In a season when it would be easy to let fear reign, Lena Schlabach has leaned hard on her faith, just like she’s always done since opening Farmhouse Frocks in 2014. In fact, the clothing boutique founded, owned, and operated by Lena and her two daughters — Sydni Schlabach and Felicia Mast — has a pertinent store motto: “More faith than fear.”
Lena and her daughters started Farmhouse Frocks out of the need for plus-sized women to have access to cuter clothes. It turns out women of all sizes want the type of clothing they offer. As a result, the store ships their products from their shop in Millersburg, Ohio, to women all over the world, sending high quality clothing out and bringing resources back into their community.
Farmhouse Frocks believes that body positivity—a message that Lena and her daughters find extremely important—speaks to a deeper need women have than just finding something cute and comfy to wear. The store’s mission is “to bring forth the beauty of women.” Farmhouse Frocks strives to remind women of their value in and beyond their skin.
Many women inaccurately define themselves by the message their clothing tags send, getting wrapped up in and discouraged by the size a maker has labeled them. Farmhouse Frocks seeks to change that. To overcome some of the misconceptions women have about size, Farmhouse Frocks clothing sizes fit large so women have to size down.
In addition to the typical content you’d expect to see on a clothing label, each item they make and sell is tagged with these words: “You are 100% Beautiful, 100% Worthy, 100% Unique, 100% God Made.” It’s a message women around the world are desperate to hear.
That mission, combined with the store motto, has driven every decision and shaped every element of Lena’s life and business. “I’m passionate about empowering women, from the maker to the consumer,” says Lena.
Another way the Farmhouse Frocks team empowers women is through prayer. Their storefront studio in Millersburg features a prayer cross. “You wouldn’t believe the prayer requests that get hung on the cross,” Lena says. “People inbox and email us hundreds of requests a week.”
Lena realized quickly that they needed a prayer team to pray for people. They now have an email list of over 200 people who are praying. The list is sent out monthly.
Overcoming Challenges through Faith
Farmhouse Frocks has dealt with their fair share of challenges over the six years they have been in business. But where others see pain, Lena sees possibility.
“If you are a fearless leader, and you don’t mind failing, there’s so much you can do. I make so many mistakes, but I’m not scared to make them,” Lena says. “I’m intentional about making decisions out of faith—even down to what my payroll is. It sometimes doesn’t make sense to my husband or outside people, but I really feel that has been the growth of my company.”
Through every obstacle, from having to put out an actual fire to buying their new building, Lena sees suffering as a pathway to joy. The same has been true of the challenges presented in 2020.
“So many people have been hurt by this pandemic,” Lena says, but for Farmhouse Frocks, “it has made a huge difference. We have been unbelievably blessed because of COVID—I have the best team I’ve ever had.”
When businesses everywhere shut down because of the pandemic, Farmhouse Frocks saw a need and knew they could help. They partnered with 14 local Amish woodworking and upholstery shops that weren’t able to be open to make over 100,000 cloth masks. As a result, “We were able to cover $400,000 in payroll for those companies for two months.” Lena admits, “There were a lot of challenges —trying to find fabric, running out of elastic—but we were able to overcome them.”
Every one of those masks carry the “100% Beautiful…” label on them.
Since producing those masks, Farmhouse Frocks has seen a much larger scale of customers in recent months. Prior to March 2020, Farmhouse Frocks sold 75% of their product in-house and shipped 25%. After March, those percentages flip-flopped. The shift forced a quick pivot to focus on fulfilling the rise in online sales. The upstairs of their storefront business transformed from a quiet office space into a bustling shipping and fulfillment center. The team isn’t making as many masks these days, but the heart of their passion—making women feel beautiful in their skin—is thriving.
Empowering Amish Seamstresses
From the beginning, Farmhouse Frocks has partnered with Amish seamstresses to design and make the clothes sold in their shop. Amish are committed to living a simple life removed from the distractions and temptations of the world. Amish women are traditionally homemakers and often don’t have a job outside of the house; the relationship with Farmhouse Frocks empowers Amish women to do work they are proud of and bring home a paycheck to help supplement their family’s income.
The partnership between Amish seamstresses and the store is very relational. Lena grew up Amish and speaks Dutch, the primary language spoken in the large Amish community in and surrounding Millersburg. Lena’s sister, who is Amish herself, is the store’s pattern designer. Each week, the store places their new orders with the 30 Amish seamstresses employed by Farmhouse Frocks. Later in the week, since the Amish don’t drive, the company car goes around to pick up clothes. As a result, there’s an intimate and familiar bond formed between the employees at the store and the seamstresses.
“I love the quality of their work,” Lena says. “Their work is really trustworthy.” It isn’t just about the quality of the work, though. Many Amish women can sew, but do they actually like to sew? That important question influences Lena’s hiring process. Pairing people’s passion with their strengths is a key element to Lena’s overall business operations. If a team member is hired for a role that isn’t actually their strength, Lena and her daughters strive to find the right spot for that person to be able to do what they’re good at and what they love.
Farmhouse Frocks’ Old Favorites Get a New Twist
Lena and her daughters enjoy developing new styles for the upcoming season, and this year is no different. They’re currently working on their spring line. The store’s most popular item, the Rita Romper, consistently sells the most every year. Comfort is the name of the game this year, and Farmhouse Frocks is meeting that demand with a second romper that is designed exactly for that purpose. They are also changing some of their fabrics from linen to jersey knit.
Ever on the lookout for new ways to delight and inspire her customers, Lena’s team continues to test and add new clothing options and products. In addition to their clothing line, Farmhouse Frocks has a full line of leather and cowhide bags made by two local makers who are now employed full-time with Farmhouse Frocks. They’re planning to add a new line of print canvases and photography soon as well.