Something as simple as putting on a tool belt mightn’t seem like a big deal for most tradies.
But for a percentage of Australians, many of whom are women, finding the right tool belt can be more frustrating than using a blunt saw.
A group of fashion and vocational educations students at RMIT University took up the challenge of filling that gap in the tool belt market.
Anything but pink
Like many fashion students, Charlotte Hunter didn’t expect she’d be designing belts for tradies as part of her studies.
The 20-year-old is in her third year of a Bachelor of Fashion Design, and took up a unit that had students pairing up with other cohorts at the university.
“Mine involved partnering with the Vocational Education Training [VET] students and coming up with a design for a female tool belt to suit the growing diversity in the industry,” Charlotte said.
RMIT Built Environment and Sustainability Director Mel Tinetti said the idea for the collab came from an encounter she had with a VET student.
She said the roofer had to hand craft her own tool belt as there was no other option available. Mel said in her own experience in construction as a commercial architect, she noticed the lack of gear designed for women.
“There’s diverse people struggling to find something that fits them,” she said.
“It shouldn’t just be about a band-aid fix, it’s about finding what’s comfortable to wear for different tasks on a daily basis.”
A 2013 report from the now defunct Board of Vocational Education and Training revealed that small issues like correctly fitted items were a daily irritation for lady tradies. A quick Google will also reveal few options in the market, with a few light-duty belts coated in pink.
Closing the gap
Charlotte started her design by liaising with VET students to figure out what goes into making a good tool belt.
“In the first class we had, we spoke to the trades students to ask them about what’s missing in current designs, what they like about a belt and what improvements can be made on what’s in the market,” she said.
Something Charlotte found out during this process was how important anchoring was for a comfy tool belt. The average bloke’s tool belt will be anchored on the hips, however that doesn’t typically sit well with women tradies.
“For women that can fall down a bit,” Charlotte said.
“It’s not as suited to their figure, which can be more of a petite form.”
A good belt needs to sit right for a whole day on the tools, and while that’s not something Charlotte has experienced herself, she has done plenty of heavy lifting in another way.
“I did a lot of hiking in high school, and I found that the packs were comfortable even though I was carrying so much weight,” she said.
“I think bringing that concept into a tool belt was a good move to avoid injuries.”
Using comfy upholstered fabrics and a few heavy-duty clips, Charlotte was able to make her design a reality. The belt features a universal belt loop to fit any belt, and a design that’s anchored to the waist and shoulders like a backpack.
“My design’s symmetrical so there’s an even weight distribution, making it safer,” Charlotte said.
“It’s anchored around two points on the body: the shoulders and the waist.
“I based my design off a hiking pack because they can carry more than 10kgs and still won’t cause injury because they’re anchored on the shoulders and waist.”
Not only was the belt well-received by Charlotte’s VET colleagues, it’s also gained quite a bit of attention from companies and outlets on social media.
“It blows my mind how much it’s been re-shared,” she said.
“It’s really exposed me to how much design can actually help people.
“If I took anything from this, even if it’s not put into production, it’s that I have the ability to design for people who need it.”
RMIT’s VET cohort is about five per cent women, which is higher overall than the percentage of women in the workforce.
Mel said it was great to see students – girls and guys alike – take up the elective subject and contribute to the growing demographic of lady tradies.
“We’d love to continue being involved in this project. Vocational education has so much to give… and as a dual sector education university it gives us an advantage,” she said.
“The plan for the future is to continue this project with the fashion school. It’s something the students elect to do which I think is wonderful.”