Rocket Science: Rachelle Hruska MacPherson
“I think Lingua Franca has benefited from learning that lesson of anything good is going to be a little bit different.”
Rachelle Hruska MacPherson is the Founder of Lingua Franca, a company founded on starting meaningful conversations. Their first collections feature a line of sustainably-sourced, fair trade luxury cashmere sweaters, all hand-stitched by women in NYC. She is also the founder and CEO of Guest of a Guest, a NYC-based website that covers events, people, and places.
She has been featured in The New Yorker, The New York Times, WWD, W and Vogue. Hruska was named 13 under 30 by the NYPost, and the Most Influential Women In Technology in 2011 by Fast Company. Follow her @rachellehruska and Lingua Franca @linguafrancanyc.
What’s your favorite wall decoration in your home?
We moved recently, so our walls are not hanging but they will be soon. Always, always, always my kids’ art is my favorite decoration. I love how kids’ art makes you think sometimes, “Is that a Basquiat?” “No, my child did that.” I really like framing their art and mixing it in between real art.
We need new music. What should we listen to?
My husband is embarrassed by my taste in music. I’m obsessed with Harry Styles, and love the new Adele music.
I’ve been listening to the Beatles on repeat because we’re doing a collab with the actual Beatles. I’m so excited. It’s been like a year and a half in the works, so I’ve been listening to nonstop Beatles. Elton John is another standard go-to. I love him.
What’s something a first-time founder should absolutely not do as they’re building their brand?
Don’t listen to people. That sounds strange, but what I mean is don’t discount your intuition and don’t accept other people’s experiences as the only truth.
When you’re starting out, you’re listening to everyone and how they did it, which is important. But I think listening to yourself is equally as important, if not more, because only you know what’s happening.
Lingua Franca does very few things that a “traditional fashion company” does. Almost everything is made to order, and all of our shipping is done by us in the West Village. We pay our embroiderers a liveable wage and value their long-term commitment to our brand.
I went against a lot of early advice only because I could feel that it wasn’t going to be relevant or good for this company. I think if you’re doing something – anything – you have to listen and learn from people you respect, but also trust yourself, which is really hard as a first-time entrepreneur.
When you started Guest of a Guest, did you feel like things moved too fast?
I think Lingua Franca has benefited from learning that lesson of anything good is going to be a little bit different.
I was actually much more inflexible with hiring back then. It slowed down the company, but it was also a different industry and a different time. I think I just didn’t have the confidence that I have now. You have to have setbacks to build this kind of armor. When bad things happen, I’m able to respond to them more calmly and move past them instead of having them be this major thing that impacts business for two months.
Mistakes are going to happen. I set my team up now by saying, “We’re going into the holidays. Shit’s going to hit the fan, people are going to be angry, mistakes are going to be made and shipments aren’t going to come on time. Let’s just go into it knowing that and do the best that we can each day.”
I’m much more flexible, I think, as a leader and as a decision-maker, which is really important because people need a leader when things don’t go as planned. They need a person that says, “This bad thing happened but we’re going to move past it.” Sometimes you have to convince yourself of that too, but it’s necessary. The person in charge can’t just say, “Oh, my God. This is mayhem. What are we going to do?”
What’s a fashion trend you wish would go away?
Low-waisted jeans are apparently coming back, which is so totally disgusting. And anything that’s fast fashion should be cut out. I hate it. Sometimes I see a great outfit and I’m like, “Where did you get that?” and they mention a major fast fashion retailer and my heart sinks because I used to be that shopper too. Knowing more about the business of fashion now I never can buy anything from those places.
The trend of having to get new things every season … I wish that would end. I’m excited to see more vintage stores and 20-somethings on TikTok doing vintage curations. There’s an article from The Cut that goes into how there are no mass trends anymore. When you’re finding fashion, you don’t have to get this esoteric magazine anymore. Everything is just out there. Your individual style is allowed to break through.
What’s a TV show or movie you feel has really good costume design?
I’m obsessed with My Brilliant Friend, which is a series on HBO based on a book. I think it has the most incredible cinematography and outfits. One of the biggest gifts I can give to anybody reading this is to stop what you’re doing and start watching it.
I’ve actually been revisiting a lot of Seinfeld, and I think the ’90s has some iconic looks that come out in shows like that and even Frasier. I’m getting inspiration from some of the looks from that time. Tweeds and the blazers and stuff like that. We did this 100% lambswool blazer for winter and then we put these beaded word patches all over it. I love the idea of a classic base that then we just fuck up with our design.
What’s your favorite outdoor space?
I love the backyard of my Montauk house, which is adjacent to the cliffs in Shadmoor State Park. It’s just the most beautiful place on the planet. To have these rolling cliffs overlooking an ocean is a surreal dream.
Every time I’m there, I cannot believe I’m so lucky to be there. It’s beautiful. That’s my happy place. Whenever I’m on a plane or nervous, I just close my eyes and think, “Shadmoor cliffs.”
Who’s a creative person you admire?
There are so many. I’m really into textile artist Sheila Hicks, who lives in Paris now. She does these incredible sculptures using textile arts. I’m dying to meet her. I’m putting that out to the universe.
I think Jia Tolentino is one of the most of-the-moment writers of our time. I devour everything Jia Tolentino writes on culture. I’m also obsessed with David Byrne. If you haven’t seen American Utopia – it made me cry when I went. It was so incredible.
I recently went back to Nebraska and have been mining my grandmother. She taught me how to sew, and she had 13 kids and lived on a farm. She had all of these bins full of her writings. She has an entire binder where she wrote her thoughts about the color white, and it’s like 200 pages. I took two giant suitcases of her writing and I’ve been diving through those for our fall collection.
I’m really interested in people who work at Lingua Franca and have different experiences than I did. We have a lot of embroiderers that are in their 60’s … they have completely different backgrounds. I definitely think of them as artists.
Is there somebody out there who you think is an underrated style icon? Somebody who should get a little more credit than they do?
Lisa Eisner was editor of Vogue LA and my husband and I are good friends with her and her husband. She’s like a muse of Tom Ford, so she’s not underappreciated at all, but I’m always thinking, “She should have a million followers on Instagram.”
She now does this iconic jewelry, and her style is so original. It’s not about having labels or wearing trends. It’s really just about her, which I always appreciate in any style. It has to be the person. She’s a good one to follow and get into, for sure.
Was there a moment where you saw a Lingua Franca design out in the wild or captured in media where you thought, “Okay, we’re capturing something big here”?
Totally. I’ll never forget it because I went up to the person and I embarrassed myself.
First, some backstory. All of this started without a plan. I didn’t go into this saying, “I’m going to do a business.” I was having anxiety after the birth of my second son and running another company. My therapist at the time was like, “Do you know how to do anything with your hands? You need to get out of your mind. Go garden.”
We passed a craft store on the way to Montauk and I made my husband stop and I was like, “I want to pick up a thread and needle. I embroidered when I was a kid and I’m going to try and do it.” That’s how it all happened. I put it on Instagram and I didn’t immediately think, “This is going to be a thing.”
Because of that, every celebrity that’s ever worn our stuff, it’s all been word of mouth. They have found us online and DM’d us or emailed me and ordered stuff for their friends. We never send stuff to celebrities. We don’t have PR. That surprises people and it’s truly just kismet, which is incredible to me.
Ok, so, the moment that I was floored by!
When I was traveling home to Nebraska, three or four years ago, we were in this small airport in Minneapolis. I saw a woman carrying one of the bags we do with MZ Wallace and wearing one of our limited drop sweatshirts. I was just floored and so happy.
It was more exciting than seeing Meryl Streep when she went on Ellen with our sweater. I was just like, “Oh, my God. Someone in the middle of America is wearing our stuff.” I went out to her and said, “I’m sorry, but this is my sweatshirt and I need to introduce myself and take a photo of you.” She was very excited. I was very excited. It was incredible.
You’ve just been appointed fashion czar of the US. What is your first act?
I would cancel every fast fashion company and not let them operate in the country. That would be my first one.
There’s a lot of money involved with that idea, which makes it a very difficult goal. But I would redistribute it to seamstresses all across the country that know how to sew and need work and will gladly make garments that are much more beautiful and well-made and longer-lasting.
What’s happening in global warming through the fashion industry is catastrophic. I was aware of that, but then when you get into it and start to understand supply chains, it gives you a whole new perspective.
We started making the sweater we launched yesterday a year ago because that’s how you have to do it if you want it to be done correctly by Mother Earth. It’s made by hand in Peru. If you actually want to make things with integrity – and I do – it actually takes so much thought and so much time and it cannot be fast.
I would also launch a campaign that teaches the value of our clothes, and why we should be wanting to re-wear things and care for clothes. Simple stuff like why going to the dry cleaner all the time is bad, or how to properly store clothes so they last longer.
We’re currently teaching people to be consumers and buy, buy, buy. Stopping production on the supply side is part of it, but there’s a mental thing we need to address too.
We need to teach consumers to spend more on a product that’s going to last forever and teach them how to care for that product. Our grandparents didn’t change out their wardrobe every two weeks and buy things all the time. We need to go back to that a little bit for Mother Earth, for sure.