In 2014, Stacey Gose left her career in public health and founded TOUGHER, a workwear company for women in the field, backyard, or shop. With several generations of farmers in her family, Stacey was born with soil and grit in her blood but was never able to find a brand that designed rugged apparel specifically made for women. From this frustration, TOUGHER was born. A graduate of the University of Oregon’s MBA program, Stacey is based out of Oregon and is expanding her company throughout the Pacific Northwest and West Coast.
What motivated and inspired you to start your own business?
Growing up, I spent my summers on my family’s heritage farm and today I still do my own farming and some carpentry. Throughout the years, I have struggled to find proper workwear. The women’s workwear options available were often overly-feminized, not very durable, and it seemed like companies were just making women’s clothing like men’s lines, just smaller and pinker.
And so I often bought men’s clothing, which was more durable, but the fit was always a distraction. It was uncomfortable, and sometimes a safety hazard. I was frustrated and didn’t understand why there were no quality, well-rounded workwear options on the market for women. I spoke with hundreds of other women who shared these frustrations about women’s workwear, and from those conversations, TOUGHER was born.
Tell us about your business.
TOUGHER crafts workwear for women in the field, backyard, and shop. There are 40 million women who work in professional trades or who identify as “do-it-yourselfers” but these industries are generally still considered “men’s work,” which leaves a gap in the market for women. TOUGHER is the voice to fill that void by providing workwear that is completely designed by, inspired by, and created for women.
All my products are made in the U.S. Right now, I offer durable, deerskin leather Work Gloves that are kinder and softer on your hands and are specifically sized for women. This winter, I’ll launch my Groundbreaker Workpants, which are completely redesigned from both men’s and women’s workpants on the market, improving the durability, flexibility, and fit.
Are you currently running any promos/contests/giveaways that you would like our readers to know about?
This winter I’ll be running a Kickstarter campaign for my Groundbreaker Workpants. The Groundbreakers are built specifically for women: durable, lightweight, and flexible. You can sign up on the TOUGHER website to receive more information as the Kickstarter approaches.
- Breakout Award Winner from Bend Outdoor Worx Venture Out Festival
- RAINMaker Grant Winner from RAIN, Eugene
- The University of Oregon New Venture Championship Second Place Winner from the University of Oregon
- Concept Stage Winner from Pitch Oregon
- Willamette Innovator’s Network Shark Tank Second Place Winner from Willamette Innovator’s Network
- Fast Pitch Award Winner from University of Louisville
- InnovateHER Regional Winner from the Small Business Administration
Where is your business based?
TOUGHER is based out of Corvallis, Oregon.
What were the first few steps you took to get your business up and running?
To launch TOUGHER, I performed preliminarily research on the gaps in the marketplace by having interviews with core customers (tradeswomen) along with secondary research using industry-specific search engines available through my MBA program.
Once I had the data to confirm that there was a true opportunity in women’s workwear, I registered my business with the State of Oregon, locked down a URL and consistent social media channels, submitted a trademark application for my business name, and got to the grind of developing and creating my products.
What has been the most effective way of raising awareness of your business and getting new customers?
- I’ve found that competing in local and statewide business competitions, similar to Shark Tank, is a great way to get new eyes on the company, mainly investors, advisors, and retailers.
- Media, social media, and word of mouth have helped me grow my customer base.
- Fostering good relationships with my retailers to the point where they will repost TOUGHER’s social media posts on their own social channels has been one of the best ways to reach more women and have them directly connected to places where they can find my product.
What have been your biggest challenges so far?
Balancing the demands of raising capital, product development, and focusing on marketing.
How did you overcome these challenges?
I am still learning. However, I have become better about asking for help when I can’t do it all or if something is not in my wheelhouse.
How do you keep motivated through difficult times?
I have a Spotify playlist that has songs that motivate me to keep pushing when things are hard. I also make it a point to run at least 3 times a week and meditate. These activities take me out of the stressful moment and help give perspective when I step back into addressing a problem.
How do you distinguish yourself from your competitors?
TOUGHER products stand out from the market because women don’t have to sacrifice anything. Often, multi-million-dollar workwear brands will represent women’s clothing as durable and at a lower price point, but leave women without comfort and fit, or they will position their women’s workwear as stylish with mid-tier pricing, but women will have to give up durability and functionality.
One of my biggest priorities is ensuring that women don’t have to sacrifice durability, fit, style, or safety in their workwear clothing. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t have all four of those as standard options, and yet we don’t! Until now, that is. A lot of start-ups have to offer their products at a much higher price starting out but I made sure that TOUGHER products fall in the same, reasonable price ranges as all my competitors so that more women can access the products.
What is the best advice you have received recently?
The best tip I received recently was to make a 2×2 table and prioritize emails with the category headers of Urgent and Important. If an email is both urgent and important, I respond immediately. If it is important but not urgent, I will reply usually in the next few days. This has lowered the stress of feeling like I had to respond to every email the moment it was received, which simply isn’t possible as my company grows and its demands increase.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
I would tell other entrepreneurs to do something because you believe wholeheartedly that the world will be better with your idea brought to life. Otherwise, you will likely fade out when the money doesn’t come fast enough or things aren’t going your way.
What are your favorite business tools/resources and why?
Twitter. It gives me a quick snapshot of various business-related articles that I use to inspire my own practices.
What is a good article or book you have read recently?
“The Code of the Extraordinary Mind: 10 Unconventional Laws to Redefine Your Life and Succeed On Your Own Terms” by Vishen Lakhiani.
What are you currently learning about for your business or looking for help with?
- With the Groundbreaker Workpants Kickstarter starting this winter, I’ve been learning a lot about crowdfunding campaigns.
- I already have a vision of where TOUGHER will be by 2020 but I’m constantly learning about the avenues I can take to get there, like Kickstarter.
- TOUGHER is still an early-stage company and growing, so I’m always looking for advisors and investors.
What are your goals for the next few months and how are you striving to achieve them?
My most immediate goals are to offer my Work Gloves in more local and online retailers and make the Groundbreaker Workpants available for all through this winter’s Kickstarter. Developing partnerships and fostering new and existing relationships are key to reaching these goals.
What social media outlets do you use? List them below.
Photo credit Brianbulemore/Abacus Photography