Annie Bowman is a painter and decorator who became frustrated at the lack of suitable workwear clothing for women. She began researching and received an overwhelming response from women who asked her to come up with something better. As a result, she began developing a range and is running a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter which ends on Thursday 21st December 2017.
“…We have all been judged by people, and I have been guilty of letting those people stop me from attempting things. Occasionally, I can conjure up the defiance needed to do it anyway…”
Discovering painting and decorating as a family friendly vocation
I grew up mostly in Sheffield then went to Liverpool to study to be a primary school teacher. After a year of that, I realised that I loved children, but was no good at the discipline side of teaching. I spent most of my ‘office life’ in purchasing and even did a few professional exams.
After my third redundancy, two young children and yet another move across the country with my husband’s job, I signed up for an all-women painting and decorating City and Guilds course at a local college in Oxford. I originally just wanted to do a better job on my own home but once friends and family started letting me loose on their projects, I realised that this was the perfect job for a mum – tackling one job at a time, being my own boss, choosing my own hours.
I quickly became self-employed, and worked with other women from the course on quite a lot of jobs, especially an artist called Emma. We had some wonderful customers – older people, single women, gay couples and young families feel much happier employing a woman, and we enjoyed their company too!
My family moved to Germany after I had been working in Oxfordshire for about six years, so I set up my business again there working mainly for expats, painting end of rentals, furniture and doing odd jobs. A year ago, I moved back to the UK and Sheffield after almost 30 years away and have been working on this new business and doing up my house.
Background to setting up Hoydens
Women’s issues may not be quite such a serious struggle as they were in the time of the Suffragettes, but there are still various things that need to change. Because I am not political and hate debating and arguing, I would always prefer to be just a quiet person encouraging women from the side.
For ten years, I helped run a Girl Guide group that was in need of an extra pair of hands. The effort involved is immense and not always appreciated by some parents. It is also a huge responsibility to be in charge of all these girls on a green field camp, wielding pen knives, climbing trees and cooking on fires!
The rewards, however, are huge. You just have to see a girl achieving something she had told herself she couldn’t do and you couldn’t be prouder. Sometimes all they need is a bit of attention and kindness with a space to be themselves, and they blossom.
Overcoming resistance and refusing to let people stop me from doing things
I want to be able to give women the confidence to hold their heads up high and believe in themselves. There have been many times in my life where I have lacked the courage to do things. Sometimes because I had no confidence in myself, sometimes because I thought that other people’s opinions took precedence over mine.
Those times when I have actually overcome resistance to take action are the times when I was most proud of the outcome. We have all been judged by people, and I have been guilty of letting those people stop me from attempting things. Occasionally, I can conjure up the defiance needed to do it anyway.
Stop complaining and start doing
I feel that women’s workwear has been neglected for too long, but who has neglected it and why? The large clothing manufacturers offer workwear clothing, sometimes unisex and sometimes designed for women, but as they don’t sell as many, it hasn’t been worth their while really investing in this side of their business. They tell us that they are made for women, but really, they are only made for men with a narrow waist.
I kept thinking that with more women going into trades from school, that there would be a corresponding increase in the options available to wear. Because women have been putting up with the available clothing options, their voice hasn’t been heard by the stockists who therefore don’t see the potential.
Women who are working for bigger firms have their uniform bought for them, but they look uncomfortable and complain that they aren’t very flattering.
If our requirements in clothing have been overlooked, maybe it is for the same reason that women often have lower pay and don’t get the top jobs? This year I have frequently heard that it is ‘not mens’ fault’, the implication being that it is because women don’t put themselves forward or that we just accept the status quo. So, whether or not you agree that the challenges we face are as a result of us putting up with our lot, maybe we can all do something to stop this, and maybe it starts with us? Stop complaining and start doing.
I am a great one for putting my money where my mouth is, so I decided that rather than wait for the right thing to come along, I would see if it is something that I could sort out myself.
Treating women as equals
I hope the design of this range of workwear clothing is one small step towards women being treated as equals in the workplace. It won’t change all attitudes but it should present us as proud professionals. I hope also they break down some of the barriers to young women joining the workplace. The trousers are of course only the first step, having talked to many women along the way, I have a raft of ideas for additional designs and widening the range.
At the beginning of the year I wanted to design some trousers that would fit most women, look smart in front of a customer and be extremely comfortable all day for a physically active job. I imagined that there were women like me who were painting and decorating, making furniture or plumbing.
Once I started doing my market research and talking to women, I found it would become a hot topic and there were women in many more sectors of industry than I had imagined. One part of my market research was to send out a questionnaire on social media. I couldn’t believe it when I received over a hundred replies from women all over the country and all different trades – all expressing the same frustration. Only one person was totally satisfied!
This reassured and annoyed me in equal measure. I was reassured because I wasn’t alone, and annoyed because it shouldn’t be that hard to address the needs of women. The survey also told me that women are proud, determined and without exception want to look professional at work. This made me very determined to give it a go.
Developing the range
It is almost impossible to find a manufacturer in the UK that has the time and capacity to take on a new and inexperienced clothing designer as a customer. I really didn’t want to go to the Far East for manufacturing in case I chose an unethical employer and because of the air miles miles that would be involved. I have worked closely with a production manager who acts as a middle woman and through her, a factory in Europe that would make up some samples for me.
I originally wanted to develop several fits for different shaped women, but the cost of doing that was prohibitive. In the clothing industry, most of the cost of a garment is in the labour, and relatively little in the components. In order not to run out of money over designing the ultimate pair of trousers, I had to ensure the design was simple enough to make quickly and keep the labour cost down, but was also fit for purpose.
I decided to concentrate on one pair of utility trousers that could be worn for as many different jobs as possible. Once I have proved that this design works for women, I need to plough the money back into the business to increase the range of fits, size range, and make trousers for more specific purposes, for instance, trousers with knee pad pockets, hi-vis, cold weather gear, and jackets in different bust sizes etc.
I chose the name Hoydens for my brand because as a child, I was a tomboy with two brothers and proud of it. When looking for a business name, I searched for words that captured this spirit without being too stereotypical. I found the word ‘Hoyden’, which I took to mean high spirited and going against the grain, and thought that it sounded “a bit Yorkshire”, like me!
How crowdfunding works
Crowdfunding enables start-up and innovative projects, like Hoydens, to seek funding pledges from potential backers or supporters. Each project identifies a target funding goal, in my case £10,000, and requests pledges.
I am offering to supply trousers and / or pockets, depending on the level of pledge offered. The trousers will be available for less than the eventual retail price. If the goal is met then the pledges are collected and the project is initiated.
If, for any reason, the project does not attract sufficient backing then the people who have made pledges are not charged and the project owner does not receive anything. It is a relatively safe place for project initiators and backers to help launch new products.
I am using Kickstarter to help fund the first production run. If it is a success then we will place the orders on our manufacturer and open up the Hoydens online store in January to take normal orders. For me, it will validate my idea and test the market. It will generate pre-sales and create brand awareness.
Become part of a movement
One of the exciting things about backing a Kickstarter campaign is that you can become part of a movement. In my case, a movement which is not just about trousers, but is about the wider issues of making sure that women have workwear. I will also be looking for feedback which will no doubt alter the product slightly to suit more women, and help me plan future ranges. Those first supporters will be able to have their say and feel a certain kinship with the product.
I have been amazed at the amount of support. I have had over 60 people pledging, and although I was hoping that family and friends would support me, the majority of the backers are people I don’t know. This means that I am succeeding in reaching women that understand and resonate with what I am trying to achieve.
Putting myself out there
Every time I have a notification of a new backer, the excitement is palpable. The first few hours were the best. I feel really lucky that there are women out there who clearly understand the importance of this project and are helping me get the word out on social media.
Before this year I didn’t understand Twitter or the clothing industry or how websites work. It has been a massive learning curve for someone who is ‘just’ a painter and decorator and I feel like it is a great achievement for me.
Without the encouragement of women who don’t know me, and those that have only just met me, I wouldn’t have reached this point. I didn’t like working in offices and found school hard socially, but now I can really see how women support each other and want to see each other do well.
If the crowdfunding doesn’t achieve its goal, then I won’t have failed. I will have managed to take an idea from start to start up, learning many new skills along the way and meeting so many women face to face and on line who truly want me to succeed and who inspire me to keep going and do my best. Put yourself out there and women will surround you, will you on and smile with you.
How Womanthology readers can support
Womanthology readers can help by seeing the good that can come of this. It isn’t just about trousers, it is about women being safe in their clothing when it is there to protect them, being comfortable enough for them to be seen as a competent woman doing a good job, and not a woman in a man’s world. It is about showing the next generation that they have choice in their careers. With that choice comes freedom.
If Womanthology readers need a pair of tough trousers for jobs about the home, or for their job whether it is in a factory, on a building site or in a warehouse, please consider supporting me by pledging for a pair of trousers.
If they don’t need a pair of trousers, then they probably know someone that does. Can they spread the word about our Kickstarter campaign as soon as possible? Do they employ women and would like to show that they are a responsible employer? Please let your networks know about Hoydens.
If readers can’t support me financially or through their network, please just support me with encouragement! A kind word is never wasted.
Support Annie’s Kickstarter campaign for Hoydens now: