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She digs work clothes that work for women

Taylor Johnston, a horticulturalist at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, is the creator of Gamine Co.
Taylor Johnston, a horticulturalist at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, is the creator of Gamine Co. (John Tlumacki/Globe Staff)

Taylor Johnston spends her days in dirt, trying to get nasturtiums to grow and keeping the gardens at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum as beautiful as the artwork they complement.

It’s a tough job — one made even more challenging when the knees on her pants kept wearing out every couple of months or, even worse, when her derriere was falling out of an ill-fitting pair of mens’ work pants.

“Why the duck cloth? Why the hideous fit?” the 32-year-old horticulturalist wondered. “What I was wearing was way under” quality.

Bike mechanic Maia Schumacher of Calgary finds the workwear tough yet stylish.
Bike mechanic Maia Schumacher of Calgary finds the workwear tough yet stylish.

Johnston’s frustration at the woefully limited options for women who do physical labor was the impetus for Gamine Co., a new line of workwear that addresses both fashion and function. At the heart of the collection (www.gamineworkwear.com) is a pair of selvage denim pants she designed with reinforced knee panels, a cinch strap that adjusts to a woman’s waist, and deep patch pockets.

“I always have dead plants and keys and maps in them,” said Johnston, of the front and back pockets. “And there’s an (open-seamed) flap on the knee panel so gravel can fall out.”

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It’s that attention to detail that Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst at NPD Group, says is absent from women’s workwear — and could, ultimately, transform what he describes as an untapped market.

“Most people don’t understand the potential it brings. They buy regular sportswear and make it adapt or buy menswear products and make them adapt,” he said.

The New York-based apparel analyst said the dearth of women’s choices — 125-year-old Carhartt didn’t introduce a women’s line until 2007 — is indicative of a larger industry problem.

“It’s almost two decades of lack of innovation,” he said. “Very few brands today go out and invent a new product today. The women’s market is already mature so [big brands] don’t have to create these new things unless it provides a clear path to growth.”

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Gamine’s early sales — she sold out of nearly every size of her first run of the $150 jeans within months — indicate Johnston, who sources the denim in North Carolina and manufactures them at L.C. King in Tennessee, has found a diverse fan base.

There are landscapers, construction workers, and sailmakers, but Maia Schumacher was working as a bike mechanic at Lifesport in Calgary, when she bought a pair of jeans a month ago after reading about them on a blog called Cowboy Style.

“You go through a lot of clothing when it gets greasy and oily and dirty,” said the 23-year-old. “It’s hard to find any durable women’s pants in general.”

Schumacher said most men’s workwear is cut too boxy for her slight frame. Though Carhartt’s slim fit women’s pant fit decently, the duck cloth fabric wasn’t what she was looking for.

“The higher quality denim helps with a lot of the grease. It does a better job of repelling that stuff,” she said.

Oils and “sticky things” are also part of Cody Nowell’s livelihood as a sailmaker at Sperry Sails in Marion. The 29-year-old was in desperate need of work pants that would hold up to her long hours kneeling on the floor over massive canvas sails or climbing on racing boats.

“The knees on regular jeans blow out in two months,” she said.

Via Instagram, she discovered Johnston’s denim, which she described as “very cool, retro Rosie the Riveter.” Nowell, who lives in New Bedford, called Gamine a perfect balance of form and function. The jean’s higher rise flatters her petite stature while the contrast stitching and flared silhouette — fitted at the waist and hips, and loose through the legs — are a boost to her style.

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“It’s hard to find women’s workwear that is quality and has style,” she said. “With these, I get compliments right away.”

Johnston has already added hemp/cotton T-shirts to the collection, but Nowell hopes Gamine will add more denim styles, including a fleece-lined version for the colder weather.

“When I wear them I feel ready to work, like I have the right equipment and I’m prepared,” she said. “I’m a maker and this is the clothing I need to do my job.”


Jill Radsken can be reached at jill.radsken@gmail.com.