Rachelle Hruska, Founder of Lingua Franca
As a woman-led company, we find kindred spirits in those celebrating and empowering the female. Rachelle Hruska is certainly doing that, and then some with Lingua Franca. What began as a hand-stitching project to relieve anxiety, has transformed into a sustainable fashion company that plasters declarations across cashmere such as, "the future is female," "i miss barack," and "time's up". It's safe to say, Rachelle is pushing the boundaries with her line of sweaters by helping lead the resistance and demand equality. Hollywood has also taken a shine to her pieces: Meryl Streep, Connie Britton, Ellen Degeneres, Reese Witherspoon, Neil Patrick Harris, (the list goes on!) can be seen sporting "equality" and "poverty is sexist" while running errands or attending The Golden Globes. The intention, though, is far from gaining the flash of celebrity, but instead to "engage the world and call out and celebrate the absurd."
We recently sat down with Rachelle at her studio where we chatted about motherhood, squashing the stigma of anxiety, the hangovers that are "worth it", and finding your voice in the revolution.
Can you share your journey with us, and how Lingua Franca came to be?
I struggle with anxiety and about a year and a half ago my therapist suggested I try something with my hands. I picked up an old sweater one afternoon on a cold Montauk weekend and returned to my childhood hobby of embroidery. I stitched “booyah” on a cashmere sweater and posted it to Instagram (with zero intention of starting another company!) After seeing this creation, several friends asked me to embroider sweaters for them. I had so many sweaters waiting to be embroidered I had to hire help (on Craigslist and Instagram) to stitch. Soon, stores like Net-A-Porter and Bergdorf’s were reaching out to me on DM through Instagram to carry my sweaters— and Lingua Franca was born. I totally love the concept of a “common language.” I also love the concept of high/low in fashion and in life. Hand stitching hip hop phrases on cashmere seemed to really speak to me. Finally, I love that the craft of embroidery has historically been a “woman’s craft.” I think there’s a very deliberate but underlying feministic message at play. Honestly though? I think magic exists and I think LF was infused with magic from day one.
How and when did it move from song lyrics to a huge political statement?
The day after Trump tried to pass his first big legislation — that ridiculous travel ban — we had a group of Iranian embroiderers crying in our offices. I was devastated. It was a moment when things became clear for me. Politics moved from this distant thing people debated, to real life. I had one of the embroiders stitch "I miss Barack" onto a sweater so I could Instagram it. It made her smile. And HUNDREDS of people emailed us to order. We were officially part of the resistance movement and we haven't looked back. I love that our sweaters inspire conversations.
What have been some of your prouder moments with the brand thus far?
Every day I’m proud and inspired by what we are creating. One of the memorable moments that stands out is doing one-on-one meetings with our top embroiderers at the end of the year (we have 60 now!). They are women from all over the world and all walks of life, and hearing them tell me how their new job of embroidering has given them new hope and new lives was incredibly moving.
Can you talk further about your sustainable process in creating your product and sourcing your materials?
We are committed to fair trade, ethical labor practices and the highest environmental standards. Our cashmere comes from Naadam, a company that also shares these principles. All of our embroidery is done here in NYC and we are proud to pay a living wage to these local women. We are decidedly not a fast fashion company. We hope the recipients can feel the love that was poured into their sweaters.
What are you hoping will be the next wave of Lingua Franca, and how do you think the brand can continue to bring political awareness and feminist equality, front and center?
I think it’s important to listen and to try to learn. We are excited about new initiatives we are working on, in hopes to inspire changes in other industries outside of fashion. And, as always, we are looking to start conversations. We don’t pretend to have all of the answers, but we are trying to find people who inspire us to learn and grow. We read your honest, moving piece on The Glow about your postpartum anxiety. Can you share with us what that journey was like and how you're dealing with these very real struggles of anxiety now?
That was definitely a heavy moment in my life. I still have good days and bad days, but I'm at a place in my life now where I don’t feel like I’m hanging on by a thread. I make sure to try to take care of myself daily, and am better able to recognize signs that signal that I need to take a break or disconnect. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to give up my coffee or wine, which is a shame because they aren’t the best for anxiety, but I try to balance it out with regular yoga, pilates and meditation. I also don't beat myself up for taking the occasionally Xanax in stressful situations (like airplanes). I used to feel guilty about it, but it's okay to need help. It's okay to take a pill if you need it to regulate your insides which you have no control over. People need to know this and hear it.
What has been the most healing perspective or mental shift that you've had?
The experiences I have gone through have helped me find empathy for other people; you truly never know what someone’s going through. At the end of the day, we’re all humans and we’re all on the search for truth. I think there’s a sort of unity in that. Also, Lingua Franca has given me an incredible opportunity to feel inspired and engaged every day. It’s been such a great medicine.
How do you incorporate self-care into your everyday and what are your favorite grounding rituals?
You have to truly prioritize it. It’s rare that I don’t get at least some physical exercise every single day. I rotate between yoga (at home with my friend and fellow mama Lya), pilates, the elliptical and walking. When it’s nice out I try to schedule my calls all at the same time of day so I can walk and talk on the West Side Highway. I also try to remember to eat, but not a ton of food at once - that’s the worst! I get so tired when I do that and can’t focus afterwards. So, I spread my lunch out during day. I also try to meditate for at least 5 minutes in my closet — where it’s dark and quiet and no one can find me — each morning. Mostly, I try to remember that I can’t control life, but I can control my attitude. I try to have a winning attitude most days, which sounds like some sort of Tony Robbins shit, but it’s true. It really does change your day for the better to be in a positive mood.
How can we as women be bolder and more honest with our voice during this time of political and socioeconomic turmoil? How can we help the cause of social justice every day?
First, remember that you have a voice and use it. Second, don’t stress yourself out about it. Something as simple as commenting or liking a cool resister's post on Instagram, or wearing a hand stitched LF sweater for people to see. Things like that are meaningful and spreading messages and driving conversations that we desperately need to be having right now. You gotta do what you can. Take stock of your life and see what you can do with what you have. But don’t despair and don’t freak out if you don’t feel like you are making changes. Revolutions take time and this is a marathon, not a sprint. How has your relationship with your body evolved since having children?
My body has literally housed two humans. I’m in awe of professional athletes with sculpted bodies, but housing a human sort of takes the cake, don’t you think? It gives you a sort of “well, if I could do that, I can do anything.”
What are the ways in which you nurture/love it and make yourself a priority amongst the wild ride of motherhood and business woman?
I think doing things for my body, like exercise and trying to eat healthy, are really just a part of my lifestyle. Making this a normal part of my day means I will feel better and be in a better mood overall. Also, long nights drinking too much wine on a couch with old girlfriends is so important. The hangovers are worth it. If I had all the time and money in the world I would pay someone to give me a head massage every day around 4pm…
When you think of your legacy, what is the mark that you want to leave on the world?
I’ve never really thought of it! I think the best thing I can do is try my hardest to: live in the moment, use my full potential, stay curious and always excited about learning new things, and make people feel good. If I succeed at those things even just some of the time, I’m happy with whatever legacy follows.