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Women in Skilled Trades

How Queer Eye’s Bobby Berk Is Empowering Women in Construction

Photos: Courtesy of Luke Fontana and Bobby Berk

Bobby Berk, best known as the home designer on Netflix’s Queer Eye, struggled in his youth and early career but he always persevered. Now he’s sharing his story hoping to inspire others to believe in themselves too.

These days Queer Eye’s Bobby Berk has a full-service interior design and creative firm, as well as a furniture line. His website is a lifestyle destination for design, food, fashion and more.

But that success didn’t come easy. Berk didn’t finish high school and left home at 15.

“I left home because I knew I needed to come out and coming out at home wasn’t really an option. Not just at home, but even in my town,” he says.

Berk moved to Springfield, Missouri where he couch-surfed, lived in his car and on the streets before getting a steady job as a telemarketer. He moved to Denver a few years later. He calls the experience a, “come-to-know-myself time in my life.”

Looking back, he remembers his friends supporting him and advises other people starting out: “Find your tribe, find people that will support you. You know, nobody can do it on their own.”

Saying yes

When he was 21, Berk moved to New York City with just $100. It took him three months to find a job. He worked retail and later ran a furniture company’s website out of his NYC apartment. When that company filed for bankruptcy, he was out of a job. That’s when he decided to start his own online company selling furniture, Bobby Berk Home.

“Back then I was one of the only stores online selling furniture,” he says, explaining it was tough at first but he said he was a success with in a year. Soon he opened a store in New York’s SOHO neighborhood.

While Berk didn’t have a high school diploma, college degree, training, or professional experience starting out, he always had vision and believed in himself. His motto was to always say “yes” to a project and never take “no” for an answer.

“I never focused on my skills because I didn’t have any,” he says. “I’d go into an interview and I’d sell myself, I’d sell people on wanting to work with me.”

For his first design job in 2015, Berk was tasked with designing show homes for the International Builder Show. The project involved construction details, like title layouts and electrical plans. Even though he’d never done anything like that before, Berk did lots of research and figured it out.

By 2018, he was the designer on Netflix’s Queer Eye, which has catapulted his brand. He encourages people starting out to work for someone else and find a mentor.

“You need to learn how to take those gigs because if you take a big gig, and you’re not prepared for it, that can be it,” he says. “You know you can ruin your name and your brand before you even get going.”

Gender disparity in the carpentry industry

Even though carpentry is male-dominated, Berk is starting to see more women in the industry. He’s happy about that change.

On “Queer Eye” seasons one through four, the respective heads of construction were both female. Even though the women weren’t on camera often, Berk wanted viewers to see them in the background.

“I wanted to make sure that I was having the world see that visual, because the more you see things, the more it becomes normal, and you don’t even think of it,” he says. “The next time a female contractor shows up to your house it’s not, ‘a female contractor,’ it’s just, ‘oh a contractor.’”

Berk says it’s all about breaking the gender norms: “Anyone can do any job, it doesn’t matter what gender you are.”

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