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'We are needed': Queer and trans carpenters start renovations company

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Kate Wilton and Greer Roberts pose with their company truck outside a worksite. The two began their queer carpentry buisness, Splitgill Carpentry, on Oct. 3 of last year.

After years of experience working in the male-dominated carpentry industry, Kate Wilton and Greer Roberts — who both identify as queer — decided to create their own, queer space in the field.

Wilton and Roberts officially started their queer and trans-owned carpentry business, Splitgill Carpentry, on Oct. 3. About half of Splitgill's clientele identifies as queer or trans, Roberts said, and the pair designed the business to ensure their clients feel comfortable and safe when they hire Splitgill to work in their homes.

“It was inspiring for us to step out on our own and get started, knowing that there is a market for us,” Wilton said. “We are needed.”

Wilton and Roberts met in 2021 working for Hope Renovations, a nonprofit construction organization focused on improving accessibility for affordable prices. Wilton said their work at Hope Renovations inspired Splitgill's business model.

“Being able to work with folks who otherwise wouldn't be able to afford services like this was really impactful, and we wanted to be able to continue doing that in some way,” Roberts said.

Wilton and Roberts named their Triangle-based company after the so-called “queer icon” of the plant world: the splitgill mushroom, which has over 20,000 sexes.

Wilton said the carpentry industry is historically dominated by cisgender men and can be toxic and unwelcoming toward other genders. Wilton identifies as queer, and Roberts identifies as queer and trans.

“If it's not cis male dominated, it’s very women centered,” Roberts said. “Which is cool, and that needs to be a space. But that doesn't really fit either of us, so we needed to make our own space.”

Splitgill client Tommy White, who identifies as non-binary, hired Wilton and Roberts to renovate their shower after learning Splitgill is a queer and trans team. White said they were relieved to avoid their usual fear of discrimination when inviting strangers into their home.

White said they felt respected and comfortable with Wilton and Roberts during their initial assessment.

“I didn't need to stress beforehand about what clothes to wear to obscure my gender presentation, if I should talk in a high or low voice based on what gender I might be perceived as that day, or if I needed a cis man friend to be present when they came,” White said in an email.

Splitgill’s estimate for White's shower repair, they said, was much more affordable than others they had received, and that they were pleased with Splitgill’s transparent communication about the costs of the project.

Roberts said there is a gap in the market for clients who are often unable to afford home renovations but don’t qualify for financial assistance. To address this, Splitgill has a sliding scale that encourages clients to self-determine an hourly rate, ranging from $50 to $100 per hour. 

The business places a lot of trust in its clients to be accurate and reflective when considering where they fall on the scale, Roberts said.

Splitgill also aims to cut costs while minimizing waste by reusing materials when possible. Wilton said because the owners both come from a renovations background rather than new construction, they are used to getting creative to reuse existing parts.

Roberts and Wilton said Splitgill is getting booked up faster than expected, and have over 40 potential clients in addition to several clients they have already worked with. Within the next few months, they are hoping to hire a part-time employee, and Roberts said they want to create a “queer army” by taking on apprentices to give back to an industry that helped them start out their careers.

They are also accepting donations for a van to more efficiently transport equipment to their job sites, and so far have raised $500.

Wilton said she hopes to inspire more people in minority communities to start their own businesses too.

"I never thought I could do this because I was never shown it,” Wilton said. “It's extremely empowering to be running my own business right now."

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com

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