Workwear has traditionally been viewed as functional at best and boring and uncomfortable at worst. But thanks to some creative thinking, Stacey Head from She Wear is shaking things up. Inside Retail: Tell me about the design and manufacturing process at She Wear and the work you do to make sure it’s inclusive; for example, what’s the size range?Stacey Head: At She Wear, we design, manufacture and retail our own safety, work and everyday footwear specifically for women. Women’s
7;s and men’s feet are anatomically different, so our designs are considered and structured around a woman’s foot shape, one example is a woman’s arch is higher than a man’s, so we need more support and padding in that area. We offer ladies shoe sizes 5 to 12 and we design different styles to suit different foot types, such as narrow or wide feet. Women work in so many different industries so we cater to their needs and offer different fit-for-purpose styles, ranging from penetration-resistant midsole work boots for construction and mining, to supportive shoes for nurses and health workers, to waterproof gumboots for gardeners.We launched our direct-to-consumer business selling just two styles of women’s work boots; however, due to consistent feedback from women who struggled to source women’s workwear, we began to offer clothing and PPE. We now retail 10 different brands of workwear and we offer the most inclusive range for women available in Australia. We stock from size 4 to 30 and are always on the lookout for new brands and new styles to cater for our customers’ needs and wants. We also offer non-tradie workwear, such as pants for hospitality workers and scrubs, and specialised workwear like flame-resistant cargo pants and work shirts.We have a brand purpose to be inclusive and cater for all women, so we use our customers and our team in our product and lifestyle shoots, and believe in being real and authentic. Relatability is important to us. IR: What are some of the greatest misconceptions of the workwear industry and how is it evolving?SH: “Why don’t you just wear men’s workwear or boots? What’s the difference?” Women, for years, have had to endure wearing ill-fitting and uncomfortable work boots and workwear and it still happens today. Every woman will tell you their individual story around PPE and that’s why I launched She Wear – because I couldn’t personally find women-specific work boots after an incident on a worksite. We only sell women’s styles and sizing – you can’t be expected to do your very best work if you are uncomfortable, unsafe and not correctly catered for.Another misconception is unisex sizing. Unisex is actually just a man’s size or style, and women are told to size accordingly. It’s still not catering for women’s requirements. IR: How would you describe the traditional workwear experience for women and how is that changing?SH: Women have always struggled finding quality, comfortable, good-fitting workwear, PPE and footwear. It’s a common complaint we hear. Women will walk into a traditional workwear store to be told to wear men’s clothing or boots, or the woman’s rack offers about five items and in a very limited size range. When I was developing property around 2010, I had a nail through my foot wearing the wrong type of footwear, a couple of black eyes because safety glasses didn’t fit my face correctly and I’d go through a pair of gloves each week because the heavier duty gloves on the market were just too big for my hands.The workwear market has changed considerably over the last few years, in a positive way, but the industry as a whole still has a long way to go to create true equality. We firmly believe in offering choice for women and that comes down to options in styles to suit different markets, size diversity, and colour range. IR: What would you say are some of the biggest challenges for the workwear industry and where are some of the greatest opportunities?SH: Sustainability is probably one of the biggest challenges for the safety footwear market. We are conscious of our footprint and use the most eco-friendly materials possible, such as gold-rated leather. We also ensure our packaging is environmentally friendly; however, certain materials must be used – for standards, safety and compliance – and these sometimes aren’t the healthiest for our planet. Finding better, more sustainable options needs to be a priority for the industry as a whole. We are constantly assessing our options; for example, we’ve looked at vegan options but the current materials just aren’t durable enough for an all-day, everyday work boot. If you need to purchase two pairs of boots to replace just one pair due to the minimised durability, it creates more footwear in circulation, which defeats the purpose.Australian manufacturing is a huge challenge and a potential opportunity. Footwear is near impossible to produce in Australia. If a brand is ‘Australian made’ generally all the components are manufactured overseas, imported and only assembled here, and I think that ultimately needs to change or the industry needs to be more transparent. I’ve looked at bringing manufacturing here to Australia several times, but the price point would make the footwear too expensive, so for now we are focusing on the use of socially responsible and ethical factories. IR: What are some of the exciting plans on the horizon for She Wear in the next year?SH: We’ve just released our first organic bamboo underwear range designed specifically for all-day wear, so a healthier option for busy working women, and a healthier option for our planet. We entered the work footwear market last year and we’ve received great feedback, so that will be a big focus for us in the future. We are in the prototype stage of several new types of footwear and a few other projects are in the pipeline, so the next few years will be really exciting for our brand. Watch this space.