The Sisterhood of the Practical Pants

Meet Kate Day, the Mainer behind the coolest new workwear company for women.

Kate Day would like us to imagine a world where everything was as optimized for women’s bodies as they are for men’s. Where women astronauts like Caribou native Jessica Meir wouldn’t have to wait around for NASA to special order spacesuits sized for women. Where the size of crash test dummies weren’t based on the average man, but rather, the average human. “So many standards and specs have not really been built with us and our bodies in mind,” Day says.

Dovetail Workwear co-founder Kate Day, who grew up in Maine and whose parents live in Portland. Photo courtesy of Dovetail Workwear

In the meantime, she has tackled the dilemma of workwear for women. In a big way. Day, who lives in Portland, Oregon but grew up in Hallowell and Falmouth, is one of three co-founders of Dovetail Workwear, a company turning out pants and overalls designed to fit well and move with a woman as she gardens, builds houses, cuts down trees and so on. The opposite of “pink it and shrink it.”

“That’s an apparel term,” Day explains. “That’s what they do in workwear. They take the men’s and size it down, without thinking what a woman’s body needs. And they make it purple or pink and say, ‘Here, this is for you.’”

Dovetail products are made in a kind of stretchy denim and other fabrics that feel soft and flex.

“There are so many women that deserve great workwear,” Day says. “Women ship captains, women in natural resources. Obviously all the women at Chewonki.”

That’s one of the Maine places Day feels a close connection to; she went there as a young camper and later, while at Cornell, was on the camp’s summer staff. “Chewonki kind of wove in and out of my life,” Day says. So did working outside. She left Cornell with a planning degree, then she spent a year in Tuscany, Italy, working at Spannocchia, the estate owned by the Cinelli family, which evolved into the Portland-based nonprofit that offers educational programming around organic farming and Italian culture.

Carpenter Britt Smyton modeling a utility pant named after her, the Britt. Photo courtesy of Dovetail Workwear

“It was very hands on,” Day says. “Some days I was making pizza for 50 guests, some days I was rebuilding stone walls or making sausage from the wild boars.”

She went on to graduate school in Arizona and when she moved back to Maine, landed her first job at Terrence J. DeWan & Associates, the Yarmouth-based landscape architecture and planning firm. Eventually she and her husband went abroad, to Indonesia. He was working for the State Department; Day worked on tsunami relief and then on international planning projects. Flash forward a decade, with them both working in Portland, Oregon, him with Nike’s foundation on the health and wellbeing of girls and Day consulting, raising two young children and exploring a new career in landscaping with a partner, Kyle Begley.

Day, to the far left, with her co-founders, Kyle Begley (center) and Sara DeLuca. Much like L.L.Bean in its early days, Dovetail uses real people, from carpenters to landscapers and electricians, to model its apparel. Photo courtesy of Dovetail Workwear

“I like having my hands in the dirt,” Day says. “Kind of harkening back to my Maine roots.”

The two women’s business, Moxie and Moss Landscape Design, took off. “We should have a uniform,” Day remembers telling Begley. “But Kyle is super petite,” she adds. “And we were never happy with our options. We were always moaning and groaning about it.”

One of their new clients, Sara DeLuca, had a design background, having worked for The Gap internationally. “She knows everything, from sourcing to factories,” Day says. “She’s very modest. She never talks about it.” DeLuca told the landscapers she’d make them some work pants that would also be stylish. Good fabric. Slim, “so we could tuck it into our boots,” Day says. “A high rise in the rear. Let’s have great coverage and fit. That is how it started.”

They went through about six iterations of patterns, and then DeLuca used her connections in sourcing and production to get them three pairs of pants. Those pants were suddenly the pants that all the moms at drop-off wanted. They made a few more. And so on, until they realized they had the makings of a new kind of workwear company, albeit a fairly upscale one (overalls are $129).

The Freshly Overall gets a workout in sawdust. Photo courtesy of Dovetail Workwear

When she returns home to Maine—at least once a year—to visit her parents in Portland, she often finds her mother wearing one of their tops (Dovetail has gone beyond pants). She passes out discount codes to old friends at Chewonki. And the company has a smart public relations team reaching out to influencers and working women; all of their models on the website are customers, who work as farmers, electricians, builders and so on.

About 18 months ago, Day hung up her landscaping hat to focus full time on Dovetail. They sell online and in some stores (The Trading Post in Kittery was the first Maine retailer to pick up the line). What started, she says, as “one tiny little thing” to make things easier for a pair of women landscapers has turned into something much bigger. “It is a mission more than a business in a lot of ways,” Day says.

Mary Pols is the editor of Maine Women Magazine.

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