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Building Dovetail: Mercy M'fon Shammah, Executive Director of Wild Diversity

We are celebrating 5 years of Dovetail, highlighting the women who have helped build workwear by, for and with women. Meet our founders, employees, pant namesakes and wear testers. Learn about their work with Dovetail and see what they are doing now!

How did you originally get introduced to Dovetail?

I was introduced to it via a co-worker, or maybe a colleague in the field? I don't remember. Maybe through the trades with Amy James Neal, from Oregon Tradeswomen. I was a new carpenter when I got introduced to Dovetail, so when I was wear-testing I got to try the jeans out in the field and I was  just obsessed with the pocket situation. Right now I'm the executive director and founder of Wild Diversity. We do outdoor ventures and outdoor education for the BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities.

What feedback or wear testing did you participate in?

I gave feedback on the jeans – the first iteration, I believe on the Maven jeans. And, I love them. They're kind of the skinny leg. And then I tried the wide leg. The Thermals are my freakin’ favorite and I don't even wear straight leg jeans. I would be having one of those insulation days in the field and covered in gross insulation and still get home and not want to take the Thermals off, they're the best!

When namesakes work together: Mercy and Britt on an early Dovetail shoot in 2017.

What's the nastiest job you've done?

I think, digging. Digging in the winter rain on the side of a house. We had put some water proofing in for a basement apartment we are building now. I was covered head to toe in mud. I had mud in my teeth!

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

You have to sacrifice, for me… the need to move quickly. You get a bunch of older carpenters looking around the house deciding which way to go. It’s like a long day of fishing, trying to make decisions. It is so slow, and you're just standing there as a new person. Like, this is clearly the easiest decision ever. So working on my patience when collaborating with other folks, especially when I was new. I just felt like I always had the answers. Learning a different process of collaboration, which is just staring at a building for an endless amount of time.

What are the top five things you always put in your pocket?

A speed square, a tape measure. A pencil for sure. And then probably my keys and wallet in one of those Zippy pockets that won't fall off.

Mercy, paddling with her pup

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

Do people have downtime in this world? I don't know. What am I doing? I love hanging out with my pup outside in any way. We love going paddling together, so we go kayaking together. That's really fun. That's what I like to do.

Tell something surprising about you.

Some people know, but a lot of people don't know, that I played roller derby for almost 10 years. I played here in Portland. I led my team my last year and we were three points away from winning the international championships which, is not like a claim to fame. It's a dagger to my heart. But I also skated on the USA roller derby team and I coach roller derby internationally. In a short period of two years I coached in over 15 countries and all over the United States.

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

I think with anything, whether it's starting a nonprofit, doing carpentry, creating your own business or organization, it is just to do it. Just to get it done, don't plan forever. Like, some people like to be perfect, and they can have this dream, which they pull apart and it lasts three years. But there's somebody somewhere else in the world, many people who would have that same dream and accomplish it, or get started in three to six months. So, I would encourage other women to just do. Be a doer, don't plan forever. You can work out the kinks, when you're beta testing the idea or the process or in the mix, but just go do it.

Mercy teaching her fire building workshop

What does workwear designed by women, for women mean to you?

I think it's really important. Because, women understand women's bodies. Women walk around all day as a woman and can say, ”I wish I had this, this would make my life better”. Then they can create that for women. I think, maybe when men create stuff for women, they create stuff for the woman that they want or the way that they want women to be. When women create it, women get to be themselves and it's something that enhances our life, I feel.

Has anyone recognized you wearing your namesake?

Yes! People have actually recognized me a couple of times. Well, maybe some people already knew me, or just got to know me and then they saw my vest at REI or something like that, which is kind of fun.

Group photo from pattern overload day

Are there any organizations or nonprofits that you think we should know about?

Of course, Wild Diversity, we are out there doing outdoor adventures and outdoor education for the BIPOC and the LGBTQ+ community. We are increasing their connection to the outdoors or helping them find their love language. We support youth, adults and families. Come join us!

Check out Wild Diversity's website.

Dovetail Workwear Disclaimer: We are not the boss of our Women At Work! They say it their way and wear it their way.