“It all started with a stitch,” says Rachelle Hruska MacPherson, the creative mind and driving force behind Lingua Franca NYC, a boutique full of cashmere sweaters embroidered with empowering messages. MacPherson stated that “Lingua Franca NYC was born as a subversive underground movement to counteract the forces of mass production, mindless consumerism, and the patriarchy. Just kidding (kind of).”
Each sweater is made from sustainably-sourced, fair trade luxury cashmere and hand-stitched by local women artisans in New York City. MacPherson first learned the embroidery craft from her grandma Rita when she was a young girl in Nebraska; she picked it up once again when she was undergoing postpartum anxiety.
Amongst their branded assortment of products are statement sweaters embellished with uplifting phrases such as “let the sunshine in” and “mothers. daughters. rebels.” The sweater collections are updated frequently in response to current events, creating calls to action that keep up with the times. Phrases such as “i dissent,” an homage to Ruth Bader Ginsberg after her passing, “we are the 19th,” to mark the 100th-year anniversary of the 19th amendment, and “do your part; stay apart,” were created in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We are a slow fashion company, we have no sales, we’re season-less, and everything is by hand, but we can react to culture very quickly. That’s how we grew—we could immediately stitch it and put it on Instagram,” MacPherson says.
View this post on Instagram
Now boasting 97.7K followers on Instagram, the brand first built itself up with an online platform that would ultimately catch the eye of celebrities, including the likes of Meryl Streep, Reese Witherspoon, Connie Britton, and many more. With the help of her husband, hotelier Sean MacPherson, owner of the Crow’s Nest and co-owner of the Jane Hotel, the Bowery Hotel, and the Waverly Inn, among other properties, Rachelle MacPherson was able to create a physical space for her creators and their creations to be found.
The brand opened its first retail store in the West Village of New York City in 2018; following its success, another store opened on the Upper East Side in 2019. Both stores are decorated with the portraits of powerful, influential women such as Michelle Obama, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Maya Angelou – all courtesy of Louisiana-based pop artist Ashley Longshore.
Lingua Franca NYC: Made With Love
The simple designs of the slogans emblazoned on each sweater are meant to bring forth the idea that words alone are powerful. Especially when those words are painstakingly handsewn by the women who greet you in the store. Within the shop spaces, embroiderers stitch during open hours so that customers can shop for statement pieces while having an opportunity to hold a conversation about those statements.
Lingua Franca boasts the slogan “Give a damn” both in their online presence and in their stores. Lingua Franca is not only in the business of creating unique handmade pieces – the company puts its money where its mouth is quite literally. As of September, Lingua Franca has sent hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and in-kind donations to different groups and causes around the world; causes such as the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, the African Wildlife Foundation, Girls Who Code, and countless other organizations. The brand’s goal is to reach one million dollars in donations by the end of 2020.
A Cashmere Community
Since Lingua Franca’s founding, the company has been passionate about creating a community made up of people who care. MacPherson explains, “Using our platform and our customers’ purchasing power to give back in such a meaningful way has been one of the best surprises and pleasures for me personally.” If you are interested in seeing the organizations and amounts that the company has donated to-date, there is a spreadsheet available on the brand’s website that is updated weekly to show Lingua Franca’s activism in real time.
Lingua Franca translated its slogan-based activism from cashmere to other mediums, creating a line of accessories with similar styles ranging from phone cases and jewelry to stationary sets. The brand also boasts beautiful collaboration collections. For example, Lingua Franca recently teamed up with Haute Victoire, a New York based jewelry company, to create one-of-a-kind necklaces and brooches.
Design With a Purpose
Another company, Royal Jelly Harlem, has also grown its online presence under the umbrella of the Lingua Franca brand. Royal Jelly Harlem, an African-inspired clothing and home-decor line, was co-founded by a friend of Rachelle MacPherson, Maya Gorgoni and her mother Teta.
The brand began to take shape after many mother-daughter trips to Africa where Maya and Teta found themselves in awe of the artistry of African textile design. Like Lingua Franca, Royal Jelly Harlem employs African-born dressmakers and tailors who now live in New York City. Their mission is to help contribute to the growth and prosperity of and to bring awareness to Africa’s beautiful cultures through the creation of colorful, well-designed clothing.
View this post on Instagram
Do It Yourself with Lingua Franca NYC
For those who want to get involved with the creative aspects of the brand and perhaps learn a new skill, Lingua Franca has launched virtual embroidery workshops that are hosted on the company’s website.
These workshops, which are held on Zoom, include a lesson on the art of embroidery led by in-house designers, a 100% cashmere Lingua Franca sweater, and an embroidery kit, so that each participant has the opportunity to create their own design. The cost of the workshop is determined by the typical price of a Lingua Franca sweater without embroidery. Each class lasts approximately two hours and are typically held on a weekday morning or afternoon; a team member will contact you to schedule a lesson after you’ve purchased a workshop kit.
A Global Reach
In 2008, before Lingua Franca NYC stitched its first sweater, Rachelle MacPherson co-founded the website Guest of a Guest, which covers high society events, people, and places, with Cameron Winklevoss. Business Insider once described the site as “the new Page Six.”
On continuing the growth of the brand, MacPherson says, “I hope we will grow into a super compelling company that continues to engage in our world. I hope we add to the world, not take from it. I hope to stay on my toes, and continue to be humbled and inspired by the people I meet along the way. I hope we are able to see the humor in things and find the joy. And, I hope to call out and celebrate the absurd.” Today, Lingua Franca is a line of sustainably-sourced, fair trade luxury cashmere sweaters, all hand-stitched by women in NYC. Tomorrow? Who knows what they will morph into.
Written by Evans Hollingsworth