Alice Brooking: Women in Drywall

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For someone who’s supposedly on maternity leave right now, Alice Brooking sure seems to have a lot on her plate. Besides caring for her nearly one-year-old baby and five-year-old son, you’ll find the Auckland, New Zealand native doing sponsored posts on her Instagram for everything from activewear to skincare to cocktails. Plus, did we mention she’s a drywall finisher?

Right now, Alice is limiting herself to smaller jobs and finding balance in her finishing work (or, as it’s known in New Zealand, “plastering,” even though Kiwi tapers use pretty much all the same gypsum materials as they do in North America). This scaling back in her work is the result of learning her limits the hard way. A few years back, once her first child was able to start going into daycare, she went back to work full-time, and found herself in a place countless mothers know all too well — totally burnt out.

Alice Brooking - Women in Drywall
Alice Brooking - Women in Drywall

“I ended up just trying to take on too much work, do all of the mom life stuff, all the housework, all of the dinners, all of that, as well as just working nights,” Alice said of that time. “I was working five days, and then going back to work at night after I'd put him to sleep. I ended up having a big burnout, and ended up at the A&E [clinic] on a drip, because I just worked myself way too hard, as well as trying to juggle life.

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“That's when I realized, well, I really have to slow down, and just try to balance things better, because mom life is a full-time job, and when you put that along with another full-time job, like a physical full-time job, it's a lot. That was a big wake-up call, having a burnout. Now, this time ’round, I've been really mindful of not taking on too much … I've just been doing little small jobs that I can take him to, and put him in my baby carrier — just being really selective about the jobs that I take on. Even though I'd love to take on bigger ones and just do all the things, it's really not a good idea for me, because I don't want to end up burnt out again, this time with two kids, not just one. So, that's been a real learning curve with balancing everything.”

‘It has to be something you really love’

Alice has been in and around the drywall trade for essentially her entire life. With five other tapers in her family, the trade is practically part of her DNA.

Alice’s father is a taper, and at around five years old, he started taking her onto jobsites with him. She recalls scraping floors, mudding screw heads and, when she got a bit older, pushing around his scaffold — just the “super boring” stuff, she says.

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Once she was able, she moved from her rural hometown (about an hour north of Auckland) to the city proper, working odd jobs like bartending that never quite felt like a good fit. Soon enough, she fell back in love with the art of drywall finishing, and her father took her on as an apprentice full-time to really master the craft she was raised in. Ever since, for the last decade or so, she’s been a taping machine, only ever slowing down to raise her family.

“The only reason I've stopped is because I physically couldn't when having babies and stuff,” Alice told us. “I really enjoy it. I was talking to a client the other day, and he was saying he likes painting, but he couldn't imagine doing drywall. I was like, yes, well, it has to be something you really love. You have to be really passionate about it to stick with it, because it's not a glamorous job, and it's hard work, and it's dust, and it's dry hands … but I love that it's a physical job, because I've never gone to the gym in my whole life!”

Women in Drywall: ‘This is a worldwide thing’

While Alice grew up around drywall knives and buckets of mud, there’s one newer tool that’s totally changed the way she does business: social media. These days, Alice says most of her work comes in through social media, especially on local Facebook pages.

“It started off as just for fun,” Alice says of her early days of posting to her social pages. “I've been working for years and years and I've never shown any of my work, and then one day I was like, oh, maybe I should start posting about this. Then, it turns out people like seeing it — there's a drywall niche I didn't even know about!”

On Instagram, Alice has gained a sizable following — around 37,000 followers at the time of writing, and counting. Posting on social media hasn’t just been a fantastic source of business for her, but a place to connect with drywall finishers like her from all over the world, far from the fairly remote island of New Zealand.

Before finding out about that online “drywall niche,” Alice had only ever met one other woman working in the drywall trades; now, she was able to talk to numerous other mothers, daughters and sisters who shared her craft and her passion.

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“When I first started my page, I was just blown away by what other people were doing, and it was real motivation,” Alice told us. “When I started, I was motivated by The Taping Queen and Leah [Pawluk]. They were like, ‘Wow, I can't believe that this other woman is doing this overseas — this is a worldwide thing!’ I just couldn't believe it, because I'd never really seen that before.

“I've had people message me saying that they would love to do this, and how could they get into it? Or they've messaged me asking, how I manage babies in doing this job? I had a lady recently who would really like to get into it, and was wondering just how flexible it is, or like what it would be like working for a company. And while I can't comment on that, because I've only ever worked for dad or myself, I just said, ‘It's a really great job. Once you put the initial hard yards and get the experience and the skills, it's super easy to just go out on your own, and then the world is your oyster.’ You've got flexible hours, you can take on what you want to take on, or like the size of the job — if you just want to do a couple of small jobs and work it around children, then it's easy to do that.”

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Follow Alice Brooking’s Instagram page, @that.plastering.girl, to keep up with her whirlwind life of balancing two children and a career in drywall finishing. On any given day, you’ll probably find her with a taping knife in one hand, a mud pan in the other, and a baby strapped to her back. Maybe you’ll even spot another, five-year-old child wiping mud onto screw heads — just like she once did while on jobsites with her father.

Hit the button below to learn more about Trim-Tex’s ongoing “Women in Drywall” series, where we share the stories of women like Alice who are changing the face of an industry.

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