Female Disruptors: Kate Day, Kyle Summers and Sara DeLuca of Dovetail Workwear On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
KYLE: If you’re looking for a seat at the table and it’s not there, build it. Then protect the space you have created and earned. — Raven Pearce, weartester, model, groundbreaker. Raven is 17 or 18 or something and carving out a space in the world for herself. Athlete, leader, artist, tradeswoman, whatever she wants to be. Right? I have her words on a sticky note on my laptop. What to remember for this brand as we fight for women and our place at the table. Move over Carhartt, and big companies that pay lip service but never actually deliver.
As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kate Day, Kyle Summers, and Sara DeLuca, of Dovetail Workwear.
By women, for women, and with women, Dovetail Workwear is both a young company and the largest exclusively women’s workwear company in the northern hemisphere. Based in Portland, OR, Dovetail Workwear makes all-season, all-reason utility apparel that stands up to the job. Get dirty with Dovetail at dovetailworkwear.com.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
KATE: Kyle and I had a landscaping business here in Portland, Oregon, doing residential design, install, and maintenance. Trying to find clothes that were able to withstand hard physical work in the elements, while looking good and professional, and feeling comfortable — was near impossible. There were so few options. What we found in the market either did not fit well, and/or had flowers and pink on it, and the pockets! Don’t even get me started on the dumb, non-functioning pockets we were presented with. The women’s workwear fabrics were also thinner and cheaper than what you’d find in menswear. So we began to dream up the perfect denim workpant for ourselves, and we turned to a client, Sara, for her expertise. A veteran of the apparel industry, Sara took our dreams and turned them into reality, and we haven’t stopped since. 6 years ago, if you looked up womens workwear you found pencil skirts and heels. Today, you will see that has changed…The market still has a ways to go, but it’s better. I like that we helped to disrupt the definition of women’s work.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
SARA: Our very existence is disruptive. The household names of workwear, such as Carhartt and Dickies, have always designed for men first. We do the exact opposite: we put women first. It’s sad that this has to be considered disruptive but that’s where we are.
KYLE: Yes, what we do is disruptive in itself, but also how we do it. For example, part of the fun of my job is working with the talent that models our clothes. At first when we had zero dollars and we did photoshoots in Kate’s garage, we brought in the professional tradeswomen who were wear-testing our prototypes and asked them to model for us. We quickly realized that the entire ethos of our brand is showcasing women who actually DO THE JOBS we make the clothes to perform for. So, by not hiring professional models to be in front of the camera, but actual tradeswomen, makers, farmers, etc, we tapped into a real connection with our audience. This has become a core part of how we connect with our audience. They know the women they see wearing our work are authentic, not pretending to be something they’re not.
KATE: That authenticity also threads through our marketing and influencer relationships. We like to say we believe in dirty work, but clean marketing. For us this means we don’t pay influencers to wear our clothing, we don’t have brand ambassadors, and we don’t sponsor any kind of buy-in media placement. If you see someone wearing Dovetail Workwear, or you read an article about our company, it’s not because we paid to be there. It’s genuine.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
KYLE: We used to spend a lot of time on minutiae. I remember our first bandana and how many hours we spent looking at color and design. Keep in mind we are a pants brand :). We’ve always paid attention to detail and we always will. But I think we’ve learned to put our energies into the key products that will grow the business. We’ve also learned not to make perfect the enemy of great.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
SARA: I can’t say enough about the mentors. In our early days, we were so fortunate to have mentors who would take a call from a startup and spend their time talking to us. They helped us with the investor deck. They walked us through their customer service philosophy. They gave tips on how to do PR without a big PR firm. You name it. So much of their advice has stayed with me. For example…
Turn each challenge into an opportunity to make your brand better — Kyle Ranson, Showers Pass.
Talk about mentors, Kyle Ranson was so generous with time and experience. He shared a time when women were frustrated Showers Pass didn’t cater more to women cyclists. He engaged his biggest critics to be wear testers and collaborators on women’s product development. I take that home to this day when we get feedback from women for whom the product doesn’t work either due to sizing or body shape. Join us and we’ll make it better together. Be a part of the journey.
Focus on the customer — Heather Hasson, Figs.
Kyle and I did a call with Heather early on. She talked about how Figs looks at every decision from a customer lens. Is this right for the consumer? They’ve built this powerful brand in the medical scrubs industry based on that tenet and it’s always stuck with me.
Can you share the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example.
KYLE: If you’re looking for a seat at the table and it’s not there, build it. Then protect the space you have created and earned. — Raven Pearce, weartester, model, groundbreaker.
Raven is 17 or 18 or something and carving out a space in the world for herself. Athlete, leader, artist, tradeswoman, whatever she wants to be. Right? I have her words on a sticky note on my laptop. What to remember for this brand as we fight for women and our place at the table. Move over Carhartt, and big companies that pay lip service but never actually deliver.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
KYLE: We’re just getting started, We’ve still trying to solve the problem of building functional, stylish workwear for as many women as we possibly can, in all of our diversity of body shapes and sizes. Our customers can expect more big things from us in 2022 and beyond: more sizing options, more beautiful, custom, high-performing fabrics that are also edge-of-the-cutting edge when it comes to environmental impact. We will also be offering new “X” styles of core products, where we optimize and add wish list items to our most beloved styles. Even when we have a bestseller, we don’t relax. Like our customers, we’re hardworking women! We want to make our best even better.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
SARA: That very word “disruption” — right there that’s a challenge. Why is it even called disruption to make serious workwear products for women? Why isn’t it just building a product for a growing segment that needs serious gear? Herein lies the problem. We’re still in the DEI category of progressive companies that recognize women are a growing segment and need proper gear. We’ll have reached a milestone when this isn’t a special initiative, when this is just basic business. And when employers in construction and agriculture and everywhere else recognize that they need to gear up their women the same way you would the men.
Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?
KATE: Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Creado Perez. It’s mind-blowing to read how deeply data is skewed toward men, and how far-reaching and critical the implications across all aspects of life. I first heard Caroline talk on the podcast, 99% Invisible, about “reference man,” a generic set of data that determines so much of our physical world, and which excludes women altogether. When you hear the ramifications, it’s jaw-dropping. Her book is always on hand in our office. And her newsletter is also hilarious.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
KATE: That’s what we’re trying to do. Our work has never been just business to us. We’re fighting the PANTriarchy! This company was founded on a mission, to revolutionize women’s workwear and thus help empower women who work in physically demanding jobs. Pants are our way of contributing to a healthier society where women of all ages, ethnicities, orientations, and backgrounds are recognized for the work they do. That shouldn’t be revolutionary, but it is.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
KYLE: Do something your future self will thank you for. This motivates me to not just follow my pleasure (which I do sometimes, of course) but to set myself up for success and happiness. Little things like cleaning my house before I go on a trip — when I come back to a clean house and a made bed, I’m STOKED. Then I thank and praise my past self. More significantly, this advice propels me through the tough times in my work. We’re trying to leave a legacy for our daughters and nieces and all the other young women behind us, and that is more important to me, Kate, and Sara than anything else. Being mindful of this reminds us to play the long game, and build a business our future selves will thank us for.
How can our readers follow you online?
@dovetailworkwear on Instagram
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!