“You could say I’ve got the bug for working hard,” Stacey Gose said, founder of the women’s workwear brand Tougher (emphasis on the her).
Since launching Tougher in 2018, Gose has been creating high-quality workwear products designed specifically for women in hard labor trades. After taking up carpentry and raising chickens on her 100 acre property in Corvallis, Gose grew frustrated that there were so few high-quality workwear options available for women. “I got to a point where I wasn’t looking for these other brands to be my hero,” Gose explained. “I wanted to be my own hero and create what I, my friends, and colleagues knew was needed: workwear clothes designed for women that were as functional and durable as menswear.” Right now, Tougher offers women’s work-pants and work-gloves to hardworking women in dozens of different labor trades.
Gose also wanted to create women’s workwear to provide women with a greater selection. “If I were to walk into a farm and ranch store, I would see about 100 options for men, and you get one, maybe two, styles and options for women,” Gose said. Even then, often the women’s options aren’t as durable or functional. “The pockets and features you would need to hold the same size tools that your other male colleagues use were often smaller and shallower, so you couldn’t fit the same tools in the women’s pants,” Gose elaborated. Gose was one of many women tired of this reality, but, unlike most, Gose decided to create her own solution to the problem.
Gose interviewed hundreds of women and found that many, like herself, would purchase and modify mens workwear rather than purchase a lower-quality women’s product. While some women’s workwear companies are out there, for Gose, that wasn’t enough. “Women need options,” Gose explained. “Each company is going to have a unique take on their fit and brand identity.” In other words, it’s not one-brand-fits-all, which is why the more womenswear companies there are, the better.
However, convincing investors that there was a market for women’s workwear proved an entirely different challenge. “Most of the investors that I talked to were not familiar with apparel,” Gose explained. “Furthermore, they did not understand that women in hard labor trades need high-quality workwear.” After struggling to secure funds from numerous venture capitalists, Gose eventually decided to go a different route to launch her company. She opened a Kickstarter campaign in January 2018 to acquire support from the demographic who she knew understood her mission the most: women. Her campaign was a rave success – in just six days she reached her funding goal. “I had 219 backers who were willing to forego the dressing room and buy my products because they were so desperate for a solution,” Gose recalled. “So for me, that was huge market validation.”
Today, Gose sells primarily direct-to-consumer through Tougher’s online store. While she does sell at a few wholesale locations, she is particularly selective about what retailers carry her products. “I partner with stores that really understand workwear and know quality,” Gose said. “Women who need high quality workwear don’t live on the budget commodity side because those products tend to be lower-quality and less durable.” Nevertheless, Gose still values her retail partnerships. She recognizes that many women prefer to try items on before they purchase them. Others may need to find high quality replacements for old gear without waiting for an order to ship.
For Gose, knowing her consumer is everything. At this point, she’s interviewed hundreds of women to design the most effective products. “I feel like at a certain point you should just talk to your customers when you want feedback,” Gose said. “They’re invested in making sure you make a good product for them. Afterall, they have the best experience to share with you because they’re out in the field using your product everyday.”
Gose is excited to continue developing products for women in hard labor trades as she charges forward. “What’s interesting to me is really solving issues and gaps in the industry,” Gose said. She hopes that as Tougher develops its inventory she can grow both her company and also the customer base she so passionately represents.