Clothing initiative lends a helping hand to women in Derry

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Sarah Quinn is a project manager in Derry and, together with a group of dedicated volunteers, she ensures that women who use the service not only leave with an outfit, but also leave with a boost of confidence.

Sarah said: “Dress for Success started here in the Northwest in 2018. Marie Brown, Executive Director of Foyle Women’s Aid, was at a family justice center in Colorado where she saw an affiliate of Dress for Success. She then proceeded to bring him here. It’s a global non-profit movement that supports and empowers women to become more financially independent. We do this by providing women with appropriate clothing for work, interviews or occasionally attending court.

“We provide clothing, but we also provide basic employability support like interview techniques and we have HR experts who can help with CVs. Ideally we want to offer that as a whole to offer women the best chance possible to be the best version of themselves.

Sarah Quinn, program manager for Dress for Success NI in their “shop” at Foyle Women’s Aid.

“Women can be referred to us by other support agencies, like the Job Assist Center here in Derry, for example. They offer a ten week nursing certificate program for unemployed women. At the end of these ten weeks, they are guaranteed an interview with a local healthcare organization. We book the boutique and they come in and get their hair done for an interview. Women say they imagine this is what a personal shopping experience is like, they love the experience.

“Majority of the clothes are new. We have a good relationship with Marks & Spencer, some of their end-of-line stock would come to us. Anything that’s not suitable for the job, we either pass it on to charity or we let’s keep a stock of more casual clothes for women who might come to us in a crisis.

“Allstate NI has been very supportive of Dress for Success NI. They are a charity partner of Women’s Aid in the north, they sponsored the fitting out of our shop in Belfast and provided a team of volunteers to build the furniture. We also run pop-up sales throughout the year, which not only helps us redistribute stock, but also gives women a chance to grab a bargain. We hold corporate clothing drives, where organizations call on staff to donate items in their wardrobes with the tags still in place or very lightly worn. We have a great relationship with New Look here in Derry where they give us 25% off when we occasionally need to buy new things, usually for younger ladies we can get a lot more than we would other. This helps ensure that we have the right outfit for every woman who walks through the doors.

“We want to watch ‘Beyond the Suit’ and dress the women on the inside. Putting on a new outfit can make all the difference and you can see it when customers come here. Women become very emotional when they arrive, especially new mothers or women who have experienced domestic violence and other significant traumas or upheavals in their lives. They’ve taken a hit to their confidence and hid their bodies, they don’t feel comfortable going to stores, so it gives us a chance to help them try new things and often they surprise themselves. Often they become emotional and see the best in themselves. For us, it’s about helping them bring that out and it’s amazing the difference in them when they leave here. I think having that one-on-one date, getting style advice, and trying on clothes they might not normally try on, really helps develop their trust.

The Dress for Success store, where women can pick up an outfit for a job interview, court appearance, or other event they might need it for.
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