Finding a better fit for women’s personal protective equipment: Interview with Jodi Huettner, founder of Helga Wear

March 15, 2023

Safety wear is not ‘one-size fits all.’ And yet for decades, women in the trades were wearing small sizes of overalls made for men, which were not only ill-fitting but unsafe. That’s why Jodi Huettner, an engineer by trade, created Helga Wear in 2014 when she recognized that there was a lack of PPE designed for women.

In 2019, she visited Seaspan’s Victoria Shipyards to show the Women of Seaspan team the coveralls she had designed, and to hear from female engineers, welders, and electricians alike about the troubles they were having with oversized “unisex” PPE.

After partnering with Seaspan to develop the Eileen Flyaways (named after the first woman hired by Seaspan to work at the Burrard Drydock in 1942), Helga Wear is thriving, and providing well-fitting gear to women in various industries. “As of January 8, I outgrew the shipping container I was operating the business out of and moved into an office with a warehouse and a loading bay. It’s just amazing to finally be solidified somewhere in this city – I elbowed my way in!”

In advance of International Women’s Day, Jodi visited Vancouver Shipyards to do a ‘fit test’ for tradeswomen at the shipyards. When asked “what does it mean for you as a woman in the trades to have access to a session like this today and Helga Wear as an option?” This is what some of our employees had to say:

“It feels really awesome to be able to do this with the other women that I work with and to hear about what they do. Just even having access to be able to go to the bathroom more easily is really appreciated, and having a session like this where it’s just women is like – wow.” -Tara Lee Gardner, Welder

“I’m grateful that Seaspan is also thinking about the women here and what’s going to help us work better and efficiently, especially when it comes to our work gear. Not everything is one size fits all, especially when you’re working in a male dominated industry. I really do appreciate that they’re making an effort to make our jobs easier.” -Cassandra Leonardo, Services, Labourer

“It’s really nice and it feels like Seaspan is considering what the women have asked for for so long. We’ve asked for coveralls that fit well, and they’ve taken so many little things into consideration like the cinching at the ankles and the cover over the one pocket.” -Brittany Gorrigan, Welder

We had a chance to catch up with Jodi after the fitting and learn more about the business:

The creation of Helga Wear is an example of innovation and gender equity at work under the National Shipbuilding Strategy. Seaspan is re-building an industry under the NSS and is committed to attracting a diverse team to build ships in Canada. It starts with the right gear to get the job done.