Ask Alicia Woods about mining, and she’ll tell you she was born into the industry. Her father and grandfather both worked in heavy equipment design and service for underground mining, and she was raised in their shops.
It’s no surprise then that she followed in their footsteps, entering the industry herself—only now she’s making a positive impact on women like her, by creating coveralls designed for women.
In June, Woods launched Covergalls, a coverall tailored specifically to a woman’s stature, with useful features that make it more comfortable, functional and safer than the male garment women are accustomed to using. Made in Canada by Montreal’s LH Workwear, Covergalls are being exclusively distributed through Century Vallen in Sudbury.
Woods first alighted on the idea in 2001, after finding work with an original equipment manufacturer in Sudbury.
“When I entered that role I had to go find PPE (personal protective equipment) to wear—so coveralls, hard hats, belts, boots, everything—and when I walked into the store there was absolutely nothing for women,” Woods said.
She grabbed the smallest size from the rack and had a seamstress take in the garment and lop off a couple of feet from the bottom, because it just didn’t fit. It was then the idea for a coverall made for women started to germinate.
But with a blossoming career in the mining industry, and a young family taking up her time, the idea went on the backburner. Woods coped by refusing to drink water while underground so she wouldn’t have to use the washroom facilities—often a doorless portable toilet or the end of a dark drift. Her idea was pushed back to the forefront about two years ago while visiting a Saskatchewan potash mine—an arid, dusty environment that had her guzzling water and, in no time, in need of a bathroom.
Dimming her cap light so others couldn’t see her, Woods struggled to undress in the confined, doorless space, only to have the contents of her pockets spill out onto the dirty, grimy floor. Woods had had enough. “At that moment, I said, ‘I have to do something,’” she said.
Covergalls feature a two-way zipper, so women don’t have to fully undress to use the washroom and items in the top pockets will stay there. Velcro tabs around the waist and zippers along the length of the leg allow the back of the coverall to be taken down.
Hidden zippers mean the average person can’t differentiate between a Covergall and a regular coverall. Don Campbell, Century Vallen’s branch manager, had watched for years as women came into his store, searching for clothing that fit, only to leave disappointed.
“The smallest men’s garment is still falling off them, so when Alicia approached me on that, I already knew that there was a demand out there, because I had seen probably a good 30, 40 women coming through and constantly complaining that there’s not a women’s garment out there,” Campbell said. “It’s
made specifically for women.
The men’s garment just doesn’t fit; it’s made for men. There’s a huge difference.”
Following the product launch in June, during a Women in Mining trade show, Campbell has seen an increase in requests for the garment. He’s sent out samples to Manitoba and BC, and has recently received interest from Russia.
Once interest starts to spread, Campbell said he can see demand rise. The Covergalls would also be ideal for women working in construction, utilities, forestry, or other industries.
“A coverall is a coverall, as far as anyone’s concerned, but this one is designed by a woman for a woman, and it really is unique and different,” he said.
Woods believes the success of the coveralls is about more than just aesthetics, or even safety. Providing women with products that are made to fit them gives them a sense of belonging that has been lacking in a traditionally male-dominated industry.
“I think, at the end of the day, in order to attract or retain women into these roles, we need to offer them tools that actually fit,” Woods said.
“Right now, we’re promoting these industries and we’re saying, ‘Women, come fill these roles’; however, we’re expecting them to wear men’s garments or use men’s tools,” she added. “I think by offering this garment, we’re actually saying to women, ‘The industry is open to you, there is a lot of opportunity here for growth, it’s a challenging industry and it definitely has a lot to offer.’”
Woods’ male colleagues have been supportive of her product, many even asking when she’s going to make a garment for them.
Not to worry: she’s designed a prototype of the “Coverguy” for men, and she’s also planning to add to her Covergalls line.
In response to requests from women for additional products, she’s working on a cargo-style pant and shirt.
“Eventually the goal is to expand the product line,” Woods said. “Our focus right now is on the Covergall, but we will definitely be growing the line.”