Building Dovetail: Kate Day, Co-Founder of Dovetail Workwear

What does a day in your work life look like?

One strong cup of coffee, and then I jump into it! My role touches almost every aspect of Dovetail: working with our sales team to expand accounts in new regions; planning an event with a women in agriculture organization; reviewing department budgets; looking at prototypes and fabric swatches with the product team; meeting with local tradeswomen to understand where we can deepen our impact. Amidst all of that, getting my hands in my garden and finding time for a short run are all part of the work day.

What made you start doing the amazing things that you do?

I have always been frustrated with women’s workwear – or the lack of it. I’ve done a lot of physical labor in my life. When I started my landscape design/build company in Portland OR in 2013, womens’ work offerings were defined by cardboard-like fabrics and boxy fits. Nothing felt or looked good. Historically, most womens workwear has derived from men’s products and it showed: neither Kyle Marie (my landscaping biz partner and Dovetail Co-Founder) nor I ever found pants that we liked. It was frustrating—and ultimately, motivating. 

Kate digging in Co-Founder Sara’s yard in her Freshley Overalls in Grey Canvas

Tell us something dirty. 

I’ve had many messy, sweaty jobs. One of my first was one of the dirtiest. When I was 17, I needed money so I joined my friends’ dad’s temp agency. Right out of the gate, I got assigned as janitorial staff for the Portland Maine airport, which among other things, included cleaning the facilities’ bathrooms. Gave me a lot of perspective…  

What do you have to sacrifice to be good at what you do? 

We are creating an apparel brand from scratch. So, I've had to divert significant time and energy that would otherwise go towards my two sons, my husband, my friendships, etc. Dovetail Workwear is building a 21st-century business that will be a household name 100 years from now. The challenges are many. We strive to be ethical, sustainable, and profitable, while competing against legacy workwear brands with exponentially more resources. It’s a tall order, especially against the backdrop of tumultuous retail and macro-economic instability. The good news is that we are super scrappy and wildly ambitious. Plus it's insanely fun. Our rallying cry is “Fight the PANTriarchy!”

What are the top five things that are always in your pockets?

My phone, a pencil, loose seeds, a candy wrapper, Felco pruners.

What are you doing when you’re not working hard?

You’ll find me in my yard – I’ve built lots of different garden sections over the years and I can’t pass by any of them without fussing. A quick deadhead here; a thinning of veggie seedlings there; a spontaneous regrouping of plants. I'm also hasty and rarely make time to put on my gloves (though I swear by the waterproof leather gloves that we co-created with Outdoor Research), so I have dirty fingers and fingernails 7 days a week. 

Kate wearing her Day Day Construct pants at work in the school garden. Photoshoot fun in her Freshley Wabash overalls.

Tell us something surprising about you. 

A lot of people don’t know that I am the fit model for Dovetail Workwear. This means I try on and test every single clothing product we have made since day 1. I've stuck my hand in each pocket of every prototype. 

On the light side, it means a lot of standing and having people stare and comment on what I look like as I model samples, while enduring a lot of poking and prodding in odd places. But it’s led me to be less critical of my body, which is a big plus. On the deep side, being in this role has allowed Sara (my Co-Founder) and I to engage in one long continuous, creative conversation about the kind of clothing we want to put out in the world for women. 

Kate is one of our original models. Here she is in a COVID photoshoot in her garage!

How do you encourage other women to start doing what you do?

Women’s needs are still overlooked in almost every aspect of our livesin clothing, healthcare, any products or services, really. To counteract these norms, everything at Dovetail Workwear is driven by our goal to empower women: making great clothing, partnering with like-minded organizations, internal professional development, etc. I encourage women to ask the same questions we are and have the confidence and commitment to fill the gaps. 

Let’s get deep. Workwear specifically by and for women—what does it mean to you, how does it affect your life, and why is it important, philosophically?

Women’s workwear isn’t a trend we’re trying to get in on; our clothing is created from a sense of urgent, deep conviction. I experienced the problem of subpar gear to the point where I felt really offended. And because we’re here drawing on shared experiences that have motivated us to upend the status quo, we’ve had so much support from women. 100+ professional women fieldtested our first Maven Slim pant to help finalize the design that launched our business. We’re still in dialogue with most of them, but have expanded the conversation to tens of thousands of fieldtesters and customers since. This synergy is the key to Dovetail’s success–women help us make helpful clothes for them. Our customers are our inspiration and our collaborators, and that’s the fuel that drives me every day.

Kate with Eleni, original weartester and construction worker, and Sara DeLuca, Co-Founder.

Are there any organizations/nonprofits you work with that you think we should know about?

I can't begin to list them all. Dovetail isn’t yet in a position to be a big financial donor, but what we can’t give in dollars, we give in time and creativity. Which works out great because we develop true, authentic partnerships in the process of problem solving together. 

Angelina and Irene, participants in the Pathways for Single Moms program.

For example, when womens’ constitutional right to abortion was withdrawn this past spring, everyone at Dovetail was very angry. But then we got activated. We’d been getting to know the Women’s Foundation for the State of Arizona; they were launching an impactful program called Pathways for Single Moms to help single mothers get trained for trades careers. So we ran our “Woman Up” t-shirt as a special program, devoting 100% of all revenues to this initiative. To learn more about how this organization is making a difference, read about Irene and her daughter Angela in our recent Women At Work newsletter here

Kate and Eleni kicking it together on a photoshoot.
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