The knitwear label Lingua Franca began on an impulse. Rachelle Hruska MacPherson, the founder of the site Guest of a Guest, happened to embroider “booyah” on a sweater and posted an image on Instagram, and the demand for more came pouring in. A year later, the label is a runaway success, sold at Net-a-Porter and a favorite of New York personalities and celebrities alike, with everyone from Leonardo DiCaprio to Gabby Hoffman and Christy Turlington lapping up MacPherson’s handcrafted cashmere sweaters embroidered with hip hop lyrics. And for the Women’s March rallies the day after Donald J. Trump’s inauguration, she created a special sweater bearing the words, “I Miss Barack, with all proceeds going to a charity of the customer’s choosing (about $10,000 so far). For what remains of the winter, she will brave the cold and this time of uncertainty in her anti-Trump sweaters.
What is your history with sweaters? I actually had no intention of starting a knitwear company, or anything close to it. Last February I was in Montauk and looking for something to do with my hands. 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. That weekend, I picked up a sweater and embroidered “booyah” on it. I put it on Instagram and friends started requesting some of their own. I knew if I was going to do another company, it was going to have to be something I really loved. I totally love the concept of “Lingua Franca,” which means 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. And, I just 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. How do you choose the quotes you embroider? My husband Sean [MacPherson] got his start opening hip-hop clubs in the early Nineties in L.A. and so collaborating on sayings that will resonate has become a favorite past time of ours. Lately I’ve been outraged with the political landscape. This month our most popular personal order has been “I Miss Barack.” I think it’s cool that there will be hundreds of women walking around rocking that sweater. Which sweater has been your favorite to date? It’s so hard—it changes all of the time! Today we did one that said “the future will not be tweeted.” I love that. Also I have a soft spot for “booyah,” because it’s the very first word I ever sewed on anything.
Do you personally embroider every sweater? I wish! We have done thousands of sweaters and I’d say our system is one of organized chaos. We have almost 50 embroiderers working part time for us now. For wholesale, I chalk the first sample and the embroiderers copy it. For personal orders, I chalk each one by hand before it gets sent off to be embroidered. What was it like getting a business off the ground? This business is unusual in that it was totally organic. It was completely different than launching my first company. There’s been no structure or plan from the beginning so it’s been pretty low expectations – which means everything that has happened has been a wonderful surprise. We began on vintage cashmere sweaters that we bought from various sources. My favorites were the Pringles of Scotland cashmeres. Most people think cashmere should be super soft to the touch. But, the very best cashmere is the tightest weave knits that aren’t actually as soft as you’d think. They are the ones that hold up over time and are very hard to find now. We copied the style, color and shapes of my favorite vintage Pringles cashmere for our Spring line.
Which quotes do you find are the most popular with your customers? It really has been across the board. Some that have stood out include “it was all a dream,” “Original Gangsta” and “ Old School.” But, this month in particular has seen tons of “i miss barack” orders. It’s exciting! What trends are you seeing among women right now that you’re excited about? I love things that are individualized and done by hand, things that you can actually feel the love poured into. I am friends with Alix of Bohemia who makes these incredible one of a kind jackets. I love that. I also love that there are so many options right now for buying clothes. I love second hand and vintage finds – and there are so many online sites where you can find just the most amazing things. I’ve never been one for trends. What’s up next? Right now we are working on our summer line. Picasso is my inspiration for that collection, which will include stripes but also phrases that embody his “beat the system” lifestyle. I haven’t set my mind on fall yet but had a dream about argyles the other week. I think it’s in the cards….
Meet the Women Who Are Making the Women’s March on Washington Happen
The executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, Linda Sarsour — a Brooklyn native, mother of three, and now one of the national co-chairs of the Women’s March on Washington — has been working at the crossroads of civil rights, religious freedom, and racial justice for 15 years. Once an aspiring English teacher, she joined the Arab American Association in its infancy, succeeding founder Basemah Atweh, her mentor, as executive director with Atweh’s death in 2005. “I grew out of the shadow of 9/11,” Sarsour said. “What I’ve seen out of bad always comes good, is that solidarity and unity, particularly amongst communities of color who feel like they’re all impacted by the same system.”
Tamika D. Mallory’s roots in community organizing and activism extend back to her early childhood: her parents were two of the earliest members of the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network nearly 30 years ago, an organization for which Mallory went on to act as executive director. But it wasn’t until the death of her son’s father 15 years ago that Mallory found her niche in civil rights and flung herself headlong into activism. Now, she’s one of the four national co-chairs of the Women’s March on Washington, balancing organizing the march with her day job as a speaker and civil rights advocate. “We’re centering this march by having women to be at the helm of it, to organize it, and to be most of the speakers,” she said. “At the same time I think it’s very important that we never forget the fact that our men, our brothers, our young brothers particularly need this support.”
Fashion entrepreneur Bob Bland was nearing the due date of her second daughter, now seven weeks old, when she posted a Facebook event calling for a march on Washington during inauguration weekend. Nine weeks later, she’s one of four national co-chairs at the heart of the Women’s March on Washington — where she’ll march with her infant, her six-year-old daughter, and her 74-year-old mother. “We’re activating people who were previously content with sitting behind their computer and posting on Facebook,” she said.
For Carmen Perez, executive director of Harry Belafonte’s Gathering for Justice and one of the four national co-chairs of the Women’s March on Washington, work permeates everything else: “There’s no real life outside of activism,” she said. Just over two decades ago, Perez’s elder sister was killed — the anniversary of her burial coincides with the march, and with Perez’s birthday — and navigating the justice system motivated her to work with incarcerated young men and women, first as a probation officer and then with The Gathering, operating on the intersection of race, criminal justice, and immigration. “Oftentimes, when I’m in spaces, I am the only Latina and I have to speak a little louder for my community to be part of the conversation,” she said. “The work that I do around racial justice, it’s not just about Latino rights. It’s also about human rights.”
Californian ShiShi Rose, 27, moved to New York a year ago to develop her activism and writing. She previously worked at a local rape crisis center and assisted in educating therapists and counselors before turning her focus more squarely towards race, first via her Instagram account and then through public speaking engagements and writing. As part of the national committee for the Women’s March on Washington, Rose runs the group’s social media channels, from Instagram (where she has a substantial following) to Facebook. “Women encompass everything,” Rose said. “If you can fight for women’s rights, you can fight for rights across the board.”
A law student-turned-actress-turned-activist, Sarah Sophie Flicker was born in Copenhagen, the great-granddaughter of a Danish prime minister who has been credited with bringing democratic socialism to Denmark. She grew up in California before moving to New York to found the political cabaret Citizens Band, eventually joining the production company Art Not War. “Once you start breaking it all down, you realize the most vulnerable people in any community tend to be women,” she said. “All our issues intersect, and something that may affect me as a white woman will doubly affect a black woman or a Latina woman or an indigenous woman. So when we talk about a women’s movement, we need to be talking about all women.”
Vanessa Wruble, a member of the national organizing committee, is the uber-connector of the Women’s March on Washington. She’s also the founder and editor of OkayAfrica, a site connecting culture news from continental Africa with an international audience. It was Wruble who first messaged Bland on Facebook to connect her with the women who would eventually become her co-chairs: “She said, Hey, you know, you need to center women of color in the leadership of this so it can be truly inclusive,’” Bland recalled. Within a day, they were meeting for coffee; now, they’re marching together in one of the largest demonstrations in support of a vast array of causes in United States history.
Paola Mendoza, artistic director of the Women’s March on Washington, is a Colombian-American director and writer whose work has focused on immigrant experiences, particularly those of Latina women. “Women have never convened this way in our lifetime,” Mendoza said of the march, “and it’s being led for the first time ever by women of color.”
Janaye Ingram, who Michelle Obama once described as an “impressive leader,” is Head of Logistics for the March, in addition to being a consultant for issues like civil, voting, and women’s rights in Washington D.C.
Cassady Fendlay, communications director for the Women’s March on Washington, is a writer and communications strategist whose clients include The Gathering for Justice — the organization helmed by Women’s March national co-chair Carmen Perez. As the spokeswoman for the march, Fendlay is tasked with acting as its mouthpiece, ensuring its message is accurate, unified, and coherent.
In addition to being a producer of the march, Ginny Suss is the Vice President of Okayplayer.com and the President and co-founder of OkayAfrica — she does video production for both. Her background in the music industry runs deep, and she’s worked closely with The Roots for the past 13 years, serving as their Tour Manager for some time. She’s also produced large outdoor events like The Roots Picnic, Summerstage, Lincoln Center Out Of Doors, and Celebrate Brooklyn — vital experience for organizing a march of this size.
Last year, Nantasha Williams ran for the New York State Assembly as a representative of the 33rd district — which encompasses a region just east of Jamaica, Queens. Though she lost to Democrat Clyde Vanel, she’s putting her organizing skills to good use in the aftermath of the election, working on the logistics team for the march and assisting national co-chair Tamika Mallory.
When Alyssa Klein isn’t managing the various social media accounts for the Women’s March, she’s writer and Senior Editor at OkayAfrica, the largest online destination for New African music, culture, fashion, art, and politics. Based in both New York City and Johannesburg, Klein’s passion is movies and television, and has made it her profession to highlight creatives of color in both industries. Juggling social media is no easy side project, however. The Women’s March has approximately 80,000 followers on Instagram and Twitter, plus a over 200,000 on Facebook.
Shirley Marie Johnson is the March’s head administrator for Tennessee, as well as an author, poet, and singer. Primarily, though, she’s an activist and advocate for those who are victim to domestic violence, a cause that’s not only her focus at the March, but in her day-to-day life through her group Exodus, Inc., which aids those affected by rape, human trafficking, and other abuse.
Born in Shanghai, Ting Ting Cheng studied human rights at the University of Cape Town — and became an award-winning Fulbright scholar to South Africa — before heading to New York, where she’s now a criminal defense attorney at the Brooklyn Defender Services. All that’s no doubt come in handy for her role as Legal Director of the March.
Heidi Solomon is one of the three co-organizers for the Pennsylvania chapter of the Women’s March. Although she doesn’t have a long background in activism, Trump’s election moved her to take action, and she’s helped rally approximately 6,000 people from her home state.
Deborah Harris is a grassroots organizer and feminist self-help author who lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, and served as a community activist for 10 years in the fields of fashion, healthcare, at risk youth, and supportive women’s relations.
As Illinois’ state representative for the Women’s March, Mrinalini Chakraborty has taken the lead in coordinating the Chicago-area charge, organizing bus rides for well over a thousand women and other supporters. She’s also on the National Committee and is a coordinator for all 50 states coming to D.C.. And that’s in addition to her day job: She’s a graduate teaching and research assistant at the University of Illinois at Chicago for anthropology, not to mention a student and a dedicated food blogger.
After earning her Ph.D in psychology, Dr. Deborah Johnson is now studying social work at the University of Oklahoma in Tulsa — and making sure she stands up for both her and her daughter’s rights at the March, which she’s helping lead the way to for other Oklahomans.
Renee Singletary is an organizer, mother of two, wife of one, marketing consultant, and certified herbalist living and working in Charleston, South Carolina.
A yoga instructor, theater graduate, and local organizer, South Carolina native Evvie Harmon has brought her skills and energy to the march as its global co-coordinator alongside Breanne Butler. Together, they facilitate partner marches and local organizers around the world, bringing the whole thing into synergy.
These Women Are About to Make History as the Organizers of the Women’s March on Washington
These Women Are About to Make History as the Organizers of the Women’s March on Washington