Walk onto most construction jobsites and pants styles are often consistent by gender: men in workpants (with loops and pockets for tools) and women either in ill-fitting workpants made for men or, worse, everyday jeans.
This difference deserves attention for many reasons, including the equality of comfort, the freedom of movement, tool placement and the wearer’s confidence.
Morgan Dawson, a development associate at Orchestra Partners, a real estate development company in Birmingham, Alabama, is familiar with the pitfalls of women’s workwear. That’s why she recently launched Dawson Workwear, a company that offers utility pants for women—and soon other construction clothing.
The story of how Dawson came up with the concept started in 2019, when as a construction management student at Kent State University, she relocated to Washington, D.C., for a summer internship.
“On my first day in the field, I didn’t know what to wear, so I showed up in jeans and a polo, which is what most women wore on-site,” Dawson remembered, adding that she wore that uniform daily and struggled with the consequences. “Guys wear utility pants with utility pockets. Unless women wear men’s pants, which rarely fit, they are forced to overload their safety vests. I remember carrying all of my tools on my vest, which was also not my size.”
Dawson chatted with her female colleagues and quickly realized that workwear is an issue for most women in construction. “It’s everything from safety vests to safety goggles to hardhats to pants and more,” she said. “These things aren’t readily made for women.”
Changing the game
After graduating in 2020, Dawson took a full-time job with the Washington, D.C.-based company where she had interned and quickly dove back into the field where she—and her female counterparts—continued to struggle with ill-fitting workwear. Dawson donned utility pants made for men, but “it was just embarrassing,” she said. “The crotch would be baggy and the pants wouldn’t sit properly on my hips.”
At a family gathering in May 2021, Dawson shared her workwear woes—and her plan to do something about it: launch a company that would design construction-wear for women.
“I remember Morgan having this great idea and in one conversation we all got together and came up with the name for the company, the logo and the slogan, ‘Built for Her,’” said Rich Dawson, Morgan’s father, who is also in the construction industry as CEO of Midtown Masonry Restoration in Columbus, Ohio. “Morgan is more qualified to do this than many people in the industry. She grew up in construction and came to my job locations all through her childhood.”
Emboldened by the plan she hatched with her family, Dawson launched Dawson Workwear in mid-2021; found a production manager at a trade show; finalized the design and fabric; and, in December 2021, received her first sample pants.
The next few months were a blur of marketing and reaching out to anyone who might be interested—from construction industry influencers to the construction management department at Dawson’s alma mater, Kent State. In July 2022, Dawson opened her company’s website to the public. The response has been positive.
“I found out about Morgan’s pants from one of my professors and immediately bought a pair,” said Tara Rybar, a construction management student at Kent State whose job takes her into the field. “Not only are they comfortable for me and my size, but every pocket fits every tool that I need. There is space for my knife, pencil, a loop for my hammer, places for my keys, phone and wallet. Honestly, I love them so much, I wear them outside of work, too.”
Filling a need
Word is spreading about Dawson’s pants. She’s been featured on television in her new home of Birmingham as well as on industry podcasts.
“This is a women-owned company making goods for women,” said Rich, Dawson’s father. “I couldn’t be prouder of Morgan. It is really taking off and I’m not surprised because there is such a massive need for it. I give out Morgan’s business cards all the time, and I teach the art of restoration and see so many women entering this field. Dawson Workwear is going to blow up because the products are really high quality.” While at present Dawson Workwear just offers pants, the company will soon sell much more. “I want to be a one-stop-shop for women’s workwear,” Dawson said. “I want to make size-inclusive workwear, a maternity line, winter jackets, polos, safety vests—the sky is the limit.”