Nationwide, women run under a third of all businesses—but supporting our sisters-in-business isn’t even the first reason to buy woman-owned. It’s more practical than that: Women know how to design products for women.
Here are a few that shine.
Gamine dungarees pose a problem: I got them for working around the farm, but now they’re the coolest item of clothing I own. On any given day, I can’t decide whether to wear them for cleaning out the barn loft or if I should devise an excuse to drive 70 miles to the nearest city so I can strut through a restaurant lobby in Gamines and a hand-knit Icelandic sweater, looking like the Nordic hipster of my dreams. It’s dogsled racing season, so I have zero time for strutting, but luckily these raw-denim dungarees (“jeans” seems too pedestrian a noun) only get cooler with wear. By spring, I expect they will be not only gorgeously faded but also molded to the exact shape of my body. Which they already practically are, because they’re made in three different precise cuts for a variety of women’s body types, in sizes ranging from two to 18.
Founder Taylor Johnston, a professional gardener, started the company in 2014. “I wanted to put forward a counterpoint to rhinestone-covered jeans or caricatures of Rosie the Riveter,” she told me. “We want to underscore the diversity of body types, ethnicities, ages, attitudes, and points of view that make up our community.” Gamine clothing is always made from nonsynthetic materials, and workers are paid a living wage and health insurance. If you wear all the way through a Gamine piece (yeah, right), you can send it in for repair or for 25 percent off the price of a replacement.
Fatimah Hussein, a Somalian-born immigrant who’s lived in Minneapolis since she was six years old, noticed something at the Brian Coyle Community Center gym, where she’s worked for ten years to increase girls’ access to sports: As some Muslim girls got older, they felt torn between living out their religious beliefs and competing in the sports they loved. Their hijabs were unwieldy and hot, didn’t fit in with school uniforms, and could unravel or poke them with pins during intense activity. And when they wanted to do sports that involved being upside down, like yoga or gymnastics? Good luck.
Hussein and her co-founder, Jamie Glover, worked with the girls at the community center to design and test a series of breathable head coverings that adapt to whichever sport or level of modesty a girl or woman prefers—whether they’re Muslims, orthodox Jews, recovering from chemotherapy, or just want to cover their hair. Asiya’s current three designs, all made in the USA, range from an ultralight and breathable cap to a looser headscarf that flows over the neck and shoulders. A $35 donation on the Asiya website lets you sponsor a girl with the hijab she needs to be taken seriously as both a Muslim and an athlete.
“Our dream,” Glover told me, “is that Muslim girls begin to participate in sports at the same rate as girls of other faiths. We had one girl say, ‘Thank you for helping me live my best life out loud.’ How awesome is that?”
The mother-and-daughter team behind Heim-Made makes goofy cold-weather gear for women facing Minnesota winters. Their clothing has a sense of humor, whether it’s a down jacket with subtle mittens that flip down from the sleeves (picture a parka for babies, but sleeker) or a cozy down “blankoat” for when you basically want to wear your bed all day. “If there’s something that’s already perfect, we’re not interested in reinventing it. Everything we end up designing is something we want but can’t find,” Rose Heim told me. She’s the mom and a retired art teacher. Her daughter, Gretchen Heim, also works as an art director in advertising.
Their design process feeds on generational differences. “A perfect example of how we design would be the Cocoon,” Rose told me, referring to a down poncho-vest-thing that enfolds your torso in a cloud of warm fluff. “I said, ‘My people want their butts covered.’ Gretchen said, ‘Mom, my people don’t.’ So we designed it so that it does cover your butt, but there are two strings you use to shorten the back and a toggle pull in the front that goes through the hem, and you just tighten it up so you have elastic in the bottom of the jacket, and it pulls right up into a waist-length cocoon.” Can’t picture it? Don’t worry. In person, Heim-Made garments are intuitive—and you don’t need to understand them to stay warm.
Red Ants Pants
What Gamine suggests, Red Ants has long confirmed: Women know how to make hard-wearing clothes for women. Founder Sarah Calhoun started the brand when she moved from Connecticut to Montana in 2006, and since then it’s grown to include the Red Ants Pants Music Festival (16,000 fans dancing in a cow field to the likes of Merle Haggard and Emmylou Harris) and the Red Ants Pants Foundation, which offers grants for rural business owners, timber skills classes, and women’s leadership workshops.
But okay, what about the pants themselves? Calhoun understands that women’s bodies are a lot more varied than typical work and outdoors brands might imagine them, so she offers her American-made canvas work pants in two cuts—straight and curvy—up to a size 20. The back has a slightly higher rise than the front to keep your plumber’s crack covered, and the reinforced knees include a pocket for knee pads. I found them uncomfortably constricting at first, but I’m a baby about stiff clothing, and after a few wears and washes, the canvas relaxed to be flexible enough for even a leggings lover like me.
FYI, the pants have grown so popular among ranchers and other workers that Calhoun regularly gets calls from men about a Red Ants line just for them. She recommends the women’s straight cut. Gone are the days when women have to wear ill-fitting men’s work pants—but if men want in on these gems, we’re happy to share.
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