In the wake of Donald Trump’s presidential win, the protest t-shirt and political fashion items have become a legitimate fashion trend, with women proudly voicing their opinions on everything from immigration to reproductive rights on a T-shirt. But it isn’t just tees getting all the play, as knitwear label Lingua Franca has seen firsthand thanks to the demand for its cashmere sweaters embroidered with messages like “I Miss Barack” and “We Are All Immigrants.”
The brand’s founder, Rachel Hruska, who also launched the website Guest of a Guest, started Lingua Franca—which now counts Leonardo DiCaprio and Christy Turlington as fans and is stocked at high-end retailers including Net-a-Porter and Saks—one weekend when she was looking for something to do with her hands. “Read: away from iPhone,” she said.
“I learned how to sew from my grandmother when I was a little girl, but I hadn’t picked up a needle in more than a decade,” she told us. “I picked up a sweater and embroidered ‘booyah’ on it. I put it on Instagram and friends started requesting some of their own.”
And from there, that afternoon spent embroidering hip-hop phrases onto sweaters turned into a passion project and growing business for Hruska. “I knew if I was going to start another company, it was going to have to be something I really loved…I love that the craft of embroidery has historically been a women’s craft. I think there’s a very deliberate but underlying feministic message at play.”
Hruska started the line embroidering on vintage sweaters, but because of demand is now producing her own. And while Lingua Franca was originally in homage to 1990s hip-hop lyrics with sweaters embroidered with messages including “forever ever” and “I think I love you baby,” following the election, Hruska felt compelled to expand the message of the line.
“I never intended to put political statements on these sweaters,” she said. “After the election, the mood among our embroiderers was dismal to say the least. We have over 45 women sewing [the sweaters’ slogans by hand] and many are immigrants, a few are from Iran and have been separated from their families. There had been more than a couple of days when people have broken down in tears in the office. I felt helpless. I think we all did. It became clear to me that we all have a voice and that we all can use that voice to make a statement.”
For the Women’s March rallies in late January, Hruska created a special “I Miss Barack” sweater with all proceeds going to the charity of the customer’s choosing, and the response was immediate.
“Someone purchases, gives half to charity, and also helps employ an amazing woman embroiderer,” she says. “So far we have raised over $10,000 and counting” she says with money so far having gone to the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, Everytown for Gun Safety, and more.
“I think people are outraged, and they want to do whatever they can — even purchasing a sweater — to combat the disgusting administration we have in office currently,” she says of why her sweaters emblazoned with messages now including “power to the peaceful” and “where’s the outrage” have caught on.
Now that Lingua Franca has a political message, Hruska has no intention of slowing it down. “Sadly every day Trump and his cronies seem to do something that results in a new sweater saying,” she says. In other words, there will be many more calls to action to come from Lingua Franca so stay tuned.
Lingua Franca is available on Net-a-Porter and by special order at LinguaFranca.nyc.