The first styling session I observed was a young woman who had an interview lined up for social work, followed by another lady ready to secure a job as a paralegal. First thoughts when I walked into the styling room was the impressive range of clothing styles and sizes which Smart Works has managed to secure through generous donations including some high quality brands such as Whistles and Hobbs. In the background enjoying watching the outfits come together through trial and error, the room could have been easily mistaken for a luxury personal shopping experience. There were two stylist volunteers both with years of experience in the fashion industry catering to every single aspect of the client's personal brand from stockings, to handbag, to a coat and even jewellery. I admired the team's attention to detail style wise, but most of all I admired their sensitivity and dedication to finding that perfect outfit for each individual woman's style to give them that all important confidence boost.
If you watched the Final 5 episode you will know that my business plan is about dressing women for success by creating a one stop shop for modern, affordable and stylish workwear options. Not only does my business plan have a stance for empowering women at work through dress, but it hopes to remember females in less advantaged situations globally by looking to donate a percentage of proceeds to dressing another girl for success in the developing world with a free school uniform. With that in mind, I was absolutely thrilled to discover a UK initiative with the same passion to combine a love for fashion and helping others. I found this in the home grown Charity Smart Works who provide high quality interview clothes, styling advice and interview training to women in need. With sites also in Edinburgh, Manchester, Reading and Birmingham, the pleasure was all mine to pay them a visit to meet CEO Kate Stephens (pictured) in London and spend half a day learning more about what they do and shadow some styling sessions for some of the women in unemployment who had been referred to the charity.
When I talk about why I wanted to set up my workwear brand I find myself preaching about why I believe the right type of clothing makes that all important difference to our confidence and thus our performance in professional situations such as interviews. For the the first time I finally saw that journey first hand from the moment the women walked into the styling session to completing their professional image. Ironically, something I heard both women say without realising their mirroring reactions once finding their interview outfit was "I feel ready now" and "I wasn't sure If I would find something but I feel more confident about the interview now". To add to the charity's brilliance each woman who manages to secure their desired job is invited back to claim a further 5 outfits ahead of their first pay check and recieve further support.
Don't be fooled to think that Smart Works is style over substance however, straight after the women found that all important look, the next stage was interview coaching to make sure they had the full package of preparation before their big days. With the likes of Samantha Cameron investing her time in the past to volunteering as an interview coach, it is clear to see how impressive the charity's impact has been to gain support right up to the most high profile women in the UK.
So How Can You As A Career Woman Or Organisation Help?
Run a clothing drive: Organise a day in your workplace for your colleagues to join in and drop off their most high quality interview appropriate clothing to donate to the charity.
Donate your own Clothes: We all have some clothes maybe that we have worn to an interview once before which don't quite fit or suit our personal style anymore. Smart works would love to receive this if they are still in high quality!
Donate Money: Non of your clothes appropriate to donate? or are you a gentleman who loves the great work this charity does? Financial donations are always welcome to keep this great charity going.
Make Smart Works your business charity partner: If you are a company who supports women in business and greater diversity in women's employment, make this official by making Smart Works a partner.
Volunteer your time: From dressing volunteers, to administration, interview training, stock management and interviews - Anyone can have a impact!
For more information and to get in touch please visit smartworks.org.uk