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Dress for Success in San Antonio helps outfit women, men

November 27, 2018

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Dress for Success Executive Director Robbye Floyd calls it the “transformational mirror.”

Bedecked with glittery gems, it’s where women see their self-image renewed by the type of stylish, professional ensemble they need to rock a job interview or get through the days or weeks before the first paycheck.

The San Antonio Express-News reports a mirror in another room reflects the same for men referred to a newer and less-known program called Career Gear.

“The woman or the man who walks into the dressing room feeling like they’ve got all these things going against them is a different person than the one who comes out of the dressing room in a suit or something professional-looking and sees themselves in the mirror,” Floyd said.

“It’s amazing, the transformation. And it’s not just physical,” she added. “They literally have a different posture and a different look in their face. They light up and their self-confidence is raised. And all of that helps them get jobs.”

Dress for Success has grown to become a global charity with more than 150 affiliates in cities across the United States and in 30 foreign countries.

It got its start in 1997, when then-law student Nancy Lublin used a $5,000 inheritance to team up with nuns to collect high-quality clothing donations to help low-income women land their first job or return to the workforce. The program was launched in a Manhattan church basement.

San Antonio’s Dress for Success program started in 2002. It now operates at a location on North Frio, not far from the Haven for Hope homeless shelter that refers many of its clients. The approximately $1 million yearly budget relies largely on fundraising, grants and donations, with benefactors including some of the leading corporations in San Antonio.

In the past 12 months, Dress for Success has served about 1,380 clients, two-thirds of them women.

The organization provides more than just clothing. There’s an array of training and educational courses on the workplace “soft skills” that help people keep the jobs they land as well as career development services to help them grow.

The agency works on an appointment basis, with referrals accounting for about 95 percent of its clients. “They’re referred to us by other agencies where they’re getting services for some issue on their life that is a barrier to employment,” Floyd said. “It could be substance abuse; it could be domestic violence, homelessness. We see a lot of veterans who are transitioning from the military world to the civilian.”

Some clients have only a grade-school education, others have earned doctorates. Some held lucrative careers that got derailed by a catastrophic illness or layoff. Most are single parents between 35 and 55, but they also are helping baby boomers returning to the workforce.

Some know fully well how to put together an outfit but just don’t have the money to buy clothes. Others have worked only in fast-food or other low-wage jobs with uniforms. Still others have never worked at all.

Donated dresses, suit jackets, slacks and blouses line the walls of the “boutique” room, which looks a lot like a high-end shop. There are also shoes, bags and costume jewelry as well as a closet full of donated totes full of makeup and other “girly” stuff.

The men’s program started in 2009 and has slowly gained traction. Part of the problem is getting donations, Floyd said. Men are prone to hold on to items until they’re completely worn out, and there is a big need for mainstays like belts and shoes.

On the women’s side, there are never enough of the quality shoes, handbags and costume jewelry that pull together an outfit and are least likely to be part of a closet purge.

Sizing is another problem, and Floyd wishes she’d see more donations of both smaller and larger than average sizes. It’s hard to suit clients who are size zeros or 5X, she said. There’s the same issue for men who are either small or big and tall.

“Basically when people ask us what we take, we tell them anything that you could see somebody else actually wearing it. It needs to be in good enough shape,” she said.

Floyd took over the agency in 2017, following a year as interim director. As a 35-year veteran of nonprofits — she’s worked as a substance abuse counselor, crime victim advocate and even a probation officer — she’s no stranger to people going through hard times.

“It’s a mission I think everybody can agree with,” she said of her current role. “We all want to see people get to work or get back to work or get out of whatever situation that keeps them from working.

“And whatever is good for them is good for their families and their kids,” she said. “Even wider than that, it’s good for the local economy for people to be back to work.”

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Information from: San Antonio Express-News, http://www.mysanantonio.com

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