Rachael Finley is hands down the coolest mom on the planet -- or at least on the West Coast. Known as Steak to the internet because of the Omaha cuts she had stockpiled in her college fridge, Finely is a mom to two beautiful girls and the owner of two brands: Teenage, and women’s streetwear line Hot Lava.
Having created a truly one-of-a-kind career, championing women’s rightful place in urban fashion, the multi-hyphenate’s path to self-actualization has not been without its bumps and obstacles, but it’s her unconventional and colorful journey to success that makes her all the more inspiring and relatable. Once a fit model, metal concert and skate park regular, Vice TV host and the owner of a bad advice Tumblr, the Florida native has waded through the murky waters of poverty, divorce and cancer to become the whip-smart and exceptionally kind woman she is today. After being told there was no specific demographic for women’s streetwear, Finley more than proved the naysayers wrong as Hot Lava’s eye-catching slow fashion boasts over 30,000 followers on Instagram and regularly sells out its most coveted and innovative designs.
"When I made Hot Lava I thought, 'What is the opposite of all of these trajectories? How do I make things that represent the people in my spaces, how do I make it fit more types of bodies, and how do I make it affordable and have the values needed for being a brand in 2022?'"
She recalls: “Two or three years ago, the brand’s publicity company reached out to a number of streetwear outlets and it was almost comical to get the amount of pushback we did as most titles at the time didn’t believe there was a demand for women’s streetwear and I remember feeling so crazy about it because it was simply untrue. A large part of the reason why people are finally starting to recognize and acknowledge the existence of women’s streetwear is because they’ve actually started to hire women.”
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Having worked in male-dominated spaces for the majority of her early career, Finley is no stranger to haters and uses that energy as her creative fuel. When asked what women’s streetwear means to her and why she felt it was necessary to embark on this journey, Finley says: “I think growing up, living at the skatepark, devouring counter-culture magazines -- I always identified with streetwear and skate stuff, but there was only men’s stuff at the thrift store or hand me downs. I couldn’t afford the few women's brands that were out at that time like Poot or first-generation X-Girl."
She continues: "As I got older and could afford it, those brands had mostly disappeared and what I saw were just so many women in Supreme jackets and other men’s brands. I thought, 'Why do we always put on for them?' I wanted to put it on for us, for my younger self. Not to mention, the co-opting of streetwear by high fashion crept in, and took over the niche to leech ideas from subculture groups and charge thousands of dollars for them, which made me even more upset that it was getting kept at a price point that made it inaccessible to the groups who inspired it from day one. When I made Hot Lava I thought, 'What is the opposite of all of these trajectories? How do I make things that represent the people in my spaces, how do I make it fit more types of bodies, and how do I make it affordable and have the values needed for being a brand in 2022?'”
“It’s been so hard to keep trudging along in this space where people are constantly looking over it. I’ve heard so many times that our price point makes customers devalue our products, so we aren’t 'fashion' enough then. It’s hard getting male-dominated spaces to slide over for us and make the room they should at the table. People ask me constantly to name my competitors so they can justify us in their heads, and file us into a box. They ask me if it’s MadeMe, and I say no, I need more brands like them out there who are really in it. The more people will say, 'Okay, this is a thing' and for those of us old enough they add 'again' to the end of the sentence.”
"As terrifying as it was and as sick as cancer made me, it also brought me a lot of focus."
After a lymphatic cancer diagnosis in 2013, Finley began her pursuit of streetwear putting her promising career in fashion and modeling on hold as she underwent treatment. Soon, the boredom of the health-induced quarantine gave way to depression. In need of a creative outlet, Finley began selling the excess wardrobe pieces her then-husband Blake Anderson wore on the college stoner classic Workaholics. “I started my first brand when I was in chemo because I was basically bored out of my mind. I went from four fitting appointments a day to sitting at home on Tumblr and making wardrobe for his show, digitizing graphics. For me, idle hands created a space for my depression to seep in and with no support system, keeping busy in a fun way eventually led to a business. Through my illness and that downtime, I learned how to run a business and now we have Steakworld, which is a facility and production warehouse for eight brands. In a lot of ways, if I didn’t have cancer, I wouldn’t have that time. As terrifying as it was and as sick as cancer made me, it also brought me a lot of focus.”
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Finley’s laser focus is as abundant as her naturally infectious and upbeat nature as she shares the balance she has cultivated as a working mom of two. With the support of her long-time partner, Finley is the breadwinner of her household, effortlessly merging her professional life with her personal one in the way entrepreneurs of all genders will always do. Her boyfriend not only works for her, but her children do their homework in her office, employing their stuffed animals as staff. Sitting in her daughter Mars’ bedroom, Finley shares how she sets clear boundaries, making time to read to her kids after her late-night meetings have wrapped up. “The way I approach motherhood is a very honest one. I work very hard so that my kids don't have to struggle in the ways that I did. I’m very transparent about my job, and now everyone calls Mars, the mini-CEO who runs a million imaginary businesses. My kids are ingrained in my day. When you’re an entrepreneur, work naturally becomes a part of your identity in the same way motherhood does. You can’t escape those parts of you, so I don’t protect my kids from them knowing that I have professional priorities. If it’s 8:30 p.m. and I have a call with China, I’ll let them know to hold on and I’ll read to them at 8:45 p.m. because China also knows my boundaries because I’m also honest with the people I work with.”
"I can’t be anyone but myself -- I’m an entrepreneur, a mother and very much Steak and Rachael. They see and love all of that."
Unsurprisingly, the mommy blogs love to tussle and disagree with Finley’s parenting methods, but as she points out, “we live in a capitalist society and there’s a very real chance that my kids will have to work. I’m structuring my life so that they can see Mom be silly in the park and they also see me get serious and yell at people on the phone -- that’s a part of our identity as a family. I love that it has given them the value of a dollar and I think that that is really important, especially for kids growing up in Los Angeles. I can’t be anyone but myself -- I’m an entrepreneur, a mother and very much Steak and Rachael. They see and love all of that. I’ve started to bring Mars to my speaking events and she realizes that Mom is a real boss.”
Soon enough, her daughters (when they’re old enough) and her followers will get to know Finley’s entire journey. Mirroring a Lifetime movie, the true alternative boss babe is living a modern Cinderella tale as her upcoming book, Nobody Ever Told Me Anything, dives deep into her life, the good and the bad. “My book is for people who never had anyone around them to tell them anything. People who have been deeply alone, isolated, without strong community or family ties. I was left in a house for nearly a year when I was 11. My book is a compilation of all my relationships, money making hustles, illness, partying, some Tumblr cultures, clashes with tabloid culture. It’s all the stories and lessons I learned from there compiled up, so if anyone doesn’t have anyone to tell them things then I will have.”
Over the course of our one-hour interview, Finley reassured me that I can be a mother on my own terms while maintaining my sense of self, that there’s no such thing as being "too sensitive" and the expectation to arrive at your purpose as a flawless, unfiltered human being is both unrealistic and boring, as the time it takes to find yourself is truly what makes the journey. I can’t wait for Steak to tell me more.
Rachael Finley's upcoming book is available for pre-order now on Hot Lava's website.