Small Business Owner Works Hard for Women
Inspiration can hit when we least expect it.
For Jodi Huettner, founder of Helga Work Wear, her moment of inspiration came on her first day of fieldwork as a junior engineer. The simple act of having to go to the bathroom sparked a new business idea.
“In remote locations, because it can be dangerous, you aren’t supposed to be out of sight of your team. The first time I found myself dropping my trousers in front of a male colleague to relieve myself, I knew I had to do something.”
She decided to design a line of work wear for women that would allow them to go to the washroom without having to remove outerwear (tool belt, visi-vest, jacket), and without having to ‘drop trow’.
“When my mom homeschooled me she taught me to sew,” says Jodi. “After that embarrassing day in the field I went back to my hotel room and sketched a few prototypes. The first prototype I made just had a butt flap – that didn’t last more than a day!”
Several months and multiple prototypes later, Jodi had her master sample and a very special name for her business – Helga Work Wear.
“Helga comes from my childhood; my father always joked that I was almost named Helga,” explains Jodi. “I always identified the name Helga with my tomboy side, she was my alter-ego.”
Making the difficult decision to leave behind her career as a mechanical engineer, Jodi threw herself into Helga Work Wear and turned to EMBERS Ventures to get her business off the ground.
“The experience and knowledge of the instructors at EMBERS helped a lot,” says Jodi. “Since starting this whole process, I feel like I am tiny speck at the end of a long thread flapping in the wind. At EMBERS, my thread crossed with the threads of a whole bunch of other tiny specks who are all going through the same issues.”
After going through the Build A Business course as part of the Self-Employment Program, Jodi is knee-deep in launching her business.
Keeping with the unique spirit of her business and product, Jodi turned to Kickstarter – an online crowdsourcing platform – to raise the seed money to pay for her first production run.
The result was even better than Jodi could have imagined – not only did she raise more than enough to cover the cost of her first large-scale production run, but she learned that she had more fans than she thought.
“I learned about other demographics I could serve. A woman from Norway who is sailing around the world bought my overalls so she can keep a layer of clothes on while answering nature’s call” says Jodi. “Women came out of the woodwork and bought a pair so they can work in their garden or hike in the bush!”
Focusing on the future, Jodi looks forward to growing her business by bringing coveralls, thermal wear and a snow suit to market, selling her garments to as many women as she can, and transforming the industry.
“Not feeling exposed to the elements and to wildlife while I answered the call of nature gave me peace of mind, let me drink water to my heart’s content, and let me use the washroom ‘through-the-fence’ just as fast as my male counterparts,” says Jodi. “This is a great way to start to remove those barriers for women to experience the industry, and to do just as well as the men do.”