In a community looking for models of resilience, Heather Kadlec would be near the top of the list.
The Forest Park resident had been a beloved teacher in Brookfield until, at the age of 41, she suffered a stroke in 2011, leaving her unable to speak more than a few words and not able to use her right hand.
She went through the normal stages of grieving the loss of something precious, and as she began to look toward her future, she learned to paint with her left, non-dominant hand. What began as therapy led to the discovery that she was really good — good enough to sell her watercolors in galleries and art shows.
When the virus closed the galleries and prevented art shows from being staged, she looked out the window of her Madison Street condo, saw that lots of people wearing face masks, and she and her husband, Jonathan Shack, came up with the idea of putting some of her art on face coverings.
Which evolved into a business called HMK Living, which launched a year ago this month. Under that organizational umbrella, her paintings sell in a line called HMK Watercolors, and her face masks are displayed on the HMK Living website under HMK Fashions.
Creativity and resilience have gone hand in hand in getting HMK Living through its first year. For example, the art on Kadlec’s face masks comes from her paintings and one of her favorite images is the Chicago skyline.
Face coverings are the best-selling item in the HMK Living catalogue, but they are just a few of the roughly 100 items for sale.
If you go to her website, HMK Living, find “shop” and then “fashion collections,” you will discover in the Skyline Collection her artistic impression of the Chicago skyline on face masks but also on matching headbands, beanies, tank tops, toiletry bags, pencil cases, tote bags, boyshorts and leggings. You’ll even find a pair of men’s boxer briefs with not only the skyline printed on the front but also the iconic image of the big red Chicago Cubs sign outside of Wrigley Field, 1060 W. Addison.
Consumers will also see lines with names like Agua, Floral, Psychedelic Spray, and Ducks.
“Heather has always loved wearing unique fashions that reflect her personality,” her husband explained, “so it was a natural progression to want to create her own fashion line that incorporates her artistic flair for color and design.”
It’s one thing to be an inspired, creative artist; it’s another thing to make money selling your art. That’s where Shack proved invaluable. He used his experience as a construction contractor to provide advice regarding finances, management, marketing and sales.
Kadlec has also brought into the HMK advisory and management team experienced marketing and design associates, along with a retired garment manufacturing head, to help run the day-to-day.
Christine Spiegel, the operations manager, noted that face coverings shown on HMK Fashions are already in their second generation. “We made changes to improve fit and comfort,” she said, “based on updated CDC guidelines and customer input.”
HMK’s current operations involve using pattern software to create Kadlec’s designs and speed up the process, and a manufacturer in North America to produce the product.
“It was common,” added Spiegel, “for manufacturers in general to have delays in the early months of the pandemic, as ours did. But we are fortunate to have the process back on schedule. Due to increased demand ahead of the holidays, we anticipate production and shipping to take longer, so we’re suggesting customers order early.”
Kadlec’s fashion line is available at hmkliving.com.
Heather’s artwork can be viewed at hmkwatercolors.com.
Facebook/Instagram: @hmklivingus @hmkwatercolors