Organization dresses working women

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JACOB COLON TTN Dress for Success volunteer Divya Kumar performs a mock interview with client Tiffany Bonneau. The interviews are part of career counseling.

Volunteers at Dress for Success aid women attempting to re-enter the workforce.

Providing women in need with professional work attire and various workshops to help them transition into jobs, Dress for Success continues to empower women and help them make advancements in their lives.

Dress for Success started in 1996 when founder, Nancy Lublin, received an inheritance of $5,000 from her grandfather.  With that money, Lublin decided to create a service to aid women in need, by establishing DFS’ first location in New York City in 1997.

“There was a need for this type of organization in Philadelphia, one that would help women transitioning back into the workforce,” Executive Director Cecilia Lusardi, said.

DFS’ mission is to build up the “economic independence of women in need who are transitioning back into the workforce by providing professional attire, a network of support and career development tools to help them thrive in work and life,” according to its website.

Since its establishment, more than 116 affiliates have been established worldwide that continue to serve communities. One location in particular, Dress for Success Philadelphia, has created a warm and welcoming environment for all those who enter its boutique.

Located in Center City, DFS Philadelphia is another affiliate in the mission to assist women in obtaining a job. In July 2008 it opened a small boutique in Spring Garden.

Lusardi said the Spring Garden location was experiencing a need for expansion, so a relocation to Race and Vine streets in Center City was necessary.

Since that expansion, DFS Philadelphia is ranked second, with New York being the first, for having helped suit 2,543 women last year.

As one walks inside the Philadelphia location, the crisp atmosphere takes on a professional, yet welcoming feel, and puts one at ease.  Along with the beautiful décor of the boutique, there are endless amounts of clothes and accessories on display.

All of the gently used clothing and accessories are donated by those who are willing to support the organization. This includes a few celebrities, like makeup artist Bobbi Brown.

“When donating clothes to a woman, it’s never a hand-down, always a hand up,” Lusardi said.

Lusardi views this experience as a blessing for those who are able to assist women in whatever way they can.

Women are referred to DFS members through an agency that assists them with finding jobs.  Lusardi said that by partnering with them, DFS finalizes the women’s job hunting process by providing them with appropriate professional attire.

DFS has partnered with the Harris School of Business, in addition to other organizations.  Once the women are referred to DFS, an appointment is set up to come to the boutique and complete their transition process.

“DFS Philadelphia suits six to eight clients per hour, so a number of expert personal shoppers are needed to make the process run smoothly,” Lora Carter, volunteer coordinator for DFS Philadelphia, said.

With a background in sales and real estate, Carter has been a volunteer since 2008. Now as volunteer coordinator, she is responsible for recruiting new volunteers to the organization.

“I desired to give back to the community,” Carter said. “I always had a passion for helping women, fashion and creativity.”

When a woman enters DFS, she is met by an image consultant. They discuss what type of job the woman is attempting to obtain and what her personal style is. DFS carries sizes from 0 to 28, and almost always has something for women of all occupations, including business suits, scrubs and construction attire.

After revamping personal attire, each woman meets with a career counselor.

Lusardi explained that there are three levels of support with a career counselor.  The first level consists of perfecting the woman’s resumé. The second level starts developing a career plan and the third is a mock interview, where women are free to ask any questions they may have about upcoming interviews.

Along with a career counselor, women are given additional help from the organization’s various programs including the Going Places Network, Professional Women’s Group, a Financial Literacy Program and a Health and Wellness Program.

The Professional Women’s Group helps women further their skills in the workforce.

“This program allows women to discuss their experiences facilitated by members of the community who are experts in that field,” Lusardi said.

Gloria Abney, 27, of West Philadelphia, was referred to DFS Philadelphia by an advocate at her agency in Germantown. Abney needed professional clothing for upcoming interviews.

“The people are really nice,” Abney said. “I appreciate that this organization doesn’t judge you or look down on you.”

Dress for Success is paving the way for women to re-build their lives. With a tagline of “Going Strong. Going Places,” DFS has shown to do just that by providing services to women all over the world to help them live better lives.

“My experience has been a blessing,” Abney said.

Alysia Lester can be reached at alester@temple.edu.

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