VIP Profile: Dress For Success

PHOTO BY WHITNEY PULEN

PHOTO BY WHITNEY PULEN

    Having the appropriate clothing to wear for a job interview is what most people associate with the national non-profit Dress for Success. What more than 10,000 women in the Wichita area served by the organization can attest, though, is that Dress for Success provides encouragement and resources through the entire employment process as women strive for economic independence.
    “We are so much more than the clothes that people think of when they think of our organization,” said Portia Portugal, executive director of Dress for Success Wichita. “Dress for Success Wichita exists to help women thrive in work and in life. We believe confidence and empowerment in women can positively enhance their socioeconomic status and the community’s economic vitality.”
    A small staff works alongside a Board of Directors with 12 leaders from various industries to coordinate the work of 300 volunteers who provide a support network and development tools. 

PHOTO BY WHITNEY PULEN

PHOTO BY WHITNEY PULEN

VIP: Describe the women that Dress for Success Wichita serves.
PP: The women who walk through our doors are from all walks of life. We have clients who have master’s degrees and have just hit a rough patch in their job search; clients who are fleeing domestic violence situations and have to completely start over; clients who have been stay-at-home mothers and wives their entire adult life and lost their spouse. We truly see a variety of situations. The one thing they all have in common is that they do not lack the will to succeed; they lack the resources.
 
VIP: How many women do you help each year?
PP: On average we serve between 350-400 unduplicated women. Many clients return to utilize multiple services, so generally we are providing over 800 points of service annually.

PHOTO BY WHITNEY PULEN

PHOTO BY WHITNEY PULEN

VIP: How did Dress for Success get started?
PP: Dress for Success Worldwide was first founded in 1997 by Nancy Lublin who received an inheritance from her grandfather. She collaborated with two nuns in Harlem, New York, to initially provide clothing to low-income women. It has now grown to have over 140 affiliates in more than 20 countries. Our Wichita affiliate began in 2000 by a lawyer named Sara Beth Anderson. We now have several programs beyond simply clothing.
  
VIP: What services do you offer?
PP: We provide a continuum of services at Dress for Success Wichita that are intended to guide women through the entire employment process. Initially women come to us for an interview suiting where they are fitted from head-to-toe in one business professional outfit. Upon obtaining employment, we invite them to come back for an employment suiting where they receive a week’s worth of business casual clothing. Beyond the clothing, we have a career center where volunteer career coaches work with clients on things like resumes, cover letters, mock interviews, etc. We’ve recently started our Steps to Success Job Club, which serves as a support group for women going through the job search process. It’s an informal opportunity for them to get to know others going through similar struggles while gaining support to press on in their search. We also have a monthly meeting for our employed women called the Professional Women’s Group. The purpose of this group is to provide women with resources and connections that will assist them in maintaining employment and moving up in their career. Our last program offering is our Going Places Network by Walmart Foundation, which is a crash course in career development.
 
VIP: How can readers support Dress for Success?
PP: In addition to donations of gently-used, interview-appropriate clothing, supporters have the opportunity to Support-a-Woman by making a monthly pledge: $55 per month would get one woman through each and every one of our programs for a year, $20 gets a new accessory for a clients, $10 buys a day of internet in the Career Center and $5 pays to dry clean an interview separate. We also have several fundraising events throughout the year, from our Sisterhood of the Divine Makeover fashion show and brunch that took place in June to our Boo & Brew Ball scheduled for Oct. 29. For more information visit wichita.dressforsuccess.org.