Women who work in trade, farming, and many outdoors jobs have faced a dilemma: finding women’s workwear that both fits and is durable. Frustrated by one-size-fits-all gloves, baggy, work pants and oversized shirts that only had the male form in mind, or the ridiculous looking “women’s” workwear that was often pink and made poorly, Stacey Gose took matters into her own hands. The entrepreneur and self-described DIYer has created a line of workwear that is tailored just for women. AfterEllen had the opportunity to talk to Stacey about her clothing line TOUGHER, and why it’s a game-changer for women who work (physically) tough jobs.
AfterEllen.com: First of all, I think what you’re doing with this is wonderful, and badly needed. It’s hard enough for women to find regular pants that just have decent pockets, much less work pants! What inspired you to start TOUGHER? Was the company inspired by your personal background?
Stacey Gose: My personal frustration with major brands ignoring women who work hard was the genesis of TOUGHER. Born in Iowa, I come from a long line of female farmers. I spent many summers on my family’s farm, and because of that I remain an avid backyard do-it-yourselfer (DIYer) today. I love working hard outdoors! However, throughout the years I needed clothing that was durable and fit correctly. But the women’s workwear options weren’t durable – and were often shades of pink – while the men’s clothing were overly baggy, creating safety hazards, not to mention distractions from constantly adjusting my clothing.
I wanted to know if this was a shared experience, so I interviewed over 400 tradeswomen and DIYers and found that many of their frustrations mirrored my own. Poor fit and the lack of useful pockets definitely came up more than once along the way! What was even more startling was that 98 percent of the women I spoke with shop the men’s aisles, like I did, and 89 percent of those women modify the men’s workwear by cutting, duct taping, rolling up excess fabric, or using belts or suspenders. We were also sick of all the pink and pastel clothing.
I founded TOUGHER for these hardworking women in the field, backyard, or shop so that we no longer had to make sacrifices to find workwear to simply do our jobs or hobbies.
AE: I know that the women’s ‘back to the land’ movement is growing, particularly in the lesbian community. What have you observed about the movement personally?
SG: I have noticed a higher proportion of women in coastal states who farm, in contrast to the nation as a whole – including the Midwest where I was born. This aligns with the USDA’s data, which found that women in states like Oregon and Vermont represent 39 percent of all farmers in those states, as opposed to 31 percent nationwide.
Additionally, land acquisition can be extremely difficult for women. Banks are less likely to give women a loan for land versus men, and what little land is available is being sold off to big corporations versus women who want to homestead or start a farm.
Their frustrations are justifiably palpable, but what I find inspiring are their tenacity and industriousness, their determination to find a way. Women want more control over the quality of crops and livestock that are raised and consumed in their communities, and I pity anyone who stands in their way! The world could use more women like them.
AE: What do you hope to ultimately achieve with TOUGHER?
SG: It feels like most brands of workwear still view us, women, one-dimensionally. They offer a limited women’s line as an afterthought or a crumb to appease the public. My goal is to grow TOUGHER into a full head-to-toe solution for hardworking women. I want to put another voice out there championing women. I am so done with the “shrink it and pink it” nature of women’s apparel and accessories, which is why I started TOUGHER. If brands weren’t going to pay attention to what I wanted, then I would to provide it myself.
AE: The female body is so very different than a man’s. Can you share how your clothes are designed to fit women’s bodies well, particularly for certain work environments?
SG: From the beginning of TOUGHER, I knew that we would have to revamp some essential design elements in order to tailor them for women.
For our Work Gloves, the leather used is incredibly soft yet durable, providing great tactile feedback when using tools or weeding crops. I enjoy watching women’s faces when they first try on a pair as they sort of swoon with their eyes like they just fell in love. The high-quality leather we source from the Midwest and cut and sew in Oregon really does make a difference.
Secondly, our Work Gloves are tailored specifically for women’s hands, which differ in shape from men’s or the other men’s category, “unisex.” We got rid of the arbitrary “small,” “medium” and “large” sizing that varies from brand to brand. Instead, our sizing is numerical, which authentic glove makers use in their craft. A more specified size enables women to really dial in the right fit, providing not only comfort but ensures that the gloves last longer. Poor quality in materials results in holes in gloves, but so does poor fit.
Based on consumer research, several strategic features have been designed into our Groundbreaker Workpants to improve things like fit, reinforcement, mobility, durability, comfort and style.
Our biggest adjustments came after learning how many women were frustrated by women’s work pants being too tight around the quads and hips and who were sick of their backsides being exposed whenever they bent down, due to poor fit. Our fit prevents gaping in the back and the punch in the gut from high waistbands when you crouch down. Also, there is more room for the quads and hips, but the legs tapers in below the knees to provide a tailored-looking silhouette. But there is still enough width on the hems to allow the user to fit over her work boots or to tuck them into muck boots.
We’ve also deepened the pockets of the Groundbreaker Workpants to fit hands and tools. Not that there’s a physical difference between men and women for pockets, but so often women’s pants have useless, merely decorative pockets.
AE: Who designs the clothes, what materials, are used, and where are they made?
SG: I am fortunate to work with two amazing women who help me design the clothing: Julie Ringler and Kimi Davies Rice of R&D Partners, based in California. Julie is also one of my mentors. She is incredibly talented at balancing function and design to create rugged women’s apparel. Her design background includes work with companies like Patagonia, Toad & Co., and Carhartt.
The materials for our Groundbreaker Workpants include a custom cotton/polyester fabric we designed to be soft, durable, breathable and provide stretch for movement and comfort. I am happy to report that independent lab tests showed our fabric to be in the same realm of toughness as another major brand’s work pant. But in contrast to other brands, our fabric is breathable, and our work pants are lighter by more than a pound. This makes a significant difference for women working out in the field from sun-up to sun-down. We use a suede for our holster pocket to prevent open-blade knives and shears from poking holes in the fabric.
As a finishing touch to the Groundbreaker Workpants, our inner waistband uses a contrasting, modern paisley fabric that honors the deep roots women have as hard-working growers, builders and makers.
Our Work Gloves are handmade in Oregon. The deerskin leather is sourced from Wisconsin and tanned in New York. The custom fabric for our Groundbreaker Workpants are sourced overseas and made in California.
AE: What’s in the line-up exactly, as far as pants or shirts, etc, and for which work environments are they best suited?
SG: It is important to us that all of our TOUGHER products be suited for the dirt and grit of practically every job site, whether that be on a farm, in a workshop, doing field testing, or even fighting wildfires.
The Work Gloves were our first product, tailored specifically for women’s hands and made from high-grade deerskin leather to be both more abrasion-resistant and softer.
We’re revving up our Groundbreaker Workpants to be widely released after a hopefully-successful Kickstarter campaign beginning December 4. We are especially excited about these pants and their adaptability to multiple environments: they are lightweight yet durable, as flexible as you are, and with their water-resistant material they make walking through misty or dewy grass a cinch.
We also carry comfortable, soft short-sleeved shirts made from organic cotton and hope to expand to long sleeves later this year.
AE: Where can women find TOUGHER clothing?
SG: If you live in Oregon, you can find the Work Gloves in Coastal Farm & Ranch; Shonnard’s Nursery, Florist, and Landscape; Softstar Shoes; Naomi’s Organic Farm Supply; and Les Newman’s Work & Outdoor Clothing.
If you’re not in Oregon or prefer online shopping, you can find the work gloves on Wylder Goods or the TOUGHER website (www.weartougher.com). On the TOUGHER site, you can also grab shirts and sign up for notifications about our Kickstarter launching this winter for the Groundbreaker Workpants