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 clothes for work, interviews or dressing them for 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.
“Women are referred to us by another agency, like the Job Assistant Center here in Derry, for example. They offer a ten week nursing certificate program for unemployed women. The idea is that after these ten weeks, they are guaranteed an interview with Praxis Care. There might be five or six of them, so we book the shop and they come in and get ready for an interview. Women say they imagine it’s a personal shopping experience, they love it!
“Majority of the clothes are new. We have a good relationship with Marks & Spencers so their end of line stock would come here. Anything that’s not fit for the job we either pass on to charity or keep upstairs for women coming in For a lot of the women coming here they would have pretty low confidence and they really need a boost of self esteem so it doesn’t seem fair to us their donate a second-hand outfit.
“Allstate has been absolutely brilliant with us in the past. They’ve been a charity partner of Women’s Aid up north for the past three years. They support Dress for Success separately from that, so they outfitted the Belfast store, sending a team of volunteers to build the furniture.We also run pop-up sales throughout the year, which not only helps us move some inventory, but also gives women a chance to grab a bargain. most things are donated, we would sell them for £1 per item We run corporate clothing drives, where organizations with a large number of women search their wardrobes for clothes with tags that are still worn or very lightly worn We have a great setup with New Look where they give us 25% off everything so when we need new things usually for young women, we can get a lot more than we otherwise would. This helps ensure that we have the right outfit for every woman who walks through the doors.
“We want to watch ‘Beyond the Suit’ now 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 get very emotional when they walk in, especially new mums or women who have experienced domestic violence and need court attire. They locked themselves in and hid their bodies, which gives us the opportunity to have them try on the skinny top or the high waisted pants 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 the one-on-one time and trying on clothes they might not try on usually really helps build their confidence.