June 25, 2024

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Willowdale fashion non-profit helps newcomer women suit up for their dream job

3 min read

One group in Willowdale is helping underserved women gear up for job interviews with the help of fashion. But it’s more than just clothes, it’s about feeling confident.

Willowdale is a lively suburb lined with restaurants, hangout spots, and stores. Including Dress for Success, a non-profit focused on helping women gain economic independence by finding the right “fit” to help them get a job that fits.

The organization started in 2009 and now helps 1,700 local women every year. Programs Manager, Joya Mukherjee tells The Green Line that fashion is a huge element they utilize to support women looking for new opportunities in the workplace.

Programs manager Joya Mukherjee stands by the clothing rack inside the Dress for Success boutique. (Aneesa Bhanji/The Green Line)

“How we present ourselves in spaces and how we’re perceived is really important, and first impressions go a long way.” said Mukherjee. “By putting themselves forward, feeling confident on their first day or in their interview, whether that’s virtual or in person, fashion allows us to do that, right? We can play with our identity, our personality, and really communicate what we’re looking to do in our jobs.”

The boutique welcomes anyone and everyone, immigrants, single moms or Torontonians with lower incomes. They provide free suiting services for interviews and host workshops to build job skills.

Lichu Chen is one of their clients who said she found community at Dress for Success.

Lichu Chen, a client at Dress for Success sits on the couch inside the boutique. (Aneesa Bhanji/The Green Line)

“I am a single mom, and I raised my child, primarily as a single mother with a career and that has its own challenges as well. And so I find that when I came to Dress for Success there were other women, professionals, as well that actually you know went through the same thing as I did and I was able, I was able to connect with them and we were able to support each other.”

With today’s hyper-competitive job market, newcomers, especially face big hurdles. They can face discrimination and may need to relicense or get re-credentialed in their field.

Over 3,000 new immigrant women moved to the neighbourhood between 2011 and 2021. That’s why Willowdale Councillor, Lily Cheng, believes Toronto needs support services like Dress for Success.

Willowdale Councillor, Lily Cheng sits inside her office overlooking Mel Lastman Square. (Aneesa Bhanji/The Green Line)

“With all the challenges of being a newcomer or living in an under-resourced community, it can be even harder, actually, because in Willowdale, there’s quite a diversity of income. And when you’re surrounded by people who are living quite wealthy, it can be intimidating. And you might have a hard time finding your confidence,” explained Cheng.

“So I think this kind of service allows us to support the broad range of people in our community and really, really lift up those who need that extra lift.”

Dress for Success clients stand together after an event. (Dress for Success)

Dress for Success has provided local women with over 150,000 pieces of clothing and accessories to date, but beyond the clothes, clients go back with a renewed confidence.

“I don’t think that I was as strong as I normally am, or how people actually see me, and so I needed to find that inner strength again within myself, and I think that’s what the organization actually has done for me is, I was able to find myself again,” said Chen.

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