It’s a good thing for skilled tradeswomen that Marissa McTasney wears pink nail polish but doesn’t mind getting her hands dirty.
She also knows the business end of a circular saw and doesn’t want to look like one of the boys when she uses it, thank you very much.
That determination and one “eureka” moment in a Burlington boot shop are what drove the 32-year-old mom to dramatically change her life last spring by starting her own line of – dare we say it – totally cute work wear for women in girlish hues from pale pink to baby blue.
Based in the house she renovated and lives in with her young family just north of Whitby, Tomboy Trades Ltd. offers everything from boots and tool belts to hard hats and tinted safety glasses in female-friendly sizes, colours and styles.
But make no mistake they may be pretty but these steel-toed boots are made for workin’.
“I can use a drill but I’m also a mom with two kids. And I wear pink nail polish,” McTasney says.
“It’s not just about wearing pink boots. It’s about not trying to look like a man to fit in on a work site. It’s about saying, ‘We are here!’ And it’s about style, comfort and personal taste,” explains the energized entrepreneur.
McTasney is here alright. Since the launch last March, her clothing business has quickly become one of the most popular work apparel lines offered online by Home Depot Canada. Jumping on board was a no-brainer for the retail giant with an increasing number of women entering the skilled trades and the recent explosion in the home improvement industry.
“We have a lot of women customers. They’re not just shoppers, they’re also the decision-makers,” said Home Depot spokesperson Tiziana Baccega.
Roughly 60 per cent of visits to homedepot.ca are from women and Tomboy Trades is the first line of work apparel Home Depot Canada has offered that is designed specially for women.
Statistics show that one in four Canadians plan to remodel or renovate their house this year, and women now make up more than half of the “do-it-yourselfers” – or “herselfers” as the case may be – out there.
McTasney figured that with more women becoming homeowners they would naturally be a growing segment of the overall home reno market. Notice how home improvement manufacturers have shifted much of their advertising to women, with ads and marketing specifically targeting them. “I don’t think women should have to blend in and pretend. We’re different. We’re colourful,” she reasons.
Most new entrepreneurs aren’t lucky enough to have their product catch the eye of Home Depot Canada president Annette Verschuren. McTasney actually got face time with her to pitch her idea and followed up by cleverly delivering the boots in Verschuren’s size to her office in a galvanized tub with flowers and cupcakes.
“You can’t really ignore something when it contains items that will go bad,” she smiles.
As it turns out Verschuren was totally smitten with the pink boots and took a chance on the first-time vendor to help develop her product line and get it to market.
“She saw them and absolutely loved them,” recalls Baccega. “Marissa got the right person at the right time,” she adds.
An uber fix-it machine in her own right – “my husband buys me tools for Christmas,” she says – McTasney decided she didn’t want to return to her software job at IBM after daughter Francesca was born just over two years ago. She also has a 4-year-old son Carter and understandably wanted work with more flexible hours.
So she decided to pursue her passion for home renovations by taking a course early last year at the Centre for Skills Development and Training in Burlington. Sponsored by the Ontario Women’s Directorate, it trains women interested in the skilled trades sector in areas such as welding, mechanical, carpentry, landscaping, construction and metal-working – fields traditionally dominated by men.
“On Day One, they gave us a coupon to get a pair of work boots. We went to this store in Burlington but all they had were men’s work boots in brown or black. They could have found something to fit, it just wasn’t my style,” McTasney says.
She searched everywhere in GTA stores and on the Internet for retailers or shoemakers who made pink work boots, which she pictured as more her style, but couldn’t find anything. Persistence paid off and she eventually found a reputable manufacturer in China to make them for her and ship them to her home.
“I started wearing them and got amazing feedback,” she says, noting she saw a woman recently step off the GO Train in a pair of her pink Tomboy boots and who clearly was wearing them for fashion rather than functionality.
Starting a new business was a very big step, so to speak, but with the encouragement of her husband David she got cracking on a business plan to develop the line, consulted focus groups and received a loan from the Business Development Bank of Canada.
To come up with the company name she assembled a round table of 15 women in various professions and trades, including her sister and her mom, who have helped her numerous times to make cupcakes and put together media kits.
“I wanted the name to be very plain and I wanted it to appeal to women. I wanted it to be sexy and commercial. I wanted it to say, ‘I’m bold, I can use a circular saw’,” says McTasney.
It’s fitting too that the bright pink Tomboy Trades logo, featuring two glamorous-looking ladies wielding a saw and a hammer, puts you in mind of the Charlie’s Angels logo.
“I feel like I can relate to the Drew Barrymore character in the movie, when she kicks butt and then moonwalks out the door. That’s me,” she laughs.
The matching boots, tool belts and T-shirts are made in China while the hard hats and safety glasses are made in Canada and the U.S. Pink is still the hottest seller by far but she also has forest green and dark red for women who still want a cute boot but aren’t into bright pastels. The gear ranges in price from $19.99 for a hard hat to $99.99 for work boots, all of which meet required safety standards.
She’s had so much positive feedback that next month she is introducing a men’s line called Tough Trades offering tan and black colours for both sexes. McTasney also plans to expand into the U.S. market along with Britain and Australia and possibly develop a line for kids who also like to have fun building birdhouses and dollhouses.
Though McTasney has worked hard and had a few lucky breaks, she says a new business is not to be entered into lightly. “I’ve always had a pain in my belly” to do something entrepreneurial, she said.
“But you have to be passionate about it because it’s not easy. You have to really believe in it.
“If it weren’t for all the great response I’ve had from women though I don’t think I would have ever done it.”
Credit: Toronto Star; Lisa Wright