Local designer crafts hobby into mission

The children’s clothing industry thrives in downtown Siloam Springs.

Heather Lanker founded Heather Hill Clothing is a retail company that caters to girls from the ages of two to seven. More than 10 years ago, Heather had a vision of the potential for kids clothing. This vision prompted Lanker to create Heather Hill Clothing company. As a mother, Lanker’s desire to create cute homemade clothing for her daughters evolved into a bigger dream of being a small-town business woman.

“I never really imagined me being a business person. I’ve always been more of a creative person,” Lanker said.

Lanker started sewing in high school, but began designing clothes for the first time after college for a costume company in Hollywood, where she and her husband lived at the time. “I loved that, but I got pregnant with my first daughter, and I got so sick, and so I let that go to the wayside. I knew I wanted to stay home with my kids. Luckily, I had two daughters. I actually started making clothes for them. Children’s clothes are almost ‘costume-y.’ Children can get away with wearing polka dots and stripes and patterns and no one says anything about it, you know?”

“I started dressing my daughters, and people would follow me out into the parking lot and ask where I got their clothes. I would tell them, ‘I made it’ and they would tell me, ‘I would buy that,’ and that’s how I got the idea,” Lanker said.

Around 15 years ago, creating clothes and selling pieces online was purely a hobby for Lanker. When the Lankers sold their house in California, they had extra finances to pursue their desired careers. The move is what spurred Lanker to make the transition from an Ebay and Etsy hobby to a full-on business. All her supplies and connections were around 45 minutes away and Lanker took advantage of the proximity to opportunity. “I looked into launching a whole-sale clothing company. That’s kind of where the business started,” Lanker said.

After the transition to Siloam Springs for her husband’s new job as a professor at John Brown University, Lanker’s business fell apart. No one would help her create the clothing. The tools were not available to her at the time. Lanker said she fell into a depressive state. She had a company and countless orders and no way to produce them because everything was in Los Angeles. “My husband came home one day, and he was like ‘Heather, you know how to sew. Just start sewing something again.’ And so I did. By the end of the month I had tons of outfits.”

Around this time, a friend informed Lanker about the Dogwood Festival and other opportunities to sell her clothing. She took the initiative and bought a trailer to use both for travel and a sales platform, hoping to improve and grow her business.

Throughout this process, Lanker found she needed a place to produce her primarily cotton clothing. She also had a desire to help younger mothers in India by offering them better jobs with better wages. Lanker and her husband went to India five years ago for a summer to figure out if this dream could become a reality. Lanker found that it was hard to find seamstresses or younger women willing to work. The process was more complicated than expected and the factories more expensive. The Indian government had an inefficient system which was difficult to overcome, but Lanker continued to work with Indian production for about two years after returning to the states.

“It was a good experience, and I learned a lot, but it just did not work out how I imagined it. Zulily, a site that I used to sell my clothes, was growing so much that India just couldn’t keep up,” Lanker said.

After a couple years of supervising the production from across the ocean, Lanker decided to utilize factories in China instead, as their production was more efficient and she could still help families. India and China were both going through a cotton shortage because of inflated prices. Since most of Lanker’s clothes were made out of cotton at the time, she had to find an alternative in milk silk, a cotton substitute manufactured by China and India to rectify the cotton crisis.

From a traveling trailer to Main Street Siloam, Lanker says her family has and always will be a huge part of her business.

“My kids have always been involved in my business since they were born, I mean it’s kind of born out of them. They were my models. . .when I did my craft shows. . .they would do them with me,” Lanker said. “They are in this business with me. Jason pushes me to do things, he sees gifts and says ‘use them’, I mean it’s not all roses and all that when its stressful, but it’s a balance.”