Women Helping Women Through Clothes

As Toronto's LG Fashion Week kicks off this week, CanadaFashionLaw eagerly clasps her fashion week industry passes in anticipation of a week full of runway shows.  (I love my job!) But before the festival of fabulousness commences, CanadaFashionLaw wants to pause for a cause.  CanadaFashionLaw recently became aware of a great organization, Dress For Success, that aims to help women launch their career through the gift of clothes.  In the interview below, CanadaFashionLaw hopes to tap into the season of giving a little early.

Tell us about your organization and what it aims to achieve.

The mission of Dress for Success Toronto is to promote the economic independence of disadvantaged women by providing professional attire, a network of support and the career development tools to help women thrive in work and in life.

Our programs include the Suiting Program, which outfits women in professional attire for job interviews and employment; the Dress Rehersal Program where clients go through a mock interview and feedback session and can get assistance with resume/cover letter writing; and the Profesional Women's Group, which offers women ongoing support as they successfully transition into the workplace. 

How has the response been in Toronto?

The response in Toronto has been extremely positive.  Dress for Success Toronto serves job-ready women by referral only through our community partnerships with over 300 non-profit organizations.  Clients come to us from domestic violence agencies, homeless shelters and job-training programs. We work together with our referring agencies to provide delivery of services designed to elevate the lives of low income women and their families.

The concept goes way beyond clothes.  Women helping women really seems to be a central theme.  Can you share any success stories?

Latoya was introduced to Dress for Success Toronto in 2009 by a government employment centre.    She came to use our services and was encouraged to sign up for mentorship, assistance with resume writing and once she landed a job, she was invited to join the Professional Women’s Group, a group for newly employed women that have used our services that offers monthly workshops, networking and support.  When I asked Latoya about what this organization means to her, this is the response she gave:

“A suit will last a year a two but it’s the lessons and support we receive that will last a life time and help us to better integrate and become successful in our lives and career.   Dress for Success is a driving force in my career development.  Getting a job is just the beginning, you have to start over, re-qualify and work your way up. This can be very demanding, difficult and challenging at times. I am better able to balance both personal and work life and cope with a new culture through the workshops and support I receive at Dress for Success.  This is more than just about suits; it is part of my survival. I may have received suits on my first visit but it’s the encouragement, support, joy and fulfillment that I receive that keeps me coming back.”
What are the biggest challenges that your organization has faced?

Our biggest challenge is that people think we're just about the suits!  The Suiting Program is an important part of what we do; however, our other programming is also essential to helping women become self-sufficient by addressing their social and economic needs in relation to work.  For example, the Professional Women's Group offers women ongoing support as they successfully transition into the workforce, build thriving careers and prosper in the mainstream workplace.  Funding to support all the other programming we do is essential in order for us to fulfill our mission.  We can't run our quality programming on clothing donations alone. 

There is a lot of buzz about your organization’s Fundraising Gala on November 2, 2011 at the Bata Shoe Museum.  Can you give us the scoop?

It is Dress for Success Toronto’s inaugural Fundraising Gala!  The theme of the night is “Most Memorable Shoes” while guests are having a “Heel of a Good Time!” Attendees will enjoy refreshments and hors d’oeuvres while watching a fashion show featuring the EDIT by Jeanne Beker denim collection and Ron White Shoes, complemented by the original fashions of GISH (Girls in Skirts), Sarah Stevenson Designs and MINK, talented local Toronto designers.

There will be signature cocktails, and “innovative interactive entertainment” for guests to enjoy.  We also have a special guest appearance and book signing by internationally renowned Canadian fashion icon, Jeanne Beker!

More information about the event, including ticket sales, can be found on our website: www.dressforsuccess.org/toronto

How else can people roll up their sleeves and help out? 

Dress for Success Toronto has several opportunities for individuals to get involved.

We take donations of new and gently used professional attire at our 188 Lowther Avenue location in Toronto.  Individuals interested in donating to us can go to our website for more information (www.dressforsuccess.org/Toronto) or e-mail us at donate@dressforsuccesstoronto.org.

We also have several ways an individual can volunteer!  Volunteer roles include stylists, merchandisers and career services.  Anyone interested in volunteering with us can e-mail volunteer@dressforsuccesstoronto.org.  With the help of our volunteers, we can continue to have a positive impact on the lives of low income women, their children and future generations.

Through a $100 donation, you can give one woman access to the whole suite of Dress for Success programs.  We all know how good it feels to put on the right outfit when headed out to a big meeting or event - first impressions are key, so imagine if you didn't have this ability!  Your $100 donation can make this difference.  Holiday season is just around the corner and helping one individual take the steps back into the workforce can make this a happy holiday season with hope for the future.  Donations can be made online through our website (www.dressforsuccess.org/toronto)