Published 26 June 2016 ● Last Updated on 27 October 2016

Our guest author today is Radhika, a sustainable development professional working for people & the planet, well mostly people in the process! She’s had the opportunity to connect and work with women across Asia, and believes in the power of strong networks  where women help other (less privileged) women. She lives in Singapore, is a fitness enthusiast, food fanatic and serial traveler.

Having worked on development issues all my professional life and moving to Singapore last year, I felt the yearning to get engaged in something where I could “give back”.  As Singapore is quite well-organized in this matter as it is in any other, I found loads of options to volunteer my time with a diverse range of organizations. One day sitting at the breakfast table I came across my perfect opportunity to connect and give back. I read an article in the Straits Times that talked about a new initiative in Singapore, a local affiliate of Dress for Success (DFS) worldwide.

The mission of DFS is – “to empower underprivileged women to achieve economic independence by providing a network of support, professional attire and the development tools to help women thrive in work and in life.”

Having previously worked quite extensively with women and on women’s issues, this just felt like a natural fit. If I helped out at DFS I would get the opportunity to connect with and work with women who could use my support to get back into the job market. Moreover it was about fuelling fashion+feminism, how could I resist?

Ms Pang Li Kin the founder of Image Mission which runs Dress for Success Singapore
Ms Pang Li Kin,  founder of Image Mission which runs Dress for Success Singapore

I instantly connected with the wonderful team at DFS, Singapore and there I was for the initial briefing and orientation session with Ms Pang Li Kin, the energetic founder of a Singapore-registered charity Image Mission. Image mission has brought DFS to Singapore to give marginalised women in Singapore “clothes and confidence” in the words of Ms Li Kin. So, how does Dress for Success work?

– Women from all walks of life donate pre-loved clothing, bags, shoes and accessories to DFS.

Dress for success donations of shoes and clothes
Work appropriate shoes and bags

– Volunteers (like myself) help to sort out the clothes- sorted for appropriateness and condition. The key is of course to make sure the donations can be worn in a work environment (no 80s themed party wear please!!), are clean and in good condition.
– The clothes are then categorized by size and type- pants, skirts, dresses, jackets et al

Dress for success clothes
Clothes sorted by size and type

– Women of all ages and from all walks of life are referred to DFS by one of their partner agencies, usually associations or registered organizations like women and girls’ homes, institutes that offer support to marginalized or underprivileged women.
– And finally, in walk the clients!

[Editor’s Note – At the moment DFS does not accept walk-in clients. All clients come by referrals only]

I’ve been part of a few sessions where we had clients come in. The women who come to DFS are typically those who have already received a call for an interview and need help prepare for it. Most of them are shy, sometimes unsure of what lies ahead of them and how they will ever be prepared to face a formal interview.

The Coaching: Some of us work as volunteer coaches, so we spend the initial 30 to 45 minutes making sure that the client is comfortable and try to find out a bit more about the position and company that they are applying for. We then help to prep them for their interview with some coaching, including typical interview questions, body language and having a chat about what their apprehensions are, if any.

The styling: Once the coaching is complete, the clients get styled! This is the real fun part. Depending on the comfort of the client, we select interview appropriate clothing from the racks which they get to try on. It’s like a shopping experience- when they find the perfect outfit, we try and match shoes, a bag and accessories. It is such a gratifying experience to watch the transformation that these women go through. Do you remember the first time you wore heels? It’s often like they are looking at a new version of themselves. You can see a bigger smile and a greater confidence in their stride. It’s a true demonstration of the phase- “Clothes make the (wo)man”! I think it’s like a perfect match- pre-loved professional clothing finds a new owner who can put them to use right away, feels a new sense of confidence, creates a great first impression and potentially secures a new job.

Dress for success clothes and confidence to marginalised women globally
Ms Li Kin demonstrating how a typical selection process is carried out with a client

DFS has received overwhelming amount of support from generous donors- both individuals and corporates. So they are soft closed for new donations at the moment. But you can certainly help, they are looking for:

1. More volunteers– These must be keen volunteers who are able to commit time on a regular, not ad-hoc basis, for sorting, coaching and styling. 

2. More partner agencies  who are working for women’s empowerment in Singapore to refer even more clients to them.

DFS does get a fair share of work inappropriate albeit very good clothes. Of these, the ones that are more casual are given to charities, some of the more gaudy ones are given – if needed- to theatre groups in Singapore. The remaining- party wear, work wear which can’t be worn by the clients of DFS are sold by the organizers at flea markets to raise funds to run the day-to-day operations. Secondsguru will keep you posted on such events if you are interested! Just sign up for the Secondsguru newsletter to be on top of things.

– Radhika




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