Former Amish woman looks to her roots to start handmade clothing line.
At least twice a month, a Pioneer Trails bus transporting tubs of handmade clothes leaves from the German Village Market in Berlin, Ohio, to make the 20-hour trek to Sarasota’s Pinecraft neighborhood.
These products are made by a group of 30 Amish seamstresses in the heart of Millersburg, Ohio’s Amish countryside, under the guidance of one woman: Lena Schlabach, owner and founder of Farmhouse Frocks, a women’s retailer specializing in boho and farmhouse-style clothing.
Schlabach grew up in Millersburg and was raised Amish, but she left the religion at 18. She says she maintains a good relationship with her parents, who have a vacation home in Pinecraft.
In August 2014, Schlabach attended a "fête blanc," or white party, for which she had nothing to wear. She attempted to shop, but left frustrated when she couldn’t find anything flattering for her body type. Determined to never let it happen again, she started designing her own clothing. When people started asking where they could buy it, she decided to start Farmhouse Frocks with her daughters.
For the first few months of 2015, Schlabach maintained a small shop in her basement. On July 2, 2015, with the help of her family, team members and 28 gallons of paint, she opened her downtown Millersburg location. She opened a Sarasota location in Burns Court this March and launched her infant brand, Farmhouse Baby Frocks, Aug. 1.
“Our family has vacationed here for many years,” she says. “It was always kind of a dream for me to have a shop here.”
Throughout the whirlwind expansion, Schlabach gained 21,700 followers on Instagram. Although her two daughters, 21-year-old Sales Manager Felicia Schlabach and 14-year-old Designer/Personal Assistant Sydni Schlabach, both grew up with social media, Schlabach considers connecting with customers on social media her “thing.”
“I think because I was raised Amish,” Schlabach says. “It opens my world to such a bigger world on Instagram.”
Vastly different climates aside, Schlabach says her clientele doesn’t vary much between the two locations. She started the business with plus-sized women in mind, but she thinks women of all sizes appreciate comfortably fitting clothes. She did notice one tiny difference, however.
“The women here are much smaller,” she says. “When I started the Florida store, we had to add extra small, because my clothes do fit more flowy.”
Starting a baby clothing line was always her daughter Sydni’s dream, and Schlabach surprised her early this summer by giving her the OK to start Baby Frocks. They launched the line at their one-year anniversary of the Millersburg location in July, and they traveled to Sarasota in late August to do a beach photo shoot.
Schlabach and her daughters visit the Sarasota location bi-monthly, but they also do a lot of cross-nation traveling for the eight Country Living magazine shows they typically participate in every year. Schlabach loves the traveling because not only does she get to meet new people, but she also gets to connect with fans who recognize the “Farmhouse Frocks girls” from their Instagram.
Although Schlabach's strong internet presence reaches across the country, one of her biggest fans is here in Sarasota.
“I just resonated with her — her energy; her level of integrity,” says Betty Silberman, sales assistant for the Sarasota location. “I always tell her I’m happy to be here.”
Schlabach emphasizes that all her work is done with the company’s motto in mind: “More faith than fear.” She says this mindset has helped her through many hard moments, including multiple times when she was down with her “face on the floor, just ready to give up.”
The deep-rooted values of the Farmhouse Frocks girls are perhaps best exemplified through the tags that are sewn onto each of their garments before they’re put on the Pioneer Trails bus and before the seamstress prays for the woman who will eventually wear it:
“You are ... 100% beautiful. 100% unique. 100% worthy. 100% God made.”