Owner stitches with purpose

Professor Jason Lanker often tells his Old Testament Survey classes, “I married the Proverbs 31 woman.”

His wife Heather is the owner and designer for Heather Hill Clothing, a children’s clothing store on Broadway Street in downtown Siloam Springs. She is also a mother of two.

Above her sewing machine in her shop hangs a quote by Saint Irenaeus: “The glory of God is man fully alive.”

Both Jason and Heather point to that quote as a description of Heather’s life and business.

“I live by that,” she said. “I still know what God has created me for. Sometimes I wonder, but I remember that showing people what I do is showing who God is.”

Jason said, “Her greatest desire is to glorify God. She knows that he hasn’t just made her to be a shop owner or a designer. He has also made her to be a wife, and a mother, and a friend. You could talk to anyone who knows her and they would say she is incredible, because she constantly gives of herself.”

Heather began her career as a designer after graduating college with a degree in home economics. At the suggestion of a professor, she went through the yellow pages and called every costume house in Hollywood.

She ended up with a job designing costumes for productions, theaters and individual buyers. They even made an Elvis costume for a Chinese man one time. Heather laughed describing the event.

Twelve years ago, when Jason and Heather had their first daughter, Madison, Heather quit that job to stay home with her.

“I kept sewing, but I sewed for her,” Heather said.

Jason said, “She couldn’t keep her hands still, so she started making clothes for the kids. She would go out places and people would say, ‘Where in the world did you get that?’ and she would say, ‘Oh, I made it.’”

Elise, their second daughter, was born nearly three years later.

“I didn’t start out wanting to design kids’ clothes. My daughter kind of marked my way in that,” she said. “I love costumes. As a kid, you can get away with wearing over the top kind of things. I love to mix and match prints, and kids love it, too.”

By the time the Lankers moved to Siloam Springs in 2006 for Jason to start his new job at John Brown University, Heather had developed a thriving design and wholesale business in Los Angeles and was selling to boutiques across the United States.

They thought she had everything arranged to be able to continue in Arkansas, but after moving she soon discovered the promised resources were no longer available and Heather was unable to continue her business.

Heather quickly fell into depression as she was left with only excess fabric and dashed hopes and dreams.

“I would leave her in the morning and she would just be crying in her bed,” said Jason. “I would come home after work and she was right at the same place I left her. She was just broken. I have never seen anyone in my life broken like that.”

One day Jason came home and said to Heather, “You know what? You have all this stuff. It is just sitting here. You are always better as a person when you are doing what you were made for. So just start making stuff again, start playing with fabric and being creative. You’re not wasting money; it’s just sitting in the garage. You’re not wasting any time; you’re just laying your bed. Just do something.”

Soon Heather had a bunch of little outfits and nothing to do with them. At the suggestion of some friends she sold them at the Dogwood Festival.

“I was hooked,” said Heather. “I kept making more one-of-a-kind outfits and travelled around the area selling them.”

The dream that was dead was coming alive again.

“One thing I love about her is she always wants to do what God wants to do,” said Jason. “If there was one area where she had her greatest will and desire it was her clothing, and even though it broke her and was really hard when we moved out here, I think when it came back to life it was like a resurrection. And because God had brought it back to life she was finally willing to give him that part of herself.”

Three years ago, selling at festivals and shows gradually led to leasing a small storefront downtown as their home ran out of room to comfortably produce the clothes. When another store, the Baby Closet, went out of business about 18 months ago, Heather Hill Clothing took over their lease and moved around the corner to Broadway Street.

This year, Heather embarked on a new adventure. At Jason’s encouragement, she entered the world of wholesale once again, even though at first she was unsure and a little gun-shy because of her previous experiences.

“At the show in Dallas, I told Jason I wouldn’t do it unless my first choice rep approached us and asked to carry the line,” said Heather.

“Not 10 minutes after I said that, he came up and said he loved my line’s look and he wanted to carry it.”

Finding a manufacturer in India, Heather quickly designed her line for spring 2013, so they would have plenty of time to produce. Her wholesale line is now rebranded as Heather Feather, and her handmade line remains Heather Hill.

“To me it is just the next step. I feel this is the beginning of something; I just do not know where it is going,” said Heather.

Jason said, “Through all this, the last four years, it is not just her business. So she does not just sew for her dreams anymore, she really sews because that is the way God made her. She sees that. She’ll sew for him and sell for him as long as he wants her to.”