Tom-Boi came from my love of men’s clothing. There were many men’s fashion pieces I adored and wanted for myself, but they never fit well on a woman’s body. I also knew many other women who experienced the same issue. I realised from this that there was a gap in the market, and with absolutely no fashion or business knowledge, I decided to fill it!
At the time, I was working as a secondary school Physical Education teacher, and in this role, I was constantly exposed to teenage girls with body image issues, struggling with their own sense of self against society’s image of how a woman should look and dress. Thus, Tom-Boi was built upon the message of empowering women to be anything they want to be and wear whatever makes them happiest.
From this evolved a fascination with the word ‘tomboy’ and a desire for it to be representative of a female who is free from the restrictions of social gender rules. If you think about what a tomboy is, really it is just a girl who isn’t afraid to do what she wants to do, despite what society says she should do or how she should behave. I think we all have an inner tomboy and we are here to hear them roar!
So, from these idealistic beginnings, Tom-Boi was born.
Tell us about the transition from Secondary School Teacher to Fashion Designer. What were your transferrable skills that surprised you as a business owner and fashion designer?
The transition from teacher to business owner was not easy. I went from a very structured career with great stability and security to one that requires plenty of self-discipline and no security. Despite this I think the part of the transition that caused the most distress was the lack of movement and physical activity that comes with a desk job. There is a lot of being out and about, but nothing like being a physical education teacher!
As for transferable skills, my communications and organisational skills have transferred very well and are used daily. As well as being able to confidently talk to a wide range of people of different ages and backgrounds. There isn’t a great deal of crossover between the two roles of teacher and fashion designer. So the fact that I am a very curious being has worked in my favour. Because having to learn almost an entirely new skill set was challenging, but also thoroughly enjoyable.
If you had a magic wand, what should we need to change in society to help our teenage girls and boys with their body image issues?
Oh, do we ever need a magic wand! It is really important to understand that genetics play such a massive role in how our bodies look and that certain body compositions are just unachievable no matter how hard you try. I am very much an advocate of a healthy lifestyle, so I don’t promote the extremes at either end of the spectrum, but rather a life of balance.
I believe media plays a big role in making women feel terrible about themselves. At the same time it makes men feel like they should all look like Wolverine. Magazines need to be accountable for what they say and images they show. I feel like gossip magazines should have laws applied to them as for cigarette companies. Where packaging is minimal and hidden from view in the stores they are sold, away from young impressionable minds.
Along with this, there is a need for better role models in the film, music and the fashion industries to give our youth someone real to look up to.
What has been the best platform to engage your audience in the body image conversation?
I find that using Instagram helps to reach a wider audience globally. This same platform, however, is a double-edged sword, as it is also a source of body and lifestyle image issues. As we grow as a brand, I would like to bring this conversation into our blogs and to our social media. The body image conversation is one we will be having through all that we do. As well as building major campaigns around the topic.
How do you encourage people to love, accept and be proud of who they are?
We always encourage self-love, acceptance and promote the message that we were ‘all born this way’. Individuality and originality should be embraced fully. When we are choosing influencers to represent our brand, we look for those who align to this vision and purpose. Tom-Boi is about going against the grain and doing things the way you want to, without regard to the standards that society has set. We too often try to aspire to these unobtainable images, even when they are harmful to our body and soul .
What has been your greatest challenge?
Other than building the self-discipline required to work solo in my home office, the biggest challenge is having no experience or a business partner that has a skill set that fills the gaps. I am learning as I go, but things are moving a lot slower than I would like. At this stage marketing is my steep cliff to scale. It is a specialised field with lots of little tricks to uncover.
As an entrepreneur, there will always be challenges, as this is part of the process. I wouldn’t have it any other way. With challenge and walking out of our comfort zone comes growth. There has been so much growth for me, from the Physical Education teacher that left the staffroom a few years ago to the business owner I have become. I highly recommend the ride!
What are you most proud of?
It would have to be the comments I get from customers about how happy they are to have discovered Tom-Boi. They also let me know the feeling of empowerment they get from a brand that celebrates humans being perfectly imperfect! This gives me a great sense of happiness. That what I have created has made women’s lives better. It is similar to the reason I went into teaching, to make a difference to people’s lives.
What’s one piece of advice for future female leaders?
You are every bit as capable as you need to be so stand tall and lead the way!