Designer Annie Bowman and the five JTL apprentices.
JTL is working hard at attracting more young women to be electricians or heating and plumbing installers and sees the provision of well-fitting workwear that was not designed to fit a man, as a major step in the right direction.
Annie Bowman, a qualified painter and decorator from Sheffield who has worked across Europe has put her money into a self-funded business to develop a range of workwear especially for women.
With the increasing numbers of women working in the building sector, particularly as painters and decorators, electricians and plumbers, Ms Bowman decided the time had come to try and change things for her fellow women workers: “Men might find ‘builders bums’ and gaping tee shirts acceptable, but women professionals see these in quite a different light, and I decided that there was a need to design working trousers and other garments that were specifically for women to wear.”
Working closely with a production laboratory and a Portuguese manufacturer, Ms Bowman came up with a design for work trousers that had stretch where it was needed, a higher waist band and in a material that better responded to the needs of women than the standard workwear available from merchants and online in the UK. This was the starting point for Hoydens Workwear, Ms Bowman’s new company in Sheffield.
With a number of initiatives around the UK seeking to attract more women to male dominated professions, Ms Bowman contacted a few to see what they thought of the idea and the response was generally favourable. One response came from JTL, which provides more apprentices each year in the electrical and heating and plumbing sectors than any other company in the UK. It runs an Ambassadors scheme to try and attract more young women and more young people from the black, Asian and minority ethnic groups to the building services sector – areas of the UK population under represented in the apprenticeship world in these sectors.
JTL’s equality and diversity officer, Yasmin Damree-Ralph, said: “The problem with workwear for young women has been a subject we have discussed with our female apprentices regularly and it has always been a serious issue with our young women apprentices. Many end up wearing their own jeans to work because the workwear available simply does not fit them, but often these clothes are not robust enough to last long on the front line! Having workwear that makes you look as if you belong to the profession is part and parcel of feeling comfortable in your job and whilst there is no definite evidence to support it, we feel it’s possible that it’s this sense of feeling uncomfortable, or out of place in the workplace that discourages young women from considering a career in the electrical or heating and plumbing professions.”
Ms Damree-Ralph invited Ms Bowman to bring some of her garments to the new training centre in Ashford JTL opened earlier this year, and invited five of the company’s young female apprentices to try the new garments out.
The response was unanimous – the very best workwear trousers they had ever worn! For the first time, they had access to workwear trousers that were robust, would stand up to regular washing as required by their professions, but most importantly felt really comfortable to wear all day.
Ms Bowman said: “It was wonderful to see these girls genuinely chuffed with the new workwear we provided and to realise that there is a lot to be said about designing and producing a range of workwear for young women here in the UK. This is just the start and I plan to increase the range of clothes we produce and the range of colours and sizes we can supply, but this was a really important milestone in the development of Hoydens Workwear and the warmth and support from JTL and their apprentices was amazing.”
JTL plans to provide every young woman apprentice it recruits with a set of woman-special workwear from Hoydens.
Those companies interested in providing access to women-only workwear for their staff can take a closer look at www.hoydens.co.uk