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Conversations with Laura Hlavac

Today we’d like to introduce you to Laura Hlavac.

Hi Laura, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
My lifelong passion for sewing and design began when I discovered my mom’s sewing machine at age 12. From that time on, I always had a sewing project in process. I found joy in designing clothing for myself and surprising my family and friends with personalized gifts. By high school graduation I was an expert sewer. However, encouraged by my parents and high school teachers, I chose to pursue a degree in Engineering. I was accepted into the Institute of Technology at the University of Minnesota but struggled to get passing grades. A student in the fashion design program, who lived in my dormitory, always intrigued me with the design projects she was working on. I realized how much I missed my sewing machine, and it became apparent that engineering was not my passion.

Expecting serious pushback, I told my parents I wanted to switch my major from engineering to fashion design. I received love, understanding and support from them instead. In my sophomore year, an opportunity for an internship with a local bicycle apparel manufacturer presented itself. I was leaving the grocery store when the owner of a bicycle apparel company asked me about the colorful bicycle shorts I was wearing. I told him I designed and made them myself and he hired me on the spot! That internship proved so valuable, as I learned the clothing manufacturing processes from start to completion. I had already been working with athletic and performance clothing for myself, so the job was a perfect fit.

Immediately after graduation, I started my own business contracting with the bicycle apparel business I had interned with. My “private label” business grew as I added Nordic Track, Aveda, Rollerblades and Kawasaki to my client list. My skills were unique and in demand. My company was providing full turnkey services from Design/Development to Manufacturing/Fulfillment.

As the business grew I needed more space. I married Wayne Hlavac and we purchased a 10,000 square foot former Masonic Lodge in St. Paul, Minnesota which became and continues to be today-our home, sewing shop, showroom and offices. Then along came three kids.

The building was constructed in 1923 and has all the original features of a Masonic Temple such as a ballroom, stage, and Art Deco style hand painted stencil art on the walls and ceilings. The enchanting environment sparked another passion of mine, which is music. I had been performing as a singer and keyboardist since childhood as the church pianist and this building provided the perfect setting for music and fashion to merge. I’ve been in many bands over the years, with my most recent project being a funk band called “Funkin’ Right”.

My experience in athletic clothing set the groundwork for the creation of Laura Hlavac brand clothing with a tagline of “Athleisure for Real Women”. I set myself apart from the early athleisure brands which were sized for slim women only, as my line was created to fit women of all shapes and sizes. I sold my line to over 500 boutiques in over 30 states, as well as big box stores, department stores, mail order and online catalog companies. Presently I continue to sell wholesale as well as direct to the consumer.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
The first 10 years in business were filled with long days and hard work. We experienced explosive growth as we capitalized on the athletic clothing trends of the 90’s. The 2000’s decade brought about a series of major setbacks. An employee stole our largest customer and sabotaged our 2nd largest customer. We were broke overnight. The next several years put us further into debt to pay bills, and divorce followed. I found myself raising three children alone in a building with smothering overhead costs. Building back the business of manufacturing other company’s brands was extremely difficult in a recession economy. Having eggs in a few big baskets had left us in a vulnerable position in a highly competitive environment. I felt if I could build my own brand, I would have something that no one could steal. So I started designing women’s clothing and pitching it myself to boutiques. It started to work. Soon the boutique business was showing promise, and within a few years, I had established my brand with hundreds of small family owned businesses like mine.

Then, when the pandemic hit, like many other companies, orders stopped coming in overnight. I once again switched to survival mode and created a strategy. Like other clothing companies, I made it through the toughest months of 2020 by making cloth masks and hospital gowns. We had cloth masks five weeks before Amazon, because my manufacturing contact in China said that there were mask mandates there, something no one here believed would ever happen (I was laughed at when I predicted that this would come to the US). Our masks also helped our struggling boutique customers survive by providing them something to sell, since they weren’t selling clothing. The hospital gowns were made by the thousands for local hospitals, nursing homes and retirement facilities until we were able to get back to our clothing business.

If I could do it all over again, I would start out by working for more than one clothing company to get more industry experience under my belt before jumping into a business right away. I was too headstrong and overly confident, and I didn’t yet understand how to run a business, or how to merchandise a clothing line. I could have avoided a lot of painful mistakes.

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
I design right from the sewing machine. Having worked with large corporate entities, I have seen the disconnect when a designer is distant from the development process. My signature DNA stitching embellishment was born by playing with a particular industrial machine which was intended for a different purpose, resulting in the creation of something completely new and unique. It also solved another problem. It allowed me to create interesting pieces by embellishing solid fabric, which was more affordable and accessible than printed fabric which dominates the womenswear industry. So, all I had to do was obtain the highest quality most comfortable stretch knit fabric I could find. This was easy. Since I had experienced a Work From Home lifestyle for over a decade already, I had designed for myself a wardrobe of comfortable pants, tops and dresses that transitioned well from home to the store, the workout studio, school, or client meetings.

My unique fabrication is custom made for my line and it is part of my secret to success. When women put on a Laura Hlavac garment, they are hooked for life. Once again, when the pandemic hit and everyone started working from home, my customers knew where to get the right clothing, and many new customers found my brand. Laura Hlavac brand is one of the most comfortable clothing lines on the planet. My most popular pieces are my lightweight stretch denim jackets (featuring 6 pockets), my super stretch “sweggings” that look like leggings but feel like sweatpants, and my sporty “wear everywhere” pullover hoodies. The clothing is designed to flatter a woman’s figure through its unique cut and slimming stitching embellishments. When a woman feels good and knows she looks good in her clothing, it raises her confidence. Bringing confidence to a woman through my designs is the mission of Laura Hlavac Clothing.

Networking and finding a mentor can have such a positive impact on one’s life and career. Any advice?
Social media provides great opportunities to connect with working professionals for advice. I share the credit for my success with my family and community whose support I could not have done without. The influence of mentors in my life made a huge impact, and I love giving back when the opportunity is presented. One of the ways I contribute is to advise students who want to design clothing, to learn to sew, and become an expert. (OMITTED SOME SENTENCES HERE) I enjoy speaking to high school and college classrooms as well as offering fashion design camps in my studio.

SEW, SEW, SEW.

Even after sewing for over 30 years, it is still my passion. I continue learning about how different fabrics behave, and I enjoy experimenting with different construction techniques. The possibilities are endless.

Contact Info:

  • Email: info@laurahlavac.com
  • Website: LauraHlavac.com
  • Instagram: LauraHlavacDesigns
  • Facebook: LauraHlavacDesigns
  • Twitter: LauraHlavacDesigns

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2 Comments

  1. Kristin

    December 2, 2021 at 8:26 pm

    Wonderful story! Laura is an inspiration!

  2. Ingrid N Brown

    December 3, 2021 at 6:28 pm

    I loved hearing about your success story. So proud of you!

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