Pandemic passion turned lifelong dream
MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Carpentry is traditionally a male dominated field, but one Milwaukee woman is changing that narrative one plywood at a time. Tonda Thompson is among a small group of women representing only 3% of the nation's working carpenters. It's partly that reason why Thompson named her woodworking business She Slangs Wood.
Thompson started She Slangs Wood at height of the pandemic when she saw her son playing on a table at home.
"He thought that he was Micky Mouse, he was standing on the table, a glass table, and the table kind of fell down and almost broke and shattered. I figured, 'hey I need to get a sturdy table, because I'm not going to keep this boy off this table," said Thompson.
Thompson looked everywhere for the right furniture but what she found wasn't to her liking. So, the Milwaukee mother decided to build one on her own.
"I learned how to build a table online, with YouTube. I go to YouTube University," said Thompson.
The carpenter posted an image of the table she built on social media and was met with an outpouring of support.
"I didn’t know if we were all going to be alive in the next couple of weeks or not in the beginning of pandemic," said Thompson. "I had to make some money, so I started selling tables," she added.
At the start of her new endeavor Thompson would work around her house, but her creations would prove just to be too good, out growing the space.
"With the money that I pretty much made selling tables I was able to buy a commercial building from the city of Milwaukee and we are now in the process of renovating that building right now," said Thompson.
The company was on the path for bigger and better, introducing women to the trade and offering employment to high school girls, that was until a renovation deal--- with a local contractor went south - leading to a legal battle.
"We were working out of the space that was pretty much just bones on the inside, it was cold there was water everywhere, and it got to a point I was like. 'Hey this is not safe for my young girls to work in.," said Thompson.
The conditions challenging but no match for Thompson's determination.
"I would have had to quit and let all these young girls know they didn’t have a job or, I had to figure out a way to make it work.
So, Thompson got to work.
"I made a Facebook post saying hey I need $60,000, I need a space for my girls, and I need five girls to work for me," said Thompson.
This call for help would be answered by "Arts @ large" -- a place dedicated to the arts.
"At that time, I talked to my CEO, and it wasn’t really an ask it was I know somebody who needs to be in this space, and he was like okay, I trust you so let's do it, said Symphony Swan, Senior Director of Programs at Arts @ large.
Arts @ Large has been providing a temporary workshop for She Slangs Wood since October, a move Swan said was a no brainer.
"I think there are so many great people do things in this city, and sometimes what's preventing their greatness for leveling up is just access to resources," said Swan.
Now Thompson on a mission she says is bigger than herself.
"It's not about me, you know, making a table, it's about you knowing that you can do anything that you want to do that's in your heart," said Thompson.
The businesswoman has been able to recoup all of her losses through community grants and investments, and not from the original contractor.
Thompson said she hopes her new workshop, which will be located in the city's Harambee neighborhood, will be up and operational by June 2023.
For more information on She Slangs Wood and their programs, click here.