Written by Joshua Fairweather
When you think of fashion, most people think about runways, models, and designers revealing what’s trending for the season.
What is featured on the runway is glamourized and artistic, but may not be practical for everyday use. New trending styles that finally reach the populations are manufactured to sell at retail level and are appealing and practical for people wearing these items every day. Clothing has many functions: some people strictly wear for vanity or social status, while others wear it for their base level needs – to cover their bodies. Whatever your needs are for fashion, the question needs to be asked: how important is clothing?
We tend to determine our opinion of someone within 30 seconds of meeting him or her for the first time – and this is entirely based on their physical appearance! For example, ill-fitting outfits, sleeves that are too long and pant hems that drag on the ground, or even an unpolished shoe, can all give the impression of being unkempt and unprofessional. 55% of business etiquette is visual presentation. When it comes to the job search or the job interview, mere seconds are not much time to make a good first impression. Your attire, grooming, facial expression, how you enter a room, and your handshake all contribute to this crucial first impression. The first impression can affect an interviewer’s attitude toward you throughout the evaluation process: if he or she feels positive towards you upon first glance, they likely will listen to you with a higher expectation of your abilities. On the contrary, if your interviewer is immediately turned off by your appearance, you will have to work hard to overcome this during your interview.
While your physical appearance should not have so much importance placed on it, the reality is that many people do place significant value on how you look. Your image qualifies you and tells a story. When you take the time to dress well, making sure the clothing is pressed, clean, and fitted to you, the story you tell to the potential employer is that you take care of things: that you are into the details and that presenting well matters to you. Furthermore, you communicate that you fit the part and qualify yourself as a strong potential candidate for the position. This practice will have a huge impact on how you perceive yourself, as well as how others perceive you. Fashion can impact your world!
To bring this topic to the home front, I have a story about a local organization right here in London, Ontario that uses fashion to impact the lives of people getting back into the work force. ClothingWorks (CW) was established in 1998 as a way to provide women with professional clothing as they ventured into a competitive work force. As well as having obtained the knowledge to do their job, these people now have the opportunity to look the part when it comes to their overall career success. ClothingWorks has changed hands over the years: for the past 10 years, WIL Employment Connections successfully ran the organization here in London, Ontario. Now, currently hosted by Goodwill Industries (Great Lakes Region) since 2014, ClothingWorks has even more opportunity for growth and influence in the community.
To date, ClothingWorks has helped 318 clients, giving away over 636 outfits, and currently they work with 37 workforce development agencies in the London community. These agencies refer their clients to ClothingWorks to get the must-needed fashion help that sets people up for success in their job search and interview process.
ClothingWorks uses community support, including donations of high quality clothing, as well as the skills and time of dedicated staff and volunteers to give job seekers clothing and confidence to make the best possible first impression with prospective employers. ClothingWorks’ philosophy is very simple: “Give Confidence to Succeed”.
What better way to see the philosophy of this program in action than from someone who has gone through the program first-hand! So, I made it a point to interview former ClothingWorks client and current volunteer Rakhee Patrick. Here is her story.
Tell us a little about yourself
I’m a fashion designer by trade. I’m a mother of three children. I came to Canada in the year 2000. I have mostly worked retail and management jobs. Unfortunately, at my last job, I fell from a ladder and was hurt. After my sick leave, my employer laid me off. It was after this experience that I made a decision not to go back to retail. I found that my time in retail was taking away from time with my family. I didn’t want that. I wanted more time with family, something that is important to me. I didn’t know where to go from there, but knew I needed something different. I needed a change.
How did you hear about ClothingWorks?
At the time I was receiving help from the London Employment Help Centre. My career counselor suggested ClothingWorks as a place to get interview clothing. So we filled out an application and called to make an appointment.
What were your thoughts and feelings before your consultation?
I wasn’t sure about the consultation; to be honest, I didn’t know a lot about the program. I had questions running through my mind – I was unsure about pre-owned clothing? Will they have what I need for the interview? And will they have my sizing? I used to be the one who dressed people – now I’m being dressed by others and this is a much different experience for me. The day of my consultation, I debated cancelling the appointment because I was so nervous.
How would you describe your consultation experience?
When I found out ClothingWorks was in the basement of Goodwill building on Horton Street, I started panicking. I don’t like basements!!
When I came out of the elevator and turned the corner, I was surprised to see the showroom. It was well merchandised and displayed. I wasn’t expecting to see that.
Then I thought to myself, ‘I am not changing in front of these ladies’. I was glad to hear they had a change room – that was a relief! Jackie and Patti, two volunteers at ClothingWorks, made me feel very comfortable.
They slowly built trust with me, and they worked hard to make me feel comfortable. As they selected the outfits, I could tell that they knew what they were doing. The communication was great! I felt that they listened to me, and got me what I personally needed instead of what they wanted. They made it fun and you could tell that they were excited to be there.
I was happy with the clothing they selected for me – it fit really well. The exciting part for me was the shoes, as the only ones in my size were brand new black and white pumps! I’m a shoe hoarder, so this was right up my ally!
How has your experience with CW impacted your life?
I got to see first hand how the clothing could have a positive effect on the way a person perceives himself or herself. This impacted me so much that I decided this is something that I would love to do for others, so I started volunteering with the ClothingWorks program. Before I started volunteering, my confidence was shattered from being laid off and I was in a state of depression for several months. My time volunteering with ClothingWorks helped me past the depression and I started to build my confidence again. Also, as I volunteered and consulted with clients, I could see the expression on their faces when they tried on that new outfit and how it changed them for the better. This impacted me! You could visibly see the confidence rising in them and they walked out of that showroom with a bounce in their step. These encounters changed me and, in turn, helped me to build my confidence. This encouraged me to do greater things. Now I am pursuing my dream to start my own business in fashion design. But, I plan to continue to volunteer with ClothingWorks because it is that perfect expression of using fashion to help people.
Where are you now as a result?
I am in the process of making a business plan and launching my business soon in the marketplace. This is something that is very exciting for my family and me. For the past year, I have had the opportunity to be the part-time coordinator for the ClothingWorks program and I am pleased to write about it in this issue of VC™ magazine! This is definitely a rewarding experience where I get to see people transform before my eyes, as I help them through a significant part of their journey to find employment. Everyone is worth investing in and helping people find their true value is worth the effort. Let us use fashion to impact lives!
Written by Joshua Fairweather
Personal Clothier/ Style Consultant