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Workplace Wardrobe Success Story

For immediate use 14 January 2008

Workplace Wardrobe Success Story

Many women in the Canterbury workforce have a charitable agency to thank for expanding their horizons – and their wardrobe.

“Dress for Success” is a not-for-profit organisation which helps disadvantaged women into the workforce, through offering a personal grooming consultancy and suitable clothes donated by city businesswomen. Executive manager Lisa Ward says the Christchurch branch has dressed almost 1100 women for work and says she gets huge satisfaction from the flow-on effects of that.

“I love seeing these women believe in themselves and make more of their lives,” she says. “We see them grow in confidence and take pride in contributing to society. It gives them so much more than an income and helps their families too.”

Lisa’s clients are referred by various agencies through being assessed as on low income and actively seeking work. Women who meet the criteria are outfitted from top to toe in clothing appropriate to the role they are seeking. When they get the job, they are given a second outfit to help them get through the first week or two.

“Dress for Success” seems to have struck a chord with local women. Lisa says businesswomen regularly offer spare clothing to the scheme or volunteer to work with the clients.

“Women love this concept because they have clothes they no longer wear but which are too good to throw away, so donating them to us to help another woman on her way is ideal,” says Lisa.

Some businesses donate clothing or accessories to the charity’s wardrobes, while others offer services such as dry-cleaning. In the States, where the concept began, high-profile people including Oprah Winfrey, Lisa Kudrow and Donald Trump are vocal supporters.

“The scheme has captured people’s imagination and helped so many women on their way,” she says. “We see women return to the workforce after illness, caring for someone else or having their family, as well as women who for various reasons have never had a job.

“I can recall lots of happy outcomes. One woman who’d had a long illness went from track pants to trouser suit and two job offers. Another young woman came to us as a student with no wardrobe and no income and is now working in an international role in America.”

New Zealand’s “Dress for Success” affiliates have recently enjoyed success of their own. They were awarded the worldwide organisation’s international “Sisterhood Award”, for their collegial attitude to their work.

“The Americans are very pleased with us, but not half as pleased as we feel when we see a woman’s confidence grow through our support,” Lisa says. “Putting on the right clothes makes the women feel the part and when they feel the part they can go get it.”


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