Fash­ion-for­ward thinkers are mak­ing women less in­vis­i­ble in the re­sources sec­tor, writes Chris Ryan.

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De­sign­ers change the work­ing lives of women min­ers

AUS­TRALIA’S MIN­ING in­dus­try has a proven track record in har­ness­ing the na­tion’s nat­u­ral re­sources but there is one com­mod­ity it hasn’t made the most of – its fe­male work­force.

Fe­male par­tic­i­pa­tion in the min­ing sec­tor sits at about 15 per cent. Cor­po­rate and gov­ern­ment bod­ies have high­lighted the im­por­tance of get­ting more women into the in­dus­try, which suf­fers from skills short­ages in boom times. Last Oc­to­ber, BHP Bil­li­ton an­nounced the am­bi­tious tar­get of hav­ing a 50 per cent fe­male work­force by 2025.

While such grand ges­tures may make a dif­fer­ence in the years ahead, a cou­ple of en­tre­pre­neur­ial women – who launched their re­spec­tive com­pa­nies in 2013 – are al­ready mak­ing a dif­fer­ence on the ground.

Ac­coun­tant Kym Clark was at­tend­ing a lead­er­ship meet­ing at the Foxleigh coalmine in Queens­land’s Bowen Basin with her fe­male man­ager and six men when she had a mo­ment of re­al­i­sa­tion

that led to her mak­ing an un­ex­pected foray into the field of fash­ion.

“All the men were re­ally comfy in their high-vis – and there was Steph, seven months’ preg­nant and she couldn’t do up her work shirt,” re­calls Clark. “She was in an open high-vis shirt with a sin­glet on un­der­neath. It didn’t re­ally [seem] right – we’re in an in­dus­try that’s try­ing to at­tract more women yet we weren’t pro­vid­ing work­wear that caters to ev­ery­body, par­tic­u­larly ma­ter­nity wear.”

In camp at Mid­dle­mount mine in the Bowen Basin, Clark met a woman who had to or­der her own jeans and then sew high-vis tape onto them be­cause none of the com­pany’s work­wear suited her pe­tite frame. On buses out to site, she heard women com­plain­ing about the cut of their cargo pants.

“I’ve al­ways had an in­ter­est in fash­ion and I love the re­sources sec­tor so that kind of stuff stood out to me,” says Clark. “I was in the right place to spot the gap in the mar­ket.”

Clark’s ob­ser­va­tions drove her to start She’s Em­pow­ered (shes-em­pow­ered. com). The high-vis work­wear line for women em­ployed in min­ing, trans­port, lo­cal coun­cils and con­struc­tion is now avail­able on­line and in about 100 stores across Aus­tralia. The range in­cludes reg­u­lar work shirts and cargo pants but it’s the Baby Bub ma­ter­nity shirt that sets this brand apart.

“I of­ten get emails about the ma­ter­nity shirts,” says Clark, who still does con­tract work in the min­ing in­dus­try. “Women will say, ‘Thank you – I can do up my shirt and feel like I be­long’ and ‘I’m com­fort­able at work in­stead of wak­ing up in the morn­ing and not want­ing to put on my work­wear’; it’s re­ally nice to hear that feed­back.”

While Clark’s in­spi­ra­tion came from be­ing in the right place at the right time, Stacey Head, the woman be­hind She Wear (, had her light-bulb mo­ment be­cause she was in the wrong place – or at least her foot was. Mak­ing a liv­ing flip­ping prop­er­ties, Head was fin­ish­ing the deck on a house she was ren­o­vat­ing when she stepped on a nail. “It was ag­o­nis­ing,” she says. “I had to go to the doc­tor for a check-up and a tetanus shot.”

“Work isn’t a fash­ion pa­rade but there is noth­ing wrong with tak­ing pride in your ap­pear­ance.”

In a sub­se­quent search for safety boots (bet­ter late than never), Head dis­cov­ered that the women’s boots be­ing sold were, es­sen­tially, smaller ver­sions of the men’s. “The safety footwear avail­able was very mas­cu­line and ill fit­ting,” she says. “They had ab­so­lutely no style or colour but the big­gest is­sues I found were the weight of the boots and the fit, which was too wide and too bulky around the an­kles.”

Head solved the prob­lem by bring­ing her own boots to mar­ket in Oc­to­ber 2013; to­day, more than 60 out­lets stock them.

While prac­ti­cal­ity is para­mount in the prod­ucts cre­ated by Clark and Head, style does get a look-in. “I re­alise work isn’t a fash­ion pa­rade but there is ab­so­lutely noth­ing wrong with tak­ing pride in your ap­pear­ance,” says Head. “Work­wear and footwear can be safe, com­pli­ant, a good fit and stylish.”

Clark echoes this sen­ti­ment. “That work­wear fits well and is func­tional so as to en­sure safety is No. 1,” she says. “If some­thing’s too big or some­one can’t do up their work shirt, as in the ma­ter­nity in­stance, the loose ma­te­rial can get caught in [ma­chin­ery], which is a hazard. And when you have pride in what you wear, you’re more con­fi­dent and have pride in ev­ery­thing you do. It all ties to­gether.”

For Clark, She’s Em­pow­ered pro­vides an op­por­tu­nity to give some­thing back to an in­dus­try she has loved be­ing a part of. “What started it all was that I wanted to see a pos­i­tive change for women in the in­dus­try. I do feel like I have con­trib­uted to­wards that, though we still have a long way to go,” she says. “There are other is­sues that need to be ad­dressed. We all look at it through dif­fer­ent eyes so if you no­tice some­thing, speak up. That way, we can make progress in creating an in­clu­sive en­vi­ron­ment.”

When it comes to telling other women about the min­ing in­dus­try, Clark is en­thu­si­as­tic: “There’s al­ways some­thing new go­ing on; it’s never re­ally the same, day to day. And with the con­nec­tions and re­la­tion­ships you make, it’s a stand­out in­dus­try to be in­volved with.”

And for any­one who thinks they might not be a good fit, even if their clothes are? “Jump straight in and don’t be afraid of cold-call­ing some­one in the in­dus­try,” she says. “Peo­ple love to help if some­one’s got the guts to reach out so give it a go.”

Per­fect fit: high-vis work­wear de­signed by women, for women

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