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“I think that clothing should be inspirational,” says Bella Weinstein, creator of Richmond, Virginia-based workwear brand Handyma’am. “I want to carve out a place in the market for a new type of tough lady.”
Weinstein is doing something simple but subversive with her young workwear line: making clothes for women whose first priority is utility, not decoration.
That’s not to say that the coveralls and “draprons” (dress-apron hybrids) Handyma’am sells aren’t nice to look at, too. Made with thick, water-repellent duck canvas in muted shades, they have a carefully considered beauty. The fit is feminine, the details thoughtful; it’s obvious that a great deal of time and attention goes into making each piece.
But this is workwear first, made primarily for women who like to spend their time getting dirty. It’s functional, utilitarian, tough, and made for action.
Women are so accustomed to using objects designed with men in mind — down to the drugs we take and the safety standards in the cars we drive — that putting on one of Weinstein’s pieces feels like an act of defiance. Not only are they intended for use in “masculine” activities like metalwork, but the clothes have been designed expressly for women rather than modified for women after the fact.
“It’s not because women have not always been in these fields, because they have,” Weinstein says. “I want [the clothing] to be an acknowledgement. Like, yep, these women are in those trade fields and let’s finally acknowledge that they are, you know?”
Weinstein takes that mission seriously. In addition to producing clothes, Handyma’am aims to bring visibility to women in the trades, as well as inspire more women to take up an interest in them. To that end, the brand produces a video series on women doing amazing work in areas like letterpress printing, ironwork, woodworking, ceramics, and more.
“I always wanted it to be a little more than just about the clothes,” she says. “I wanted it to be about the community and empowering women. The whole point of the project is to make durable, functional clothes specifically designed for women; that’s always been the goal. But I think it speaks to more than just tradeswomen. There’s a bigger idea behind it — it’s tough clothing for people who want to kind of embody that.”
But Weinstein emphasizes that she hopes her clothes will appeal to women of all interests, too. “I originally designed the coveralls and aprons to support women in trade: metalworkers, woodworkers, painters, ceramicists; even women in fields you don’t think of as trades, like hairdressers, for that matter, or florists. But it’s also just durable clothing. So if you’re hard on your clothes and you like the look of workwear, I would hope that it would speak to you that way, too.”
The coveralls ($325) are available for pre-order while Weinstein finds the right production partner. Her draprons ($165), bandanas ($18), and “Tough Sh*t” T-Shirts ($25) are all available for purchase through the Handyma’am website.
Weinstein hopes putting on one of her garments will encourage women to pursue whatever they’re drawn to. “Maybe you’re not a woodworker, maybe you’re not an ironworker, but maybe you have aspirations and that’s what draws you the brand,” she says. “If you feel empowered by it, then I’ve done my job.”
Image credits: Alexis Courtney; Monica Semergiu