Photo courtesy of Jody Christopherson.

From Corporate to Startup: Melanie Adams’ Journey in Revolutionizing Women’s Workwear

Imagine standing in the middle of your favorite gas plant in picturesque Moab, Utah, its colossal engines humming with power. And you’ve just completed an environmental, health and safety (EH&S) audit, surrounded by a fractionation unit, sulfur recovery unit, helium processing plant, incinerator and flare. This was my reality, delving into the intricate world of energy facilities, learning from remarkable individuals who dedicated their lives to powering the world.

However, the narrative takes a turn when, after the audit, my boss and colleagues – all men – decide to break for lunch at a local Mexican restaurant. Clad in oversized, frumpy coveralls adorned with a square name patch, I was told I looked like a HVAC mechanic instead of a lunch patron.

Now, that is fine if that is your job, but that was not my job; I was an air quality specialist at the time. Fortunately, I was able to change my look before we walked into the restaurant by unzipping my coverall halfway and tying it around my waist and at least having a “normal” women’s shirt on the top half. The discomfort and humiliation of that day led me to question the options for personal protective equipment (PPE) designed for women in industrial roles. I looked and looked and there was really nothing other than garments claiming to be for women; I mean, there was a pink button front shirt with some darts. That had to be good enough, right? That was 2007.

From Corporate to Startup: Melanie Adams’ Journey in Revolutionizing Women’s Workwear

Let’s rewind even further to 2001, when I started at the front desk of Alberta Energy Company, then Encana, and now Ovintiv. Hired at age 19 as the receptionist through a temp agency, my mother aptly named me the “Director of First Impressions.” Little did I know that this temporary position during a transitional period at the company would leave a lasting mark. Several executives still at the company today first encountered me at that front desk, and this summer job became the cornerstone of my enduring career in the energy industry.

Initially enrolled at Colorado State University in bio chem with dreams of becoming a doctor, my aspirations shifted during a first-year seminar class. The sight of scrubs, lab coats, and discussions about peptide bonds and bodily fluids didn’t resonate with me. The growing energy company I was part of, however, was filled with incredible people solving the complex problem of bringing energy to the world – and they offered to pay for my education. The lure of paid education was too compelling to resist, so I switched schools and pursued a business degree, and later received a master’s in environmental policy, all while working full time.

Over the next 18 years, I wore various hats at the company: assistant to the President (and lead party planner), permitting agent, regulatory analyst, management systems coordinator, and finally corporate EH&S advisor. I transitioned from the conference room, where I felt comfortable and confident as the youngest and often only female, to the field. The disparity in comfort and confidence between these two settings fueled my quest for workwear that aligned with my identity. It took years to find a solution and, even then, the options were far from satisfactory and were still dominated by ill-fitting men’s wear.

Then, a layoff in 2019 served as a divine intervention, redirecting my trajectory. Grateful for the opportunities and the two fully paid degrees, I embarked on a new path, seamlessly blending my corporate experience with a passion for solving this problem for the millions of women working in industrial roles.

From Corporate to Startup: Melanie Adams’ Journey in Revolutionizing Women’s Workwear

Another turning point occurred in 2019 during Denver Startup Week, the largest free entrepreneurial event in the country. Inspired by the vibrant entrepreneurial community, I absorbed invaluable lessons, with the resounding takeaway being to “just go for it.” Taking the leap, I founded my startup, Embher, a venture driven not only by business, but by a deep seated passion for bringing comfortable and professionally appropriate workwear for women to the market.

With no background in clothing design or manufacturing, I embarked on a journey of learning. Enrolling in a 14-week pattern making course, followed by a 3D garment design program, I fortified my technical understanding. Advisors with experience in the apparel industry provided crucial contacts for sourcing and manufacturing and Embher was introduced to the market in Jan 2023.

Today, my work is more than a financial investment; it’s a commitment fueled by passion. I am dedicated to providing quality flame resistant clothing for women that is not only professionally appropriate, but also supremely comfortable. I am my target market, a unique position that sets me apart in the entrepreneurial landscape. I have intentionally curated a collection of garments to offer women choices that reflect true women’s clothing, rather than merely presenting a pink iteration of men’s apparel. The significance of women’s workwear extends beyond appearances; it is a critical aspect of safety.

Photo courtesy of Jody Christopherson.
Photo courtesy of Jody Christopherson.

PPE serves the purpose of safeguarding individuals without becoming a hazard itself. When women are forced to roll the sleeves, cuff the pants or alter the waist for a proper fit, it not only diminishes the effectiveness of the PPE, but also raises safety concerns. PPE is a vital tool for workers to execute their tasks safely and shield themselves from potential hazards in their work environments.

Just as you wouldn’t hand someone a hammer when they need a wrench, it’s time to equip women with workwear that allows them to perform their jobs safely and efficiently. Providing women with appropriate workwear is a testament to our commitment to each individual’s well-being on the job. It signifies recognizing their unique needs and ensuring they have the right tools to navigate their work environments safely and confidently.

My journey from an energy professional to a pioneering entrepreneur in women’s workwear is a testament to resilience, innovation and the unwavering pursuit of a revolution. Embher is not just a business venture; it’s a movement, an inspiration for women navigating traditionally male populated fields. As I strive to create the best flame resistant workwear for women, I look forward to a future where women are no longer forced to choose between safety and style. The journey continues, and I am excited for what lies ahead.

Headline photo courtesy of Jody Christopherson.

Author profile
Melanie Adams
Founder - Embher

Melanie Adams is a proud Colorado native who dedicated 18 years to a major oil and gas company in Denver, thriving in diverse roles across administrative, permitting and regulatory, and environmental, health and safety. Her educational journey includes a bachelor’s degree in Business Management from the University of Colorado at Denver and a master’s degree in Environmental Policy – Natural Resource Management from the University of Denver.

Driven by her awareness of a prevalent industry problem faced by women like herself, Adams founded Embher, a leading brand of flame-resistant clothing designed for women. Tired of enduring scratchy, ill-fitting flame-resistant attire that mirrored men’s wear during her fieldwork, she embarked on a mission to design comfortable and professionally appropriate flame-resistant clothing tailored specifically for women.

Beyond her professional endeavors, Adams enjoys exploring both local and international destinations alongside her husband, who thrives in the equally fascinating industry of wine importing. She enjoys golfing, hiking, gardening and fly fishing. Adams is actively involved in the community, serving on the Advisory Board for the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. She is also a member of various women’s organizations, channeling her passion into inspiring young girls to pursue careers in STEM and the trades.

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