A perfect fit
When Kate Day, Kyle Begley and Sara DeLuca decided to create a line of workwear designed specifically for women, they believed the resulting Portland-based company was destined to make a big splash in the world of apparel.
They just didn't realize it would happen as quickly as it has.
In the space of a year, the three women have changed their company name from Moxie & Moss to Dovetail Workwear and entered a structured merger with a company called Portland Product Werks. They've expanded the company line from a single pant style — the Slim Maven — to four styles of pants as well as shirts, work gloves, beanies, belts and bandanas.
The company also is on the verge of a major leap from a direct-to-customer exclusive online presence to the wholesale market. Dovetail workwear is slated to begin appearing in stores later this month, from small local boutiques to larger gardening and hardware outlets like Coast Hardware.
For many companies, such rapid growth would be viewed as a springboard to immediately spread out as far as possible beyond their core markets. But even as they add new products, DeLuca, Day and Begley say they're stepping cautiously.
"As a new company in the market, we want to prove ourselves and we want to deliver everything we've said and more," DeLuca, Dovetail's director of product development, told the Business Tribune. "So, growth, but ... measured growth in a way that we feel we can deliver even more than we've promised versus going out and saying that we're everything to everybody and then not being able to deliver that."
Building a business
Dovetail's roots can be traced back five or six years ago when Day, the company's brand director, and Begley, the director of marketing, formed a residential landscaping business called Moxie & Moss. Thinking they should have some type of uniform, they went looking for work clothes that were both durable and comfortable. They came up empty handed. Most of the workwear on the market at the time was made for men. The few pieces they did find for women either didn't fit well or were made in stereotypical colors unsuitable for working in dirt and mud.
The began to brainstorm their idea of the perfect work pant, a version that included plenty of roomy pockets and featured denim material that was comfortable and strong but also stretchy enough to accommodate movement. Their vision took physical shape when they joined forces with Sara DeLuca, one of their landscaping clients who had a background in design and fashion production along with 20 years of experience in the apparel industry.
The three partners began tapping women with physical jobs — from carpenters and firefighters to artists and farmers — to test the durability and fit of their prototype pant, adjusting the design to create a range of sizes and inseam lengths. With a finished product called the Slim Maven in hand, the three business partners knew they would need money to actually produce their line of pants. They embarked on their own version of a crowding-funding campaign fueled mainly by trunk shows held in Day's garage, which served as the company's headquarters in those early days.
While the main purpose of the trunk shows was to drum up enough money from pre-sales to allow them to actually manufacture the pant they had designed, the three partners also received feedback from the women who came to try on the product. Women who worked in construction suggested they create a line of pants with wider legs to allow layering for warmth. Women with jobs that required them to crawl in and out of small spaces suggested the pants be made with a gusset that permitted crouching. Others asked for coveralls.
Based on the suggestions, Deluca, Day and Begley realized there was enough interest to expand their company's single offering into a full apparel line. But in order to do so, they were going to need find support — both financial and structural.
Making a match
Day, Begley and DeLuca first met Sean Beers through a peer-to-peer entrepreneurship class offered by Prosper Portland that Beers, an attorney with two decades of experience in the apparel and footwear industry, was teaching. In 2012, Beers had started a local company called Portland Product Werks as a vertical licensee for consumer product brands. When The Dovetail founders met him, his company was actively providing an operational platform for apparel and footwear companies like Woolrich, Polaris and Pendleton.
Beers had an interest in the developing market of women's workwear. He thought Begley, DeLuca and Day had done a good job building their company, but he saw even more potential.
Nine months ago, Dovetail and Portland Product Werks entered a strategic merger. Operating as a brand under Beers' company has provided Dovetail with a list of benefits, from access to accounting services and warehousing opportunities to graphics and marketing services and financial support.
The arrangement also gave Dovetail a boost when it came to finding inroads into the world of wholesale. Portland Product Werks' staff of 13, including 10 women, boasts a deep understanding of — and experience in — the world of wholesale distribution. That has allowed Dovetail's products to find a place on brick-and-mortar store racks in just months, an accomplishment that most likely would have taken DeLuca, Begley and Day years — or even decades — to reach on their own.
"When you have experienced people selling into these channels, you get an immediate reception," Beers said.
Since bringing Dovetail under its umbrella, Portland Product Werks has helped the company attract 50 active accounts, moving the women's workwear line into almost every major geographic market in the U.S., according to Beers. The company's web business has expanded. There's also the potential for a global presence.
"We're already in talks (for) international distribution," Beers said.
These days, Dovetail's headquarters can be found in a corner of Portland Product Werks' fourth floor suite in the Old Albers Mill Building on Southwest Naito Parkway. The women's workwear company also recently added its first employee, Andrea Obana, who's been graced with the job title of the Queen of Customer Service.
While Begley, Day and DeLuca meet regularly with Beers to go over financial aspects of their workwear company, the three women spend most of their time in the area they and Beers both see as their strong suit: brainstorming how Dovetail can continue to support the community of women whose passions and interests have led them into non-traditional careers.
DeLuca, Begley and Day, for example, currently are focused on weatherization of their workwear line. The inspiration came from a large number of women in Alaska who provided feedback on what they need in the area of outerwear for colder climates.
Despite a large number of products on the market in the area of outerwear, there's still room for products that combine fit for women with functionality and durability, Day said. One upcoming product Dovetail is considering: a pant lined with an innovative micro-fleece-like inner layer that offers 40 percent more warmth than flannel, but without the bulk. They're also considering several versions of waterproof jacket shells and vests. Further down the road, the company founders also expect they'll add some lightweight options to their line.
The team also is taking a look at how their products can help keep women safer in the workplace.
"We see a lot of opportunity around the high (visibility) market," DeLuca said. "Right now, we're a core workwear line, but the natural sister of that is, 'Yeah, I need pants, but I also need a high viz jacket.'"
But even as they consider an expansion of Dovetail's product line, the founders are mindful of keeping offerings focused to avoid losing touch with what the company is doing well.
"It's not like we're going to have 20 different pants in 20 different fabrics," Begley said. "It's about having a really tight, useful collection that's been wear-tested up and down and all over and then finding the (right) fabric."
It's also about staying accountable to the reason the company has been able to grow to its current position.
"We're making real products for real women," Day said. "It's for any woman who's on her feet in her day. It doesn't matter if it's her work or her passion that she's pursuing, whether it's the trades or whether she's a teacher or a mom. It's just providing true function in (workwear) that looks good and feel goods and gives you what you need in your day."