Women have proved for years that they can fill “man-size boots” in the construction industry. But when those big boots give them blisters or heel spurs, they have had nowhere to turn. Enter Woman Up, a construction clothing and safety-gear shop in Brooklyn, N.Y., recently launched by Deidre Douglas, a craftswoman who turned a workplace problem into a business.
Joanne Foulke, vice president at Cauldwell-Wingate Co., a New York City contractor-construction management firm, knows well how men’s boots can wreck women’s feet. During a typical morning inspecting high-rise building projects, she can cover as much as one million sq ft. “It used to be that you had to buy men’s stuff,” says Foulke. “I would take out five pairs of socks and try combinations, sometimes testing them out for an hour to get a good fit.”
Douglas, a member of Local 20 of the cement and concrete workers’ union, Long Island City, N.Y., also was unable to find boots and gloves that fit. Realizing other women in construction might have the same problem, she opened in 2009 her storefront, offering jobsite clothing and gear for women, in Brooklyn’s Prospect Heights neighborhood.
“I always dreamed of having clothes that fit, having boots that fit,” says Douglas. “When I got the opportunity, I invested a lot of my own money into opening the store.”
Douglas stocks inventory from six rugged clothing vendors, including Timberland and Matterhorn, to supply hard-to-find gear for women. Her merchandise is online at the store’s website: www.womanuponline.com. Elsewhere in the U.S., similar outlets are sprouting up to provide comfortable yet tough construction gear to women.
Charmandhammer.com is one such outlet that has been trying to fill the same void Douglas noticed. According to the site, the goal of the business is to provide “hardworking women and their employers with instant access to quality, appropriate-fitting safety gear and accessories for a diverse workforce.”
Available gear ranges from back supports to welding jackets, and includes even pink hardhats and tool belts. Sizes begin at “extra-small.” The site says the business is 100% woman-owned and lists the National Association of Women in Construction as a partner, offering discounts to the organization’s members.
Between calls from the union hiring hall, Douglas manages her Brooklyn storefront or visits New York City jobsites to display merchandise from the back of a pickup truck. She takes orders from workers for next-day delivery.
“If my clients are working, they’re not going to come into the store, so I gotta bring the equipment to them,” says Douglas, who also sells men’s work clothes at jobsites.
Foulke discovered Woman Up last spring while searching for a new pair of boots. She says the comfortable work clothes she purchased there have enhanced her daily work experience. “It’s great to have attire and safety gear that is designed for the female body,” she says.
Douglas says 10 years of slogging through jobsites in men’s boots have “taken a toll on me.” She says, “[I don’t want] women coming into the industry to go through what I went through,” adding, “If I had work boots that fit, I wouldn’t have these heel spurs today.”
The cement worker hasn’t opted yet to put down her trowel to become a full-time entrepreneur. “If the union calls me up, I’ll be back out there working,” she says.