More than 1,000 female Halliburton oil workers in the United States need to wear fire-resistant coveralls to do their job. They were typically wearing protective gear cut for men to get the job done.
Now, in part thanks to West Texas innovators, they have another option.
Sharla Watkins, senior human resources manager for the U.S. southern region at Halliburton, said during a visit to a field site with company management, they received feedback that the coveralls most women were wearing did not fit correctly. There were some coveralls for women on the market, but Halliburton thought they could improve them.
“They don’t want to look different than their male counterparts," Watkins said. "They just want coveralls that fit their body.”
After conducting focus groups to find out what women truly wanted in their protection equipment, Watkins said Halliburton set out to find a manufacturer who could make it happen. They partnered with Wolfforth-based RPS Manufacturing Solutions, who have a reputation of pioneering innovative solutions for workplace equipment.
Tyneal Buckner, chief customer officer at RPS, said there were a lot of issues with the coveralls the women were settling for. For petite women, the sleeves and legs were too long. The waist landed around their hips. The traditional shirt collar was a bit bulky.
Buckner recalled an article from Industrial Safety & Hygiene News, a trade magazine, that found women's top complaint in their industry was ill-fitting personal protection equipment. Equal pay came in second.
“They didn’t feel good, it didn’t fit right. There were functionality issues, there were safety issues," Buckner said. "But that’s what they were used to.”
To get the design right, RPS brought in Su-Jeong Hwang Shin, associate professor and Apparel Design and Manufacturing Program director at Texas Tech. Shin has researched sizing systems and fit solutions throughout her career. She said she joined the project because she knew her expertise in sizing and apparel technology, and ability to use 3D body scan and pattern design systems, could enable mass production and customization of the garment.
Texas Tech apparel design and manufacturing senior Jessica Ozoude designed the coverall under Shin's supervision and RPS' direction, Shin said.
The new women's design features a Mandarin collar, a higher, cinchable waist that should hit at the natural waistline, plenty of pockets and tailored sizing. To ensure a proper fit, women's chest, waist, hips, inseam, sleeve length and height are measured.
Shin said sizing is inconsistent across all clothing, but having more detailed measurements can assure a better fit.
"For the uniform, it requires more comprehensive sizes because of the design with a non-stretch woven, yet functional protective coverall clothing from top to bottom," Shin wrote in an email. "This means that manufacturers need more detailed body measurements and comprehensive various body shapes in order to make the uniform that would uniformly and comfortably fit for the company’s individual workers."
One of Buckner's favorite features is the adjustable waist tabs, allowing wearers to create a tighter or looser fit. Kind of like jeans, Buckner said, every woman prefers a different fit.
“The cool thing about this garment is, no matter where you are on that spectrum, we can offer something that satisfies everyone’s personality and how they want to portray themselves in the field," Buckner said.
Halliburton employees can discreetly order the garment online.
The coveralls are still in the early-launch phase, but response to them has been positive. Watkins said Halliburton plans to roll the coveralls out on a wider scale soon, among other benefits and initiatives the company is launching to be more inclusive.
“We’re making sure that females know they are supported here," Watkins said.