Clothing initiative giving Derry women a helping hand

Dress for Success is an initiative under Foyle Women’s Aid, which provides clothing to help women gain economic independence.
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Sarah Quinn is Project Manager in Derry and, along with a group of dedicated volunteers, she ensures that women using the service not only leave with an outfit, but they leave with a boost in their confidence, too.

Sarah said: “Dress for Success started here in the north west in 2018. Marie Brown, the Chief Executive of Foyle Women’s Aid, was at a family justice centre in Colorado where she saw a Dress for Success affiliate. She then went about bringing it here. It’s a global, non-profit movement that supports and empowers women to become more financially independent. We do that through providing women with suitable clothes for work, interviews or occasionally for attending court.

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"We provide clothing but we also provide core employability support too, such as interview skills and we have experts in HR who can help with CVs. Ideally, we want to be offering that as a whole package to offer the woman the best possible chance to be the best version of herself.

Sarah Quinn, Programme Manager for Dress for Success NI in their 'boutique' in Foyle Women's Aid.Sarah Quinn, Programme Manager for Dress for Success NI in their 'boutique' in Foyle Women's Aid.
Sarah Quinn, Programme Manager for Dress for Success NI in their 'boutique' in Foyle Women's Aid.

“Women can be referred to us through other support agencies, such as the Job Assist Centre here in Derry, for example. They deliver a ten week care certificate programme for women who aren’t in employment. At the end of that ten weeks, they are guaranteed an interview with a local care-based organisation. We book out the boutique and they come in and get styled for interview. Women say they imagine that this is what a personal shopping experience to be like, they absolutely love the experience.

"The majority of the clothes are new. We have a good relationship with Marks & Spencer some of their end of line stock would come to us. Anything that’s not suitable for work, we either pass on to charity or we keep a supply of more casual clothes for women who would maybe come to us in a crisis.”

Allstate NI have been a great support to Dress for Success NI. They are a charity partner with Women’s Aid across the north, they sponsored the fit out of our boutique in Belfast and provided a team of volunteers to build the furniture. We also run pop-up sales throughout the year, which helps us to not only recirculate stock, but also gives women a chance to buy a bargain. We do corporate clothes drives, where organisations will put a call out to staff to donate items in their wardrobes with the labels still on or very gently worn. We have a great relationship with New Look here in Derry, where they give us 25% off when we occasionally need to buy new things, typically for younger women, we can get much more there than we would otherwise. This helps make sure we have an outfit to suit every woman who comes through the doors.

“We want to look ‘Beyond the Suit’ and dress women from the inside out. Putting on a new outfit can make all the difference and we see that when the clients come in here. Women get quite emotional when they come in, especially young mammies or women who have experienced domestic abuse and other significant trauma or upheaval in their lives. They have had a knock to their confidence and have been hiding their bodies, they don’t feel comfortable going into shops so this gives us a chance to help them try new things and often they surprise themselves. Often, they get emotional and they see the best in themselves. For us, it’s about helping them to bring that out and it’s unbelievable the difference in them when they’re leaving here. I think having that one-to-one appointment, receiving some style tips and trying on clothes they might not try usually, really helps to grow their confidence.”

To help or become a volunteer, contact Sarah at Dress for Success on Facebook or Instagram or visit northernireland.dressforsuccess.org.