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Female fit

11 August 2021

Georgina Bisby looks at the evolution of women’s protective workwear and discusses how leading manufacturers are catering for a new generation of female tradeswomen, engineers and construction workers.

IT’S NO secret that in the past, women working in male-dominated industries had limited choices when it came to protective workwear and footwear. With women traditionally taking up fewer roles in construction and engineering than men, there was little incentive for manufacturers to invest in female-specific designs, leaving women frequently kitted out in inadequate or inappropriate products. While there were exceptions to the rule, at best, women were offered something from a “pink it and shrink it” range, while in other cases, they were given men’s designs in smaller sizes. These products often fell significantly short in terms of comfort and fit.

Thankfully the number of women in STEM roles is now rising steadily, and with this, the incentive for manufacturers to invest in creating better ranges for women. According to Women in Stem, in the last decade, the number of women working in engineering roles has almost doubled from 25,000 to just over 50,000, and there are now one million women working in STEM roles overall. What’s more, Women in Trade , a report on the changing face of trades, shows there has been a 366% increase in women taking on apprenticeships in construction and engineering in the past five years.

It has also become much clearer what women both need and want regarding protective workwear and footwear. Crucially, women need products designed to fit the female form because while there is much variation in women’s shapes and sizes, women have a different anatomy to men. For example, women tend to have different hip to waist ratios and wider forefeet and shorter foot arches.

A shift in values

What women want is a more complex question and one which is being significantly influenced by the arrival of Generation Z in the workplace (Gen Z - born from 1995 onwards) who bring with them different demands to the generations who preceded them. According to True Gen’: Generation Z and its implications for companies1, a report by Mckinsey & Company, key drivers for Gen Z, are “individuality, social values and consumption as a matter of ethical concern.” While these trends were started by millennials (born 1980-1995) Gen Z is even more attuned to where the products they use come from and what impact their creation has on the world around them. 

Pioneering sustainable practice

Therefore, to appeal to Gen Z, protective workwear manufacturers must prioritise sustainability and social impact and be prepared to be completely transparent around these issues. Thankfully, some forward-thinking protective workwear companies are already leading the way and working hard to continually improve their credentials in these areas.

Emma Safety footwear, for example, is a pioneer in sustainable practice having created the world's very first 100% circular safety shoe. Some of the steps Emma Safety footwear is focused on to improve environmental performance include: 

  • Producing sustainable safety footwear in collaboration with strictly selected suppliers

  • Testing all of the materials used on environmental impact

  • Helping clean up the ocean and produce laces, lining and socks from the waste

  • Using the sun to power their factory

  • Producing metal-free shoes to reduce metal mining

  • Prioritising eco-friendly packaging materials 

  • Closing the loop by taking back worn safety shoes

  • Recycling and reusing materials from old shoes and production waste to start new supply chains for entirely different products 

Emma’s positive social impact isn’t limited to the environment. They began making boots in the 1920s to provide employment and support for injured miners and to this day they seek to work with people who have fewer opportunities in the employment market and help all of these people to perform at their best in a safe and supportive working environment.

Meanwhile, the vision of Emma’s sister company Snickers Workwear is to be at the forefront of sustainability by using smarter solutions and technologies, including sourcing the highest quality, most hard-wearing products with as little environmental impact as possible.

Some of the steps Snickers Workwear are taking to improve their environmental performance include:

  • Setting ambitious goals to reduce GHG emissions

  • Limiting their chemical footprint through the use of a Group-wide Restricted Substance List (RSL)

  • Prioritising premium materials through internal and external supplier assurance process (OEKO-TEX and Blue Design logos)

  • Prioritising ‘Preferred fibres’ - defined as fibres that have more sustainable properties in comparison to conventional options without compromising durability and comfort

  • Choosing the most appropriate fibre to achieve a long tire-time for a garment

  • Committing to conscious cotton choices - (Show Goal: To source 80% of cotton as more sustainable cotton by 2023") 

  • Driving demand for Better Cotton which positively impacts farmers and the environment. bettercotton.org

  • Using a more sustainable colouring process for Polyester that significantly reduces water, chemicals and energy use – commonly referred to as dope dye.

  • Using 'Mulesing-Free' Merino Wool to prevent animal cruelty

Individual fit

Another defining feature of Gen Z is their desire for flexibility and their resistance to being defined in traditional terms. Many initial women’s workwear and footwear offerings featured ‘feminine’ designs and colours but these features are less likely to hit the mark with the younger generation. Mckinsey’s research shows 20% of Gen Zers don’t identify as exclusively heterosexual in comparison to 10% of previous generations. In addition, 48% of Gen Zers say they value brands that don’t classify products as male or female in comparison to 38% of consumers in previous generations. In short, Gen Z don’t want to be defined as what they are but as who they are and for the issues they care about. Therefore while they may appreciate workwear that fits, they are increasingly likely to favour more gender-fluid designs.

The hallmarks of modern workwear

With this in mind what does this mean for the future of women’s protective workwear? It is fair to assume that in the future there is likely to be less focus on defining ranges as womenswear or menswear and more appreciation of brands that can offer maximum flexibility while operating in line with the priorities that this new generation of consumers cares about. 

Snickers Workwear’s answer is to focus on what it sees as the hallmarks of modern workwear; sustainability, stretch and sizing and to deliver these priorities through the use of stretch fabrics and a comprehensive sizing system in different fits for both the male and female form – rather than one style or size that firs all - which ensures that there’s a product to fit each individual perfectly. 



For more information, visit www.snickersworkwear.co.uk