Kate Day and Kyle Begley needed a better pair of pants.
After founding landscaping company Moxie & Moss, the Portland business partners quickly discovered how difficult it was to find work pants that weren't "covered in flowers" or cheaply made.
"It was just a frustration that was constantly coming up for us," Begley says. "It was so hard to find the right fit with all the pockets for our tools, and the double layer needed for all the bending down and the work we do on our knees."
So they complained at work. And a client overheard them.
Sara DeLuca, who had a background in apparel design, offered to design pants for their business as an informal uniform. At first, Day and Begley laughed off the idea. But the next day, when they showed up to work, DeLuca had denim swatches ready to show them.
That was five years ago. Now, their women's workwear company, Dovetail, is carried in over 150 stores across the U.S. and Canada. Since formally launching 15 months ago, the company's sales have gone from $400,000 to a projected $2.5 million this year.
They say Dovetail's soaring popularity is due to a failure of the marketplace to recognize the work that women and other gender minorities do as legitimate.
"Portland's remarkable for having a lot of amazing women, from craft to trade, fighting all the gender stereotypes and in a lot of nontraditional occupations," Day says. "So we felt good about what we were doing, but I don't really think we understood in the early stages how intensely there is a true market gap in this area."
Dovetail started with a work jean, which Day, Begley and DeLuca wanted to craft to match the functionality of brands like Carhartt but appeal to buyers with more urban and contemporary aesthetics.
"Our point of view always was that there was other workwear out there but it never looked like anything that any of us would wear," Day says.
In addition to pants, Dovetail now also sells overalls, vests, work shirts, handkerchiefs, belts and more. Most of the clothes are made in a factory in Mexico that DeLuca says meets the "gold standard in terms of environmental impact, labor practices, and being women managed." The brand name Dovetail refers to a joint in woodworking that "creates a perfect fit," DeLuca says.
The company has little competition—Portland startup Tougher focuses exclusively on women's workwear, as does Montana-based Red Ants Pants. Begley says that "as a women-owned and -run workwear company," Dovetail is "the largest probably in terms of reach and accounts and probably also in terms of style offerings."
Dovetail's products are currently sold in 15 states and Canada as well as online. Its founders say they plan to design their next iterations of apparel based on feedback they get from women about what needs are still not being met.
"We do really want to be—it's probably too much to say a household name, but we want women to know about us and know that we're here for them," Day says. "We understand the degree of hard work that they're doing every day and we're providing apparel that is a tool that empowers and recognizes them."
FIND IT: View a full list of Dovetail retailers in Portland or order online at dovetailworkwear.com.