It’s no secret to women working in the construction sector that some of the safety gear they’re wearing doesn’t quite fit. That’s because it was designed for men. As CEO and creator of Sudbury-based Covergalls Inc. Alicia Woods is focusing on uniforms and equipment designed for women first.
Woods’ background involves working for a supply and service business serving the mining sector.
“Covergalls was born out of my own frustration at having to use workwear designed for men,” she says.
“From coveralls to hardhats to safety glasses there was nothing designed for women. I would wear my brother’s coverall or just get the smallest of men’s sizes and wear that. They didn’t fit me properly which is a big safety concern. And for 10 years going underground I wouldn’t drink anything before going underground. I would have to take everything off just to use the bathroom.”
Woods started by modifying her own coveralls, working with a seamstress to improve the fit.
“We also incorporated a trap door for bathroom breaks, like you find in old school long johns,” says Woods.
“Women started approaching me and asking me where I got them and asked me if I could make a pair for them.”
She struck a deal with Vale Canada Ltd. to produce half a dozen coveralls incorporating the new design for a trial run with female mine workers.
“Vale collected feedback and helped me to modify the design to meet all of their health and safety requirements,” says Woods.
“Once their PPE committee approved the design, we started getting ready to go to market. We secured our first order with Vale in 2011.”
Woods publicly launched Covergalls with a pitch on CBC’s Dragons’ Den.
“It was a terrifying experience, but extremely rewarding,” she says. “It’s intimidating to pitch your product to five very successful dragons.”
Three dragons made an offer to buy 30 per cent of the company, although Woods ultimately chose to retain 100 per cent ownership.
Market demand soon spurred additional products: bib overalls, cargo pants, hoodies, toques and parkas. The material choices have also expanded to include flame-resistant garments and colours specific to each industry served.
“We’re offering some of the clothing in camo, but that was just for fun,” says Woods. “Women were asking us to produce some of our product line in camo for their personal use while they’re ice fishing or hunting.”
Covergalls has also teamed up with work glove manufacturer Mechanix Wear to produce a line of all-purpose safety gloves designed to fit women’s hands.
“We’re now getting orders from all over the world, in mining, construction, oil and gas, forestry and farming,” says Woods.
“A lot of companies are using our products as an incentive to attract and retain women who are interested in employment in non-traditional sectors. We recently outfitted female workers at uranium mining company Cameco because their surveys among female employees told them that PPE was an area they needed to work on.”
Covergalls’ commitment to expanding opportunities for girls and women in non-traditional industries now includes support of organizations such as the Canadian Association of Women in Construction and Women Building Futures.
About 70 per cent of the company’s products are made in Canada, although a few higher-volume products are made at factories in India,
While the product line was initially offered online, the company has since secured distribution deals with companies including Acklands-Grainger, Cintas, Levitt-Safety and the commercial division of Mark’s Work Wearhouse.
The success of the company subsequently spurred Woods to launch Coverguys, a male counterpart line, to create a one-stop shop for companies ordering Covergalls safety products.
“The Coverguys coverall also features the rear flap,” says Woods. “Even guys find themselves in a position where they have to take off a lot clothes when nature calls.”
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