HMR Apparel features messages of empowerment

Written By Lauren Clouser, Co-Features Editor

Justine Szurley said she has gotten negative pushback for her clothing line, particularly at markets open to the general public.

Szurley, a freshman psychology major, recalled a time when a man approached her at a market and disagreed with a slogan on one of her shirts that said “Girl is Not an Insult.”

“I was like: ‘Well it’s not [an insult], that’s an entire population of people,’” Szurley said. “‘Girl can mean strong, girl can mean anything you want it to mean.’ And he’s like: ‘Oh, so you’re sensitive.’”

Szurley said she gets this sort of reaction frequently, but that the good feedback usually outweighs the bad.

“I do get a lot of people saying to me, ‘Oh you’re just complaining, this is unnecessary, this is only for women’ that kind of thing,” Szurley said. “So I do get pushback as far as the messages I’m conveying, but for the most part I find that the positive reaction is always way better than the negative ones.”

Szurley is the founder and owner of Hear Me Roar (HMR) Apparel, a clothing line that makes messages of empowerment and equality wearable.

Szurley’s products include items like shirts, tote bags and hats that bear phrases like “Girl is Not a Not an Insult” and “Let Boys Be Feminine.” One of Szurley’s favorites is a sweatshirt with a tombstone that reads “Gender Roles,” with hand-embroidered and hand-painted flowers.

Szurley, who describes her brand as trendy rather than fashionable, said representation and the messages on her products are what’s most important to her.

“I would even go further and say it’s about making a message wearable but also universal,” Szurley said. “All of my sizes are unisex and everything like that. And I try to get just as many men and androgynous people to be models as I do have women to be my models.”

Szurley said that growing up she was involved in a lot of male-dominated activities like ice hockey or her high school’s JROTC program, which inspired her to create messages of empowerment. 

“Something that’s really important to me is empowering women, making sure that women know that they’re strong and they’re capable and they can do whatever they want to do,” Szurley said. “That was a huge passion of mine.”

Szurley’s company has landed her a second Youth Maker Scholarship at Pittsburgh’s Handmade Arcade, an independent craft fair that boasts over 200 different vendors.

Szurley will receive a booth at the fair on Dec. 8 and a stipend of $200. She said her booth will include embroidered hats, screen-printed tote bags and more.

“There’s going to be a lot of things there,” Szurley said. “I do have some new shirts that I’m really excited about, I have some tie dye button ups that are very androgynous-styled.”

Szurley created the company in 2017 after attending Startable Pittsburgh, a program for youth makers that offered mentorships and business classes. At the end of the session, the program provided startup money for the participants to start their own businesses.

The program also encouraged Szurley to pursue a clothing line that featured messages of empowerment.

“The biggest advice I got from Startable was your business should be what you’re passionate about; that’s how I found mine,” Szurley said.

Szurley uses screen-printing, embroidery and painting to make the designs that she creates herself. The screen printed items are the quickest, but it is still part of a larger

“You have to make the design, you have to develop the screens, which I do myself,” Szurley said. “Then the printing process itself so I mean to print a t-shirt, 30 seconds, but overall it is a longer process to get everything ready.”

Szurley learned how to embroider from her mother.

“My mom was always very crafty when I was younger and she taught me how to cross stitch and embroider and everything so I used to just do it as a kid and do silly stuff,”
Szurley said.

At Startable Pittsburgh, one of the mentors did embroidery, and Szurley realized she could use the craft for her business.

“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I can actually do that and that would actually be really cool on some products’ and I started to get back into it and it went like that,” Szurley said.

Szurley does her printing at the graphic design business of her former teacher from Seneca Valley Senior High School.

“A former teacher of mine owns a graphic design business. We’re family friends with him so I’m fortunate that he lets me use his facility and I’m able to print there,” Szurley said.

Her teacher, Steven Fortunato, taught Szurley for two years and worked with her in a women’s engineering club.

“She has taken advantage of every opportunity that she has ever been given the chance to use,” Fortunato said. “It just kind of worked out really well that I still had my screen printing business so she could utilize that to do all of her clothing.”

Szurley said she received support from her friends and family. At the beginning of HMR, she reached out to her friends for help.

Koda Calma, Szurley’s friend from high school, has helped Szurley put photos and videos together for HMR.

“She kind of just went to all of our friends and said ‘hey I have a new business I would love it if you guys could help,’ Calma said. “We all loved the mission statement and what she was doing with the business and so we all jumped on the opportunity to help her out.”

Calma described Szurley as determined and kind hearted.

“Justine is incredibly outspoken but she stands up for people who have had hard times,” Calma said. “She also takes time to listen to other people, especially about feminism and their own experiences in order to help them.”

Fortunato called Szurley “the definition of a go-getter” and praised her

“I’ve never met a high school student, freshman in college student that has been more driven and willing to go after what she wants,” Fortunato said. “So I think she’ll do some serious damage in this world, not just with her clothing company but with all things.”