Nonprofit Helps Women Dress for Success

Career Wardrobe client Felicia Roton wears business attire provided by the nonprofit organization.Photo provided

Abby Siegel-Greenberg was exercising in her Philadelphia apartment one day in 1994 when she saw a program for a Chicago organization called Bottomless Closet that helps unemployed individuals transition into working life.

She wondered if there was a similar program locally. After calling the Bottomless Closet, she learned there wasn’t, but that multiple people had called and asked about it. That organization put her in contact with like-minded women and, a year later, Career Wardrobe opened.

For Siegel-Greenberg, it was never about charity.

“I just thought about the Jewish value of tzedakah and its root tzedek, meaning to do what is just and right, and starting this organization was the just and right thing to do,” she said.

Through dressing services and educational programming, Career Wardrobe provides support needed to encourage clients to obtain employment. It claims a 67 percent success rate for participants becoming employed and getting off of government assistance.

“Our mission was to help women feel confident,” Siegel-Greenberg said.

She noted that “when you are a single mother or a parent raising children and you have to choose between paying for food or clothes, or if you’re someone who was never taught how to dress,” you may not have the clothing you need to feel that confidence.

“We wanted to [provide clothing and assistance] in a way that was not condescending, but collaborative and supportive,” Siegel-Greenberg explained, as “being presentable and feeling confident was just as, if not more, important than the clothing.”

Siegel-Greenberg and her team developed a program that allowed women to network with each other and build their resumes through educational and networking events. The organization was able to serve more than 1,000 women in its first year alone.

As of today, Career Wardrobe provides services to about 6,000 people annually and has “empowered more than 85,000 individuals struggling with poverty, violence or incarceration on their journeys to employment and independence,” according to a recent press release.

The entry point to Career Wardrobe is the Dressing Program, where clients meet with personal shoppers to find the perfect outfit for upcoming interviews.

This process includes bits of education through teachable moments and guided discussions.

“When you meet someone, you shake their hand, and that’s the perfect opportunity to say, ‘Let’s try that again,’” Career Wardrobe Executive Director Sheri Cole said. “We’re always looking at the needs of our community, so the educational programming is the part of our organization that changes the most.”

The curriculum includes one-on-one career coaching sessions, resume reviews, headshot services and LinkedIn training, as well as employment skills such as communication, time management and financial literacy.

To access the program, one must either be referred by another nonprofit or government agency or they must use the Career Wardrobe’s Open Access program. Those who receive government assistance can shop at no cost, while those who don’t pay a small fee.

In 2015, Career Wardrobe began its “Make It Work for Men” program, which provides similar services to men.

In addition, the organization expanded out of Philadelphia in 2016 when the state government program PA Workwear asked that it open and mentor locations in Delaware, Chester, Montgomery, Bucks and Berks counties. By partnering with PA Workwear, a program that not only provides interview clothing to those who receive government aid but also clothing people need on the job, Career Wardrobe began collecting and distributing uniforms.

“We have just as may scrubs as suits,” Cole said.

Career Wardrobe accepts both financial donations and donations of new or gently used professional wear. The organization also has a consignment shop on 19th and Spring Garden streets that accepts designer clothing; profits directly fund Career Wardrobe programs.


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