Sometimes it’s the simplest of business advice that rings the truest.
For Juanita Mottram, it was when her fourth-generation dairy farming father urged her, “don’t try to break through the doors that are shut in your face … pick another building.”
“My father told me that it was absolutely key to really think about how I selected the battles I chose to fight,” the co-founder of Eve Workwear said.
“Find your way around a problem rather than through it.”
And, in trying to break into the brick-and-mortar shopfronts of construction workwear retailers, this lesson proved invaluable.
Eve Workwear specialises in the design, production and sales of construction workwear tailored for women — a niche offering within a competitive market in a male-dominated industry.
“When we first started up, I used to fight to get meetings with retail managers only to be told that there was no space in a workwear store for clothing specifically for women in the industry,” Juanita said.
“There would be 30 different men’s lines on racks across a store, but often only one brand for women. More often than not, any women’s lines would be the menswear simply rebranded. The excuse was that there wasn’t the demand for women’s workwear — but women simply don’t go into stores when they know there aren’t products that match their needs.”
Instead of continuing to try to break down the barriers to retail shopfronts, Juanita and her business partner pivoted their focus to reaching women in construction through an exclusive e-commerce offering.
For more than 12 years, Eve Workwear has met the needs of female construction workers through its website and word of mouth. The focus on online retail is just one of the business’s key differences in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
“Our survival and growth has been driven by a few key focus areas,” Juanita said.
“Firstly, we work to understand and leverage our market. Secondly, we work to innovate and holistically be a valued business in our community, and finally, we are focused on our networks and supply chains to ensure we are responsive and agile.”
Understanding the market
According to Women Building Australia, the Australian construction industry employs more than 62,000 women, making up 18.8% of the sector’s workforce. Women are increasingly considering the construction industry as a potential career pathway. The industry’s challenge is to ensure the sector has the culture, opportunities and structures to build diversification into its workforce. This may mean building flexibility into hours of work, ensuring worksites have facilities for women as well as men and ensuring women are fitted out in clothing designed for women.
“Eve Workwear isn’t about ‘pretty” construction clothing,” Juanita said.
“The fact is that women are shaped differently to men, and from a safety and productivity perspective it’s critical that our female workforce is kitted out in clothing that properly fits while also making them feel like they are a part of the broader team.
“I remember as a young girl I would go into the local dairy co-op and my dad and my brother would get their workwear, but my father always told me no when I wanted to get kitted out — they were made for men after all. It stayed with me.
“Why would young girls get into the industry when all the doors are closed to them?”
And so, Juanita found the gap in the marketplace — the unmet need.
In 2012 Eve Workwear was launched exclusively online. In part, the e-commerce-only foray was a step around the in-store knockbacks. However, it was also a strategic move: “Women naturally form social networks — support networks — and many of these are online platforms using social media,” Juanita said. “Our strategy was to reach people online and they would share their stories and recommendations with their peers.”
The business has harnessed opportunities to build a trusted reputation through online recommendations and sharing, and through an integrated approach in building key networks.
An-end-to-end approach to sustainability has also helped the business attract clients with similar values while also consolidating Eve Workwear’s presence as an ethical and trusted business.
“For us, sustainability has many lenses,” Juanita said, “including how we use materials, who we work with and the lifespan of our clothing.
“We manufacture in Bali in a community that we support, so we are building sustainable communities; we select all natural fibres for our fabrics and fabric waste is reused. We also offer patching and mending kits with our clothing — we want it to last.
“Throughout manufacturing we also reuse materials and we remove plastics from the process.”
Supply chain control
Global supply chain challenges have remained a thorn in the side of many businesses across Australia, with many shifting away from the just-in-time stock control system to instead stockpiling.
Eve Workwear bucks the trend, instead focusing on creating and controlling its products from materials to manufacturing and distribution. This approach has helped the business
remain responsive and agile. It has also been an important tool in managing costs and reducing waste.
The move away from stockpiling has resulted in multiple benefits, including waste reduction and therefore cost savings, and the ability to be agile and responsive to customer demands.
Before Eve Workwear, Juanita and her partner Laura Madden formed their company Eve Renovations in 2010.
The duo’s initial labour of love though is in designing and bringing to life their clothing venture: “Our workwear business is really our pride and joy — we have made the biggest difference,” Juanita said.
“We love renovating and bringing old gems back to life through our renovation business, but we can really see the difference we are making to the construction industry through helping women as they establish their presence in the sector.
“However, without the renovation business we would have struggled to survive in the beginning. Leveraging one business to help transition into our passion project was important in helping to ensure we had a strong foundation in Eve Workwear.”
Their work in helping build a diverse construction workforce also extends to their interest in the National Association of Women in Construction.
“We started the Women on Tools support network. There was nothing that was grassroots to help bring together women in the industry to together broaden their horizons and support systems, which helps retain and grow diversity in the sector.
“For us, networks and collaboration have been key in growing Eve Workwear, and we recognise that women can be a great support network for each other. This is really valuable in tough industries such as construction.”