In Haley McClain Hill’s world, uniformity isn’t exactly uniform. She embraces endeavors and pursues goals seemingly in opposition. She’s a woman empowered, striking out to stake a claim and leaving a worthy footprint despite the challenges that create fear.
And McClain Hill’s life is filled with activity due to ideas turned into direct action.
Uniforms are a prime example.
“I just saw the need for an item of clothing that made women feel more like women in their uniform, and not just, you know, throwing something baggy on every single day, and just going out the door that just doesn’t really inspire you,” she explained.
McClain Hill had donned a uniform for nine years and felt a change was necessary.
“And, you know, I always remember just feeling kind of uncomfortable when I was wearing the uniform,” she admitted.
The former Air Force officer doesn’t mean symbolically, of course, but physically. McClain Hill reached out to a Department of Defense distributor, beginning a deep research dive into bodysuits, seeking answers to her questions of uniform-discomfort. Ultimately, the development of Torch was the solution to overcoming the military-uniform comfort challenge. Torch is her clothing line that launched in the summer of 2021.
Initially, McClain Hill decided to test the interest waters on TikTok.
“I was like, girls, have you ever thought about doing something like this? Would you be interested in it and it got over 300,000 views… it massively hit all over.”
She received inquiries from active duty personnel in Japan and women in the German Army and Australian Navy.
“So I took pre-orders and used that money to fund my first round of bodysuits,” she said. And then shipped off my first body fit in October, and I’ve been doing it since October.”
Torch is hoping to expand into athleisure wear and accessory lines too.
“So I’m building a community as a community of women that understand that we’re not just military women, or maybe even police officers, or maybe even, you know, EMTs, or nurses,” McClain Hill said. “We wear uniforms, but we are also women, and we’d like to feel like women when we’re wearing these 90% of the time.”
McClain Hill grew up in the Poconos — northeastern Pennsylvania — and displayed determination as a kid.
“I’ve always been the girl to just go for it,” she said. “And I know a lot of people are like, ‘Haley, weren’t you scared to like go to Europe by yourself and just backpack around for a little while?’”
To McClain Hill, fear is part of the process of goal attainment, along with pushback and pitfalls.
“When you’re a woman in the military, there’s just so much that goes into that,” she said. “There’s a lot of fear that kind of, is wrapped up in there, that we try to mask… it’s almost like proving to yourself that you can be scared, but at the same time, you should still be going for it.”
Her grandmother served in the Air Force for 20 years, retiring as a senior master sergeant. She constantly encouraged her granddaughter to step on the gas in life’s pursuits. McClain Hill was accepted into the Air Force Academy prep school but opted to attend Penn State on an ROTC scholarship.
Commissioning for four years was a requirement of her ROTC scholarship that took her to Atlanta as a recruiter and then to a post at Beale Air Force Base in Yuba County, California. McClain Hill eventually became a section commander in Beale’s 9th Maintenance Squadron.
“I literally had no experience at all… and then I was automatically thrown in as the second in command to a major of a 300-person maintenance squadron,” she said. “So that was really interesting. [I] definitely…leaned on my senior NCOs, so it was a very eye-opening experience. And I’m really thankful for the maintenance squadron to see what they’re doing on the flight line. How important it is. And to see like what their lifestyle is like.”
But maintenance squadrons, Air Force recruiting and bodysuits don’t complete the totality of McClain Hill. There is another defining activity that is a part of her identity.
The Nittany Lion alumnus participated in dance and gymnastics growing up but turned to cheer in high school, her sights set on a college cheerleading squad.
“How amazing to cheer at Penn State, 110,000 fans, like every Saturday… the culture of it was just electrifying. I mean, I was like, I gotta go for it.”
She made the team, captaining the unit her senior year. But that was the extent of her cheer ambition until meeting a woman at the Big Ten Basketball Tournament in Indianapolis. She saw potential in McClain Hill and invited her to a professional cheerleading prep class in Miami. A possible NFL opportunity landed a spot on McClain Hill’s ambition chart.
“I kind of love going for these really crazy big goals, unattainable goals, so I was just like, ‘You know what, I’m gonna go for it.’”
When the Air Force sent the former college cheerleader and mathematics major to Atlanta after graduation, it was a natural decision to try out for the Atlanta Falcons cheerleading team. She made it.
“I never thought I’d be an NFL cheerleader ever… I never thought about it.”
But her time there was short. The Air Force decided to move her. She chose California, landing at Beale AFB.
“I was going to try out for the Sacramento Kings NBA dance team,” McClain Hill said. “And then they cut their dance team. I was doing dance classes at a local dance studio here in Sacramento, and I found a girl who was a Gold Rush (49ers cheerleading squad) cheerleader, and we just started talking.”
And again, her resolve and belief led her to another NFL cheer gig.
“And then the following season came around, and I was just thinking I’m like, you know, I’m not that old yet.”
She made the cut and spent the 2021 NFL season on the Niners cheer squad.
“Oh, it was incredible,” McClain Hill said. “I mean, we almost went to the Super Bowl. I cried a little bit for that. But it was an amazing experience. And I couldn’t be more thankful that you know I had the opportunity to do the east coast. And then I got to do the west coast. Both cultures are so rich and so fun.”
She won’t be cheering this season, opting to focus on her business. The perspective has also changed. McClain Hill is interested in channeling her cheer expertise into coaching and mentoring.
“I figured I needed to at least give my 100% (to Torch),” she said. “Cheerleading is obviously still a passion of mine. I’m going to the Air Force Academy, the Coast Guard Academy, Naval Academy, all the academies actually. I’m going to be doing some cheerleading clinics with their programs.”
Her Air Force commission ended in June. McClain Hill had already decided to separate to concentrate on Torch. She’s all-in and going full-force with the bodysuits, hosting pop-ups and meetups around the country near bases and onboarding employees.
“And now I have time to kind of travel and be more in-person, which I think is very important,” she said. “We started kind of a new subscription program as well, which is cool, where women can get their new bodysuit once every three months. So it’s nice and fresh. So just kind of developing the brand in the sense where it’s more consistent, where we’re still selling globally.”
McClain Hill said serving in the Air Force bolstered her entrepreneurial abilities. “I’m so thankful for the Air Force. And I wouldn’t have my business without them. I see my potential and how much I can positively impact these women from outside.”
She said resiliency was a key takeaway from active duty that applies to building Torch.
“Every day, something happens, there’s small little fires every single day,” McClain Hill said. “That’s the same way on active duty. Everything is kind of, ‘Nothing is perfect.’ And you kind of have to realize that… it’s like a survival thing. It’s like you’re not going to die because something just happened like small, whatever. It’s just realizing that, ok, that’s a small issue that I can tackle. Maybe it’s not today, maybe it’s not this week, but I know I’m going to be able to get over that eventually.”
Torch is expanding into the Amazon marketplace and hopes to reach women beyond the military. Yet Torch’s bottom line isn’t about increasing profit margins but about “filling the need for military women who have never seen this before.”
McClain Hill plans to evolve Torch into business coaching, financial education for women and entrepreneurship.
“I think teaching about their finances, how to start a business, how to be more aware of just their money situation — even if even if they are in the military and it seems very secure — how to even make more money, I find that very important,” she said.
McClain Hill said Torch is much more than moving units and price points. It’s about community, a global community of women.
“I want to kind of start having Torch become more community-based, education-based, as well as fashion and clothing,” she said. “I believe every woman truly is a warrior.”