“I Miss Barack”: How Lingua Franca Turned Activism Into Sweaters

Have you noticed the trend of cashmere sweaters embroidered with politically-minded sayings, such as “poverty is sexist” and “I miss Barack,” gracing your favorite celebrities’ Instagram feeds? This sweater trend is coming directly from the fast-growing Lingua Franca brand, and their founder Rachelle Hruska MacPherson.

Celebrities like Tessa Thompson (“Thor: Ragnarok”), Meryl Streep (“The Post”), Kristen Bell (“The Good Place”), and even Neil Patrick Harris (“How I Met Your Mother”) have shown support for the brand by donning a sweater or two both on and off the red carpet.

Photo courtesy of the Hollywood Reporter

MacPherson started Lingua Franca accidentally, funnily enough. She never intended to even start a fashion business. Originally, she is the owner of a media company called Guest of a Guest. Her therapist is the one who suggested that she do something with her hands to deal with her anxiety. So, she took up embroidery. MacPherson began by embroidering the phrase “booyah” onto an old, blue cashmere sweater and posted a photo of it to Instagram. The picture caught attention with requests for the handmade sweaters pouring in from friends and strangers.

A year after starting to make the sweaters, Net-a-Porter requested 2,000 of them (which were all hand-stitched by MacPherson herself, along with another woman who she met on Craigslist) for a fall 2016 line, which, by a small miracle, MacPherson accomplished. Since then, the company has grown to employ around 50 embroiderers -- all women, who are each paid $25 an hour.

At this point, though, the sweaters were only littered with hip-hop and slang phrases per the brand name which, in Italian, means “a language that is adopted as a common language between speakers whose native languages are different,” according to the dictionary. To this, MacPherson thought of common slang used by, say, a middle-aged woman on the Upper East Side and a young girl in Brooklyn.

In 2017, that all changed when President Trump signed an executive order banning travelers from many predominantly-Muslim countries. This ban affected several of MacPherson’s embroiders, some of whom were Iranian, and, thus, hit her hard, as well.

Photo courtesy of Sakara

What came out of her reaction to the executive order was a black-and-white-striped cashmere sweater with the words “I miss Barack” in red, marking the tide of when Lingua Franca sweaters became a political message. MacPherson also added a charitable component where $100 would be donated to a charity with every purchase of a sweater (the garments can run into the $300s.) Charities donated to include Bono’s One campaign, the Women’s March, and Time’s Up.

“The biggest criticism we get is the price point, that it isn’t more affordable,” MacPherson told the Hollywood Reporter. “But I’m trying to build a company that’s not just a trend, but is sustainable so we can continue to employ these women. Everything is done by hand.”

Because of that, Lingua Franca isn’t just revolutionizing the red carpet, or even political activism. It’s revolutionizing the retail industry, and actually trying to enact the changes that the sweaters wish to see in the world.