Let me tell you, wood working is h-a-r-d. I would know. I took a sculpture class in college and we were required to take a test on the saws. I figured it would be easy, how many saws can there really be? Well, a lot...I failed my test so I have a lot of respect for this trait.
Our friend, Bijou, is a working mama and put all fears aside as she left the corporate world and started her own custom wood working studio, Big Fir Designs, creating everything from reclaimed dining room tables to gorgeous bath tub trays. Her pieces are all unique, using either reclaimed or salvaged woods from the Pacific Northwest, so no two items are ever the same.
A female wood worker, say what? Entering a male dominated industry is intimidating, but Bijou didn't let that hold her back. In fact, she celebrated her differences and recognized that women have a different approach to wood working, which has helped grow her business into what it is today and she's here to give other mamas some tips on how to crush it.
How did you get started in wood working?
I was in an industry that wasn't feeding my soul prior to being a business owner. I'm a creative and woodworking became an outlet. I began building out of hobby and realized that this is something that may be successful as a business. If I could build custom furniture and provide a relationship and service, this could really be something. I also grew up as a little girl watching my Grandfather build just about anything. He would create gifts, heirloom quality pieces and just about anything you could imagine. I was always in awe of the extraordinary items that would could from his shop.
Everything I know is self taught, I was motivated and inspired to design and create artisanal quality pieces. So, I just started building and used the tools that we had, old dingy hand me downs- but I made do with what I had. As I became more knowledgeable and skilled, I was able to upgrade tools slowly. It was a journey, and still is. There is always something to fine tune, perfect and learn.
What obstacles did you face being a woman in the industry?
At first, people would ask me if I was really the person who ran the business or if I was really the woodworker. It shocked many that I would use equipment like chop saws, planers, jointers, even drills! Being a younger female in a man's world took time to prove myself, but, with time, I've proven that I'm serious about the process and this industry.
How was being a woman helped you?
In general, I understand how women want to shop. A custom piece can totally transform a room and I'm able to see their space and create unique pieces that tie everything together. Having a strong design sense helps me deliver solutions that a male might not be able to conceptualize.
If anything, I've inspired other women to embrace their talents and not be so concerned about the stereotype that is in a particular industry. Along my journey, I've met so many amazing females who are also woodworking professionals!
What advice would you give to a woman who is trying to break into a male dominated industry?
Stay true to yourself and your goals. People transform with proof and can recognize hard work and diligence. Just like any relationship in life whether it's business or personal, you have to prove yourself. I've always stayed confident, yet open to feedback and learning. I've found that this is a field that many professionals love to share, teach and talk about their skills. If you approach anything in life with an open mind and passion, it is crazy how much you can learn. I've also taught myself to find the pearl in every experience. Having strong morals and being honest (admitting to my mistakes) has really aided my success in an industry with men.
Bijou is the founder, creator and wood worker at Big Fir Designs. Her workshop is located right outside Portland, Oregon in the city of West Linn. Big Fir Designs specializes in hand made custom furniture + home decor for your space. Blending unique wood with metal fabrication is one of her favorite design elements. You can follow her on Instagram at @bigfirdesigns.