Sexism in fashion isn't new, but this Portland-made startup addressing it is.
About five years ago, Kate Day and Kyle Begley started a boutique residential landscaping business together called Moxie and Moss.
"We were out there working in people's yards and we were getting really frustrated with the lack of options for workwear for us," Begley said. "We would get online and we'd go into stores, and if it was functional it didn't fit well."
Most feminine fashion is based on how it looks when worn, instead of what it feels like to wear.
Not only that, but pockets (historically slits in outerwear where people could hang pouches underneath clothes in the late 1600s) evolved in menswear as extra fabric, and in women's wear to purses, eliminating functional pockets from their increasingly sleek and tight wardrobes.
As fashion historian Barbara Burman said in her book Pockets of History: the Secret Life of an Everyday Object, she writes "The frustrations and limitations of women's access to money and ownership of property were neatly mirrored in the restricted scope of their pockets."
But no longer will Portland women be unable to pocket a hammer, tape measure or clippers with Moxie and Moss.
"Basically we were just running into the issue of women's workwear being based on men's workwear cuts, and just doing that sort of 'shrink it and pink it' situation where it's just kind of shrunk down, but not really made for a woman's body," Begley said. "We were underwhelmed."
Enter Sara DeLuca, landscaping client — and a design and fashion production and development consultant with experience as a manager senior product manager at Adidas, with 20 years of experience in the apparel industry. She is now the third co-founder of Moxie and Moss Workwear (MMW) the fashion line, founded in 2016.
"She has extensive experience in the apparel industry, and she's worked with really big companies from The Gap to Alex Mill," a New York City-based fashion designer, Begley said. "Kate was like, why don't we tell Sara we need work pants? Maybe she knows someone local who can help us custom-make work pants."
They agreed to go ahead and ask her, even though it seemed like "a big crazy idea."
"Before we knew it, Sara was meeting us outside with fabric swatches of denim, talking about some amazing cotton mill called Cone Denim," Begley said. "She has all these factory connections across the globe."
DeLuca told the pair to come up with what pockets they need and which fit they want, and the three started designing the work jean that has turned into the Maven, available for pre-order now on their website.
"Being part of MMW is most exciting for me because I'm working on a product for an underserved market and developing the product in collaboration with the women who are putting it to the test," DeLuca said. "This line is made by strong women for strong women that need apparel that fits and performs. It's practical, fashionable and aspirational in all the right ways."
According to DeLuca, multiple entrepreneurs and industry experts offered their advice, help and collaboration.
"This also includes the amazing group of now 100-plus field testers and supporters who have worn our product, given us feedback and are continuing to help us develop new products that perform and function for them in their work," DeLuca said. "They are our greatest inspiration."
Because a startup takes so much capital to get going, the advice and input was gratefully accepted.
"A startup takes a lot of capital, especially in the apparel industry because you have to purchase minimums on fabrics and trim and even the factory needs minimum orders cut," Begley said. "What we decided to do, we each put in our own money to get it up and running, but we're running a pre-sale. We're hoping to sell enough jeans in our presale to cover the initial cost of our minimums with the factory."
Moxie and Moss is looking to pre-order enough sales to cover $500,000-750,000 in the next four to six months.
"We bootstrapped all the money Kate and I made from landscaping at the point when we started to get serious, we put all our landscaping money into our workwear," Begley said.
Moxie and Moss has a partnership with OTI, donating 5 percent of gross sales to their scholarship fund.
"(OTI) has been an incredible resource of meeting women working in the trades and also feeling like we can give back," Begley said.
The Maven jean is their biggest success so far to Begley.
"A lot went into designing those, our biggest problem is we're perfectionists," Begley said. "This is a very highly crafted, thoughtful pant."
She and DeLuca thought about what they needed as landscapers.
"We need denim that's durable, not going to get snagged by thorns, something that has a double knee pad so when we're working on our knees there's a spot you can add that extra durability of the double panel," Begley said.
The denim is stretchy, like the comfortable yoga pant fit women are used to now, yet durable for working.
"Fabric technology is the future of performance workwear and we plan to lead that charge," DeLuca said. "Working with fabrics that have superior strength, mobility and memory are key — whether it's through traditional workwear styles tailored to women in the trades or lifestyle products, we see the potential to redefine the category."
The critical accessory of pockets was tried and tested for useful shapes.
"As far as pocketing, you might be familiar with this: men's jeans front pocket, they can put their whole hands in them, but women's jean pockets tend to be really shallow," Begley said. "We wanted deep, deep pockets you can put your whole hand in."
While it started with a landscaper's needs, the team found several women in different trades in Portland to help design.
"We made a prototype, we fitted 50 women and held focus groups and got feedback from them. We added and changed a couple things for them, like a tape measure pocket to put the clip on your hip," Begley said. "It was fun, and these women are incredibly and strong and inspiring and it just keeps growing."
Events and the future
Moxie & Moss has been holding "Pants and Pints" (July 19) and "Pants and Pinot" (coming up Aug. 10) events downtown, at venues such as Oregon Tradeswomen, Inc. and Markowitz Herbold PC, where potential customers can get fitted and meet the owners.
"We've done a lot of events like that this spring and summer, so it was another one in the line and we continued to meet different women from all sorts of creative jobs and trades and it was good," Begley said. "We did not have a large turnout, we had under 20 people come, but that's becoming more typical of our events. We're sort of saturating our Portland market and we are hoping to extend out of town next."
She's looking toward Seattle to connection Amy Nelson, founder of The Riveter coworking space for empowering women in work and wellness.
"She's starting these creative workspaces, community office spaces. She's making them just for women in Seattle with very wellness based yoga classes and meditation," Begley said. "It's doing really well, we're probably going to host an event up in Seattle with her. We're also trying to work with some lady winemakers between here and the coast in wine country."
Someday soon, Moxie and Moss could be more than a denim pant — and join the number of successful apparel startups made in Portland.
"We would like to be big. We would like to really capture the entire women's workwear market," Begley said. "We plan to extend a full line — with the proper funding of course — of more continuous bottoms but also tops, accessories, outerwear, vests, coats, possibly getting into boots and shoes, being the women's go-to workwear line. We're stoked."