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Kristine Shreve - Women in Garment Decoration

Printwear Pauses: Women in Garment Decoration with Kristine Shreve

Alexandria Bruce is the digital content editor for Printwear magazine covering news in the apparel and textile industries. Contact her at abruce@nbm.com

Welcome to Printwear Pauses, where we highlight one-on-one discussions with industry professionals in a Q&A format. These Q&As share the thoughts and opinions of some of the industry’s most knowledgeable individuals. In this installment, Printwear chats with the woman behind the Women in the Industry podcast and Women in Garment Decoration Facebook group Kristine Shreve.

What’s been your experience as a woman in garment decoration over the years?

As far as I have seen, there are a lot of women out there who could contribute to the industry, both as business owners and as industry experts. I think the problem is either that women are more reluctant to put themselves in the position of “the expert," or they don’t know how to do so. One of the reasons the Women in the Industry podcast started was because I encountered an industry event where all the speakers were men, and when that was mentioned to the men running the event, the response was a little tone-deaf. I started looking around, and I noticed that there were a lot more men than women being presented as experts and just generally being visible. I knew there were women experts and business owners out there. EnMart, the company I work for, is owned by an extremely knowledgeable woman, for one. So, when I really began noticing what was happening and realized that most of the most visible people being presented as experts were men, I started asking why.  

One of the first discussions we had, before the Women in the Industry group formed, was about the fact that most industry trade shows had a much more significant percentage of male speakers than female speakers. I put the question out about why that was and got some great answers from the organizations that put on the trade shows. I learned some things I didn’t know about how different shows book the people who speak, which helped me see that part of making women more visible was up to the women themselves. That led to some discussions about how to encourage more females to apply to be speakers at trade shows, and about how to encourage women to be mentors and just be more visible to the industry as a whole.  

I have to say my personal experience has been very positive. I’ve been writing for industry magazines for a number of years. I write a couple of blogs and regularly speak at the DAX Shows. I’ve also been a guest several times on the 2 Regular Guys podcast over the years. Opportunities have been made available to me, but it was up to me to pursue them, and sometimes that was a little scary. The first time I gave a seminar, I thought I was going to pass out. I was nervous the first time I did the podcast as well, and that was before they brought it to video. I do understand why a lot of women find it intimidating to put themselves out there as speakers or judges or experts. However scary it can be to put yourself in the spotlight—it needs to be done. The next generation of female decorators is looking to us to know what’s possible.

Can you tell me how the Facebook group Women in Garment Decoration came to fruition and why you created it? 

When I noticed the problem of women not being as visible, one of the ways I thought we could combat that was doing a podcast on the subject. Since I’ve appeared as a guest on the 2 Regular Guys podcast with Aaron Montgomery and Terry Combs in the past, I suggested the idea of a quarterly podcast dedicated to issues women in the industry face, and they were immediately on board. Since they are the 2 Regular Guys, I became the host and moderator of that particular podcast. During the second Women in the Industry podcast, one of the discussion points was the idea that women in the industry should have a group where they could support each other and learn from each other. I figured it didn’t make sense to wait for someone else to start it, so I created a group. 

What are your goals and intentions for the group? 

The first goal is to be a place where women can feel free to talk about anything they want to talk about and know they’re in a safe space. While we always acknowledge our male allies and want to make it clear that we don’t dislike and aren’t intending to bash men in any way, the group is female only. When the group was formed, I posed the question to the initial members of whether we should be female-only or allow men to join, and the overwhelming consensus was that we should restrict membership to females. That means any woman who does any type of decoration, whether they have a brick-and-mortar business or do their work from home. We welcome home sewers, Etsy sellers; anyone who is making things and wants to learn and grow their craft and potentially their business. Our underlying goal is always to be a place of support where women can feel comfortable asking questions and expressing themselves. 

The next goal is to talk about issues facing women in the industry. We’ve had some great conversations about things like how your appearance can impact getting a job or making a sale. We’ve talked about aging and how that makes a difference in confidence and the issues with which you’re dealing. There’s always a lot of tip sharing, how do you create this product, what vendor do you use, that sort of thing. We also talk about the unique pressures and issues women face with customers, vendors, and colleagues in the industry. Our goal is to talk about these issues so that we can start finding solutions. Sometimes the discussions are about the validation of how something was handled or how someone feels about a particular topic or event. Every Friday, we also do a post that invites the members of the group to celebrate their accomplishments and achievements for the week so we can all cheer for and applaud each other. Sometimes the achievements are big like closing a sale or starting a remodel, and sometimes it’s simply, "I didn’t stab my annoying customer this week."

The atmosphere is always supportive. We don’t allow bullying, and the only criticism we want to see is constructive. The group currently has one other admin and two moderators, so we’re always watching for anything that could be problematic. There are rules that group members have to agree to when they join. Mostly they’re pretty simple: be kind, don’t bully others, be supportive, don’t sell in the group, that sort of thing.  

What type of environment do you want to create within this social space and beyond? 

In the group, I want to create a comfortable space where women feel secure about expressing themselves and their feelings. I also want it to be a space where people feel they’re heard. A lot of times, women get talked over or talked down to, and, if that happens enough, they stop talking entirely. So the group is definitely about encouraging women to use their voices. 

Beyond the group, I’d like to help build confidence in women business owners. I want to encourage more women to be speakers and writers and role models for women just starting out in the industry. I think the industry, as a whole, benefits from having as many diverse voices speaking as possible. I also think we all benefit from having the hard conversations. How do we deal with diversity? How are we, both men and women, offering support to each other? What attitudes need to change, and why? What’s frustrating, what’s maddening, and where do we see signs of progress? It might be interesting to have panels at trade shows where industry leaders, both men and women, get together to discuss these issues in front of an audience. It won’t always be fun and may sometimes be awkward or painful, but I think the best way to make progress for everyone is to get the issues out there and start talking about them.  

With it being National Business Women’s Week, what message do you want to send to the women in this industry? 

Be visible. Even if it’s just in your local community, make sure you’re being seen. If you’re inclined and have time, be a mentor to women and girls who want to do what you do. Pay attention to what’s happening in the industry and speak up when you see things you don’t think are right. Have confidence in your abilities and believe in your right to charge what your work is worth. Be proud of what you’ve accomplished, whether you’ve printed 10 things or ten-thousand things. Remember that everyone can contribute something to make the industry as a whole better. 

I think the most important message, though, is to be open. Be open to new experiences, to new perspectives, and to the possibility that you as an individual can have a greater impact than you realize.