It was the fall of 1976, about a month before cotton harvest would gear up. Doug Hlavaty and a group of friends head to the Cow Palace, a local hangout in Lubbock, Texas. It was a typical night with friends until Valerie Jones, a slender brown-eyed girl with a style all her own, walked into the bar. Neither Doug nor Valerie went to the bar with the intent of finding their life partner, but at that moment their lives were changed forever.
For years, 18-year-old men were required to sign up for the United States Draft, until changing to the Selective Service System we follow today. In 1976, after completing his physical, Doug was issued his draft number, 13. However, fate had another plan for him – two months after signing up, the draft was dissolved. From there, an unlikely partnership bloomed between a city girl with a flair for fashion and a Texas farm boy and flourished for the next 40 years.
A Long-Standing Farming History
Cotton farming is a Hlavaty family tradition. They have been cultivating the red soil of West Texas and for almost a century, and through Homestead Cotton Co. Doug and Valerie plan to honor this legacy for years to come.
“My family moved here in 1920 when my dad was six-weeks-old,” Doug said. “We’ve been farming in West Texas ever since.”
Doug said his farming career started at age 10, picking cotton and pulling weeds in his father’s fields, but once receiving his driver’s license, he was upgraded to the duty of operating farm equipment. Since its establishment in West Texas, the Hlavaty farm has grown to over 5,000 acres between Doug and his brothers, who are partners in the operation.
Farmers face much adversity when producing a crop or raising livestock. The Hlavatys are no exception. However, through the years, the Hlavatys say their strong family ties kept them going.
Married to the Job
The farming boom of the 1970s, caused a bust in the market in the 1980s, making it difficult for the American farmer to turn a profit. Luckily, behind every good farmer is an even better spouse. The partnership of Doug and Valerie, through the commitment of marriage, helped the Hlavatys prosper through the tough years. In marriage, specifically between farmers, there are shifting roles such as finding ways to supplement income to help provide for the family.
“I didn’t ever plan on being a high school teacher, but I did it for 10 years,” Valerie said. “It was really good as a supplemental source of income.”
A farmer’s spouse plays a vital role in the operation both at home and on the farm. Valerie did what was best for her family and their livelihood, and through that, she is now finding a way to use her passion for apparel and love for the farm together.
For years, Valerie was a high school teacher who also juggled the duties of a farmer’s wife and mother to three children. Today, Valerie still carries these roles, but now her focus has shifted and so has Doug’s.
“I’m doing this to support her,” Doug said. “That’s just what we do for each other.”
Farming is a risky business and Valerie and Doug have supported each other through it all. Previously, the farming operation has been the priority, but now the Hlavatys are bringing local products from the field to fashion through their startup business, Homestead Cotton Co.
In 2016, the Hlavatys took a leap of faith and created their small business. Startups can be a risky investment, but a smart businessman knows when benefits outweigh the risks and will buy-in.
“Hold your nose and jump,” Valerie said. “That’s the way it works.”
The Hlavaty family isn’t alone in the realm of small business, which makes up 62 percent of businesses in the United States. However, they are meeting a need for locally-grown products in an area driven by cotton production.
The market for locally-grown food continues to increase, but the Hlavatys noticed the trend had not carried over into the clothing industry. As they visited local shops, they found it difficult to find products made from 100 percent cotton. Thus, the desire to establish Homestead Cotton Co. was solidified. Their company was not only built on the value of American-made products, but also to bring the consumer a high-quality cotton product.
We need more cotton products.
Creating these products is no small feat. To complete a full run of shirts, you must have 150 shirts per size from small to large, making a total of 450 shirts. An entire bale of cotton is required to complete the order of 450 shirts, each weighing roughly a pound.
Homestead Cotton Co. has already partnered with Monsanto with an order of branded polo shirts for their employees to showcase the quality cotton grown in the West Texas area. The goal of their business is to continue working toward providing Homestead’s products on a larger scale. Until then, the Hlavatys are actively working behind the scenes to design cotton towels along with a line of men’s and women’s clothing.
“So that’s what we are trying to do,” Valerie said. “Provide people with a high-quality cotton shirt, and we are having fun doing it.”
The Hlavatys say consumer participation is highly encouraged by Homestead Cotton Co. Consumers have a first-hand role in product development, by offering input on their website: homesteadcottonco.com/ourproducts/.
The Final Thread
Agriculture, more specifically cotton, has always been important to the Hlavatys. Today, both Doug and Valerie are using their passion for agriculture and apparel in an unconventional way through Homestead Cotton Co.
There are many moving parts to running Homestead Cotton Co., such as product development, manufacturing, and many other outreach efforts to develop the Homestead Cotton Co. brand. Valerie and Doug started this project on top of all their other responsibilities, but they see it more like play rather than work.
“Now, between running the farm and teaching classes, I’m doing this in the midst of all that,” Valerie said. “But it’s fine, I love it.”
Providing people with locally-sourced cotton products is a secondary theme in the story of the Hlavatys. This is a story of how a boy met a girl in a bar, and the rest is history.