Clothes for success

(Published in The Observer on Sunday, 25 March, 2012)

Local company AtWater Consulting Ltd. is holding a clothes drive to help women in need make a professional first impression.

Dubbed Professional First Impressions, AtWater Ltd. is asking women to donate gently used professional clothes, shoes, bags and accessories, that will be given to women in need within the Family Resource Centre, the Cayman Islands Crisis Centre and Passport 2 Success Unemployed Single Women’s programme, which have all expressed a need for professional clothing.

The clothes drive is being held over the month of March to coincide with Honouring Women’s Month. The main aim is to source professional work wear to give to women in order to provide them with appropriate business attire for work, interviews or work experience.

“We are asking women to dig deep in their closets and donate just a couple of items that they no longer wear,” Pilar Bush, managing director at AtWater, said. “What takes up space in one woman’s closet can give another woman confidence to go out and get a job.”

Pilar came up with the idea for the drive after deciding that she wanted to do something meaningful for women in the local community. Inspired by Dress for Success – a US based charity that promotes the economic independence of disadvantaged women by providing professional attire, a network of support and the career development tools to help women thrive in work and in life – Pilar felt that she could set something similar up to help women in Cayman.

“As an organisation founded and run by women we wanted to celebrate women and participate in Honouring Women’s Month,” Pilar added. “We strongly felt a clothing drive for women’s business attire aligned with our goal to empower women and afford them the opportunity to make professional first impressions in the workplace.”

Miriam Foster, programme coordinator at the Family Resource Centre, said that the clothes will be used by young mothers in the Young Parent Services programme, that assists young parents to assess information and resources that support the development of healthy parent child relationships.

“Young moms often are limited in funds and must meet their immediate needs of their babies first. Thus, professional clothes are sometimes out of their reach. The clothes will allow young mothers to dress appropriately for work experience.”

She added that having access to the right clothes is important. “Clothing sends a message of the type of employee you will be and how seriously you take your position. If you are well-groomed and dress professionally it raises your self-confidence and your colleagues’ beliefs that you can get the job done.”

Valerie Banks, advocate and administrator at the Cayman Islands Crisis Centre – an organization which provides temporary shelter for abused women and their children–said that there is a constant need.

“The clients arrive at the shelter at various hours. Often they have only the clothes on their back and most of the time the clients can’t go back to their homes. They have to start from scratch. Here at the Cayman Island Crisis Centre we provide everything to help our clients start their life over.”

She added: “Having access to professional clothes helps our clients to take the first important step of securing a job. Not only that, it helps build confidence and self-esteem. This clothes drive will go a long way in helping our clients to piece their lives together.”

The clothes drive is being co-ordinated by AtWater employee Ericka Walton who said the response so far has been promising.

“We have sent letters out to local companies asking for their support and many have already offered to help.”

She added that they chose to work with the selected organizations as they said they had a need for professional attire.

“The women require business attire to attend interviews, participate in work experience placements and in some cases to go to work. Not only do they need professional clothes to get out in the work place, it also helps give the women much needed confidence and a sense of empowerment. If you look good, you feel good.”

Does the wardrobe really count?

In short yes, first impressions really do matter. When you go for an interview you’re marketing yourself and the first thing you will be viewed on is your attire. Turn up looking sloppy and you’re unlikely to get the job – no matter how impressive your CV might be. Here are some tips to ensure you always look the part.

Stock your closet – Start with the versatile basics, such as a pair of black trousers, a smart suit, some button-down collared shirts and a classic pair of dark shoes. Once you have the staples, you can continue to build your wardrobe to give you plenty of professional options.

Keep it neat and clean – Make sure your trousers, shirts and other clothes are ironed, stain-free and in good condition. When your clothes look sloppy, so do you.

Steer clear of bar attire – Don’t mistake the office for your local watering hole. Play safe and you’re your work wear conservative. Leave the slinky shirts, tight trousers and cut off t-shirts at home.

Grooming – Finally, there’s no point wearing a smart trouser suit if your hair is unkempt and fingernails grubby. Neatly tie back long hair, make sure tattoos and piercings are covered, keep jewellery to an absolute minimum and make sure nails are neatly manicured (ladies, no bright colours, which are often seen as unprofessional). A clean, polished appearance will ensure a professional overall look.

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