Growing the Trade

June 26, 2019

For Connie Manjavinos, the industry is about empowerment, opportunity and growth.

One day after work, Connie Manjavinos was on her way home when a neighbor asked her if she had been baking. Head to foot, she was covered in white powder, dusted on her elbows and smeared across her face.

“No,” she said, “this is Bondo!”

She had forgotten to dust herself off before leaving the shop. Today, Manjavinos still recalls how her neighbor’s whole demeanor changed when he realized she was in collision repair and paint. It’s that Ah-ha! moment Manjavinos wants to spread among the paint and repair industry.

After stumbling upon the industry as a young woman, she abandoned her dream of becoming a police officer and took up the spray gun. 

“The passion for paint was there and just exploded once I found it,” she says. 

That passion has treated Manjavinos well. Now, more than a decade into her painting career, Manjavinos is doing everything she can to encourage young women to do the same. 

She started to post before/after work on Instagram around 2014, and over time found more and more women doing the same. 

“It was a rabbit hole,” she says, “that led down more rabbit holes. I thought I was the only girl.” She created a page and a hashtag, and the rest is history.

“I wanted to shed light on these girls,” she remembers.

Girls Behind the Gun

Searching Instagram for #GirlsBehindTheGun is an eye-opening experience. At 19,000 posts and counting, updated every day, and contributed to by as diverse a set of women imaginable, Manjavinos’ initial foray into empowering women in the industry has reached critical mass, exploding into something much larger. Photos of women in all stages of the paint process are everywhere—some with masks on, some in the paint booth, some posting videos of multicolored flake applications and before/after projects from their shops. What they all have in common, however, is a look in the eye, a jaunty challenge to the camera that says, “I am not alone, and neither are you.”

“This is a [great] trade to know,” Manjavinos says, “one that too few women don’t realize is a viable option for a fantastic career.”

Manjavinos understands that such a historically male-dominated industry tends to scare away aspiring women who simply don’t realize the opportunities available—or are too hesitant—when they decide to put on the jumpsuit and enter the paint booth. There are talented women out there with real skills in hand/eye coordination, adept with a paint brush or pen, who don’t know they can make real money and find rewarding careers in automotive.

“The best thing with GBTG is from parents,” she says. She describes a recent thank-you note from a mother who says her daughter took to auto body in high school, loved it, and wanted to go to a vocational school against her parent’s wishes, who wanted her to become a nurse. 

“The young woman showed her mom Girls Behind the Gun and all the successful women who went through rabbit holes just like I did. It’s all women, page after page—she just wanted to thank me and now they’re supporting her decision. That is the reason we continue to do this.”

Today, Manjavinos works at Kiddy’s Classics Automotive Restoration in Jensen Beach, FL. The owner of Kiddy’s Classics had emailed Manjavinos, not realizing she was the woman responsible for Girls Behind the Gun. Manjavinos had intended to visit 10 shops in Florida looking for a job, and that just happened to be the first. She’s been there ever since.

Involving the Industry

Since taking up the gun, Manjavinos has been all over the country promoting the industry, encouraging young women to follow their passions and acting as a conduit through which all paint (and painters) flow.

She’s worked on promotional videos for SATA, working with other paint celebrities such as Miguel Perez (Refinish Kulture) and Jeremy Winters (Boothtalk). 

“Everyone I work with at SATA is like family,” she says in a recent video. 

Manjavinos also partners with airbrush artist Josh Bourassa for Project Zero, a charity event for foster children which combines hands-on activities (such as painting and airbrushing) in a venue for prospective parents to interact with children.

“It hits home for me,” Manjavinos says.

In her youth, Manjavinos spent some time as a foster child as well, so she understands the import of events such as Project Zero, where the same part of her that wanted to become a police officer finds an outlet.

“It’s amazing to be one-on-one with the kids...Sometimes they tell you their struggles and others don’t even know why they’re there, but kids get adopted there. It’s OK to be loved and I want to be a part of that—it does wonders for the soul.”

At the annual SEMA convention in Las Vegas, Manjavinos co-hosts the Babes in Trades dinner. The dinner found women from Canada to Australia sharing their stories, and the first Babes in Trades dinner had over 20 attendants. 

“Think what it could be!” she exclaims. 

Letting the Work Speak for Itself

For young women who aspire to paint, Manjavinos’ main advice is to go slow, take it easy, and learn from those around you.

“Don’t act like you know it all,” she says.

“Step back and go along for the ride; see what you’re good at, what you’re not good at. All parties need to widen their perspectives. It’s a hard industry, but you chose this because you like it and with practice you’ll be good at it. It takes time. It doesn’t happen overnight. Put yourself out there and get a mentor if you can. Accept failure and keep looking ahead.”

Manjavinos is still learning. At 27 years old, she’s only scratched the surface of what the industry is and can be, and the goal of Girls Behind the Gun is to empower people in a positive way. 

At 20,000 followers and growing, she’s off to a pretty good start.

To learn more about the women in automotive refinish, check out @GirlsBehindTheGun on Instagram. 

The Painter's Playbook is presented by PPG and SATA/Dan-Am Co.

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