Bedford group celebrates two decades of empowering women

By Steve Gow

A local non-profit organization aimed at empowering women in the workforce is celebrating 20 years.

Dress For Success Halifax was founded in 2001 as the local affiliate for the now-global operation that helps provide tools for women to find economic independence at work and in life.

“The mission and the mandate is to promote economic independence of women by providing professional attire, a network of support and the career development tools that they require,” states CEO Brenda Saunders/Todd, who has been serving the organization for 13 years. “We provide everything from head to toe — their blouses, their pants, their shirts, their jewellery, their purses — everything that they need.”

Started in 1997 by founder Nancy Lublin, Dress For Success has expanded to nearly 150 cities in 25 countries across the globe. Since its formation, the charity has helped more than 1.2 million women obtain independence by providing clients professional attire to secure employment..

“We do so, so much more than the clothing,” notes Saunders/Todd about Dress for Success. “We help with their resume updates (and) we provide free career counselling at no cost to the women and then we continue to support the client. Once they have their job, we continue to provide clothing so they’re not spending their own money on clothes — that they are spending their money on bus tickets or their children or food — that sort of thing.”

With no government funding, Dress for Success solely relies on the support of volunteers, fundraising and clothing donations — which are accepted and sold through the organization’s shop The Social Boutique, located inside Sunnyside Mall in Bedford.

“That’s one of the main ways that we are able to support Dress for Success financially,” adds Saunders/Todd, noting that the shop raises funds through sales to the general public in addition to supplying attire to clients in need.

“Clients know, when they get served, they come directly to the store so they feel like they are actually going to a retail store and choosing every single thing that they have at no cost,” continues Saunders/Todd, adding that convenience also provides a sense of empowerment to the clients. “They are in a store so it’s not like a handout — it’s a hand up so it makes a huge difference.”

In addition to clothing, volunteers are always in need.  As well, financial donations are always welcome and Saunders/Todd has no shortage of ways in which people can get involved.

“Doing a third party fundraising event would be fantastic,” says the CEO, suggesting birthday or sports event parties can be ways to earn some funds from participants. As she remarks, a party host can simply ask guests to chip in a few bucks with contributions going to Dress for Success. “That’s a wonderful way to get involved directly and to see what your efforts are bringing forward to the organization.”

With two decades of work behind the non-profit group, Dress for Success has no signs of slowing down either. With more than 2,800 clients served in the Halifax-area since its formation, empowering women in the workforce has been an equally enriching experience for the local organization’s CEO.

“It’s the instant gratification that I experience when I see a client walk in the door,” says Saunders/Todd, using a simple analogy to describe one of the job’s rewards. “She comes in like a very wilted flower and believe it or not, within an hour to two hours after she’s gone through the experience (of) coming to Dress for Success, she ends up going out like a flower that’s in full bloom.”

For more information on Dress For Success Halifax, visit the website.

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