Lingua Franca’s founder and her supposedly subversive $380 embroidered cashmere sweaters make a strong case to bring back the guillotines.
I have never been more certain that we are living in the worst timeline than the unfortunate, truly cursed moment when I opened and read every word of this 7 Jan. article published at The Cut titled, “The Ladies Who Launch – Lingua Franca and the rise of the resistance socialite” — whatever that means.
Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? Rachelle Hruska MacPherson is a white lady. Honestly, you didn’t need me to clarify that for you based on what you’re about to read, but I thought I should anyway. She started her business embroidering “hip-hop lyrics and references” onto sweaters because as she and her (white) husband like to say “hip-hop is the lingua franca of our time.” With this unique and fun new spin on cultural appropriation, Lingua Franca (the company) was born.
According to the writer of this piece, Lingua Franca occupies a certain, special space in the fashion world. Its clothing isn’t just about fashion—it supposedly has a greater purpose beyond that.
According to Hruska, her brand took a political turn when Trump instituted the Muslim ban in January 2017. At the time, Lingua Franca had three Iranian F.I.T. students who worked for the company. When Hruska arrived that day, they were crying wondering if they would ever see their families again. Being Muslim American, I remember this day. It was traumatizing and enraging.
What Hruska did next is also traumatizing and enraging. She instructed these three Iranian students to embroider a sweater that read “I MISS BARACK,” which she gave away to a lady who wrote her family a preschool recommendation.
Let’s unpack that. Her employees were crying because of a xenophobic, Islamophobic, racist policy enacted by the Trump administration. This policy had the potential to cause irreversible damage and pain to them and their families. Hruska’s reaction was not to give them the day off or offer to help. She told them to work on an embroidery project dedicated to the Deporter-in-Chief which she didn’t even let them keep! How on earth was that supposed to be healing or helpful? Imagine being that out of touch.
Now, Hruska admits that politics had never affected her until that moment (wow lucky!), but the way she handled this is insensitive at best and violent at worst. I just don’t see how she can seriously believe that embroidering some words on a cashmere sweater which costs $380 a pop is revolutionary for the marginalized folks that these policies affect the most. Donating some of your profits to nonprofit organizations doesn’t make your brand ethical. In fact, The Cut piece’s author puts it best when she writes, “if a wealthy founder has set up the business as a cause, it can bulletproof her against some of that potential blowback.”
One of these $380 sweaters reads “POVERTY IS SEXIST.” This is unironically brought to you by a brand that calls its woke line “a subversive underground movement to counteract the forces of mass production, mindless consumerism, and the patriarchy. Just kidding (kind of).” What is subversive about unaffordable sweaters with embroidered words stolen from Black and brown people to benefit white people?
I cannot help but imagine a rich, white 20-something who works in sales walking to work through her gentrified neighborhood wearing her POVERTY IS SEXIST cashmere sweater, passing by homeless people whose pleas for money she ignores every single day. This woman doesn’t feel guilty because her $380 sweater’s profits were split between Hruska’s ever-growing bank account and some organizations benefiting a trending marginalized group.
When confronted with the fact that she was “a rich white woman embroidering hip-hop lyrics onto cashmere” —Hruska acted like she had no other option for her life. She was utterly defiant, saying ““What would you like me to do? Not celebrate these lyrics, not give money, not do anything with my life?” As if these cashmere sweaters were of tangible use to anyone but the people reaping the profits off of the liberal inclination to do nothing and simply bumper-sticker their way through useless, guilt-assuaging iterations of the “resistance”. There were only two options Hruska could see: the poors were either going to be thankful for what she’s giving them or they could get nothing at all.
I think what truly bothers me the most in all of this, is that Hruska—and other white feminists like her—think that they are excused from trying any harder than the bare minimum to help BIPOC, poor people, and LGBTQIA+ people. She sits in her ivory tower and sells sweaters saying “THE REVOLUTION WILL NOT BE TWEETED,” not knowing the real—and actually subversive—work that Black and brown organizers and activists are doing at the risk of their own lives both online and in the streets. She doesn’t care to know about it—unless they say something worth embroidering on a sweater.
Admitting your privilege—as Hruska MacPherson has and does—is not enough anymore. And it certainly is not radical, revolutionary, or subversive. And there will never be any meaningful revolution won through a capitalist endeavor.