Gaux Girl - Rachelle Hruska2018-12-11
Capturing lightning in a bottle once is impressive enough, but two times? Positively mystifying. Our latest Gaux Girl Rachelle Hruska proved that she has her finger straight on the pulse of what’s buzzing twice, first by founding the internet’s unofficial social register, Guest of a Guest, in 2007, then Lingua Franca in 2016.
The latter is the line of hand-embroidered cashmere sweaters you’ve seen on luxury department store shelves and some of your favorite celebrities (Meryl Streep included). For Rachelle, the idea to tinker with a needle, thread, and cozy sweater came on a chilly afternoon - she had been taught to embroider by her grandmother as a child - and quickly became a viral sensation.
Since starting - the first word she embroidered was “booyah” - she’s mixed political sentiments in alongside classic feel-good catchphrases (“The future is female” sweaters sit alongside “All you need is love”). Rachelle puts her money where her needle is too. Beyond simply stitching empowering messages, she makes sure Lingua Franca uses fair-trade, sustainably sourced cashmere and that the women crafting the stunning embroidery are paid well. A portion of proceeds also goes to activists and organizations fighting for causes important to the brand. Essentially, she’s a fighter with a poet’s soul.
Below, Rachelle shares some stellar advice and talks about the power of female friendships.
You’ve successfully launched two very different businesses. What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned as a two-time founder?
One entrepreneurial lesson I learned from starting Guest of a Guest that applied at Lingua Franca: sometimes the best businesses are ones that start off naturally, and not with the intention of building a business. Both of my companies share that ethos. They were both started off of something that I was naturally doing in my life, which means they don’t really feel like “work.” You really have to dig what you do. That seems to be the most important truth out there.
I think that the universe will be open to you if you are open to it and honest with yourself about who you are. It isn’t all sunshine and skipping around through successes. I’ve had, like everyone else, my share of losses (professionally and personally), but I’ve learned to trust myself and listen to my inner voice. I’ve also tried to make the line between work and play pretty blurred. This way, it’s hard for me to distinguish between the two. One more thing, I try not to take myself too seriously or get caught up in the petty. You have to learn how to let things go and move on or nothing would get done!
When did the spark of genius first hit to take something as classic and simple as a cashmere sweater and personalize it in such a witty, charismatic way?
It didn’t start with a spark of genius, or even an intention on starting a business. I struggle with anxiety and about two years 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. After seeing this creation, several friends asked me to embroider sweaters for them! From there, it became a fun activity to come up with what I was going to embroider next – and which words I was going to give power to. 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.
What advice would you give to other women with ideas or concepts about starting out and making it happen?
Trust your inner voice. It’s the most powerful thing in the world.
Tell us about the process of designing and making the sweaters and their signature embroidered elements. Where does the magic happen?
The magic truly happens on Jane street at our “factory” where all of our embroiderers (now over 60 women!) are stitching, packaging and shipping our sweaters. For new phrases, I’ll get an idea, usually from what’s happening in the zeitgeist, and ask whoever’s closest to me to help me chalk it up on a sweater. From there we will stitch it, I’ll Insta it, and we’ll see what happens!
What’s been your favorite Lingua Franca sweater or collection so far?
Like my children, it’s too hard to pick a favorite. I will say that the phrases tied to specific causes and passions. It’s incredibly satisfying to see when other people light up seeing the phrases that are so meaningful to THEM on our sweaters.
Strong women seem to be a continuous thread (no pun intended!) running through the brand’s DNA - How vital are female friendships in your personal and professional life?
I’ll tell you this, for the first time in my life, I feel content with where I’m at, emotionally, spiritually and professionally. I feel connected to something bigger and greater than me, in the way that only other women banding together can make you feel. It’s the best!
What is your gaux-to workday uniform?
High waisted mom jeans, cashmere sweater and loafers.
What does being a girl on the gaux mean to you?
Being unapologetically you! I love confident women that are able to go against norms and speak their mind – without fear!
Photos by Kirsten Francis for Margaux