In a male-dominated construction industry, this Philly woman seeks to empower others

Monica Miraglilo poses on a construction site

Monica Miraglilo worked her way into the construction industry after a career in modeling. Now she wants to empower other women to join her. (Girlbuild/Facebook)

The construction industry remains very male-dominated.

Longtime Philadelphia resident Monica Miraglilo wants to change that — one woman at a time.

“We’re unstoppable and we can conquer anything,” said Miraglilo.

Enter Girlbuild Lab. Launched in October, the online educational platform outlines the basics of home renovation, including how to design a project from scratch and how to finance it.

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The pre-recorded workshops, hosted by industry experts, are designed to give members a solid foundation to build on, whether they are looking to make improvements to their own homes or start a new career in real estate or construction. Titles include “The Basics of Demo,” “How to Install Laminate Floors,” “Why You Should Hire A Realtor,” and “How to Pitch Investors.”

For Miraglilo, it’s all about empowerment.

“I just really wanted to instill confidence, knowledge, and independence in women,” said Miraglilo. “I want them to be able to just know what they’re doing — if they want to get into the industry or if not, or even if they come across a contractor and they need to know the language, because a lot of times a lot of women have been taken advantage of.”

Annual membership costs $147 and provides access to the platform’s entire catalog, which includes more than a dozen videos, as well as the ability to confer with Miraglilo. Each video is approximately 10 to 15 minutes long.

For an additional fee, members can hire Miraglilo to consult on their project. She’s currently helping two women renovate and sell some of their first investment properties.

And while Miraglilo launched Girlbuild with women in mind, she said men are more than welcome.

“I’m not bashing any man. I’ve learned from some of the best men in the industry. My mentor was a man,” she said.

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Miraglilo traces her company’s roots to 2000, when she was a single mom buying her first home in East Falls. This after she spent years as a professional model — here and abroad.

At the time, Miraglilo had never renovated a property. But she had an eye for design and got to work.

Her mother and others thought she might be making a mistake.

“I made some mistakes, but the beauty of it: I was able to make them on my own,” she said. “Eventually I got it right, I taught myself, I did my own DIY projects.”

That led to a fledgling business after people saw the work she did in her home and wanted the same treatment in theirs. Fast forward to the present, and Miraglilo now works in the industry full time — both on her own and with her husband.

Working with investors, the couple buys single-family homes, then renovates and sells them. Miraglilo designs and prepares the properties to be renovated. Her husband, a general contractor, makes Miraglilo’s designs come to life.

To date, they’ve fixed and flipped more than 60 homes. Most of their projects are in the Philadelphia region.

“We’ve had maybe eight properties going on at the same time,” said Miraglilo.

It’s a far cry from a photoshoot in Italy, but Miraglilo said she isn’t surprised she’s become a permanent fixture in the construction industry.

“I kind of had an inclination,” she said with a laugh. “I was always one to do everything on my own. I never waited for anyone.”

That can-do attitude is a big reason why New Yorker Matasa Williams cold-called Miraglilo early last year.

Williams and her business partner had purchased three properties in Philadelphia to renovate and sell. But they were still “rookies” in the industry, and thought Miraglilo would make a great mentor after discovering her work on social media.

They joined Girlbuild soon afterward.

“It was just like a breath of fresh air because you don’t see many women doing [renovations] — picking up tools and actually doing it,” said Williams, who produces television award shows.

“Sometimes it comes across as intimidating, like, ‘Oh, I can’t do that. I can’t put up a piece of drywall’ or ‘I can’t sand this or do this or do that.’ And to see her with a hard hat on and getting in there and mudding and taping drywall sheets was very inspiring,” she said.

The property Williams and her partner bought in South Philly is now on the market. The other two in West Philly aren’t too far behind. Williams said Miraglilo has taught them invaluable lessons, including what is and isn’t worth spending real money on during a renovation.

Williams said working with Miraglilo has made her feel more like a pro than she did before buying the properties in Philly, which will be sold as single-family homes.

“She definitely helped us recognize our voice, and also equipped us with the knowledge needed to get this stuff done,” said Williams.

Broke in PhillyWHYY is one of over 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly.

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