Do you have work clothes and shoes lingering in your closet not being put to use? With so many people working from home now, and hoping to carry on doing so more than they were pre-pandemic, we thought it would be an ideal time to put a spotlight on Smart Works. This UK charity dresses and coaches unemployed women, helping them to succeed at interview, get a job and transform their lives.
We spoke with Jenna Brown, head of communications at Smart Works to find out more… Read on to learn how you can help!
Please tell us about how Smart Works, uh, works…
The women who come to Smart Works are referred from Job Centres, mental health charities, women’s refuges, homeless shelters, the prison service, care service and youth organisations. A third of our clients have been unemployed for over a year and a quarter have been rejected from over 50 jobs. All are suffering from a lack of confidence in their own abilities.
We harness the power of clothes and confidence to empower a woman to be her best at a crucial moment in her life, giving her the tools to succeed and start a new chapter for herself and her family. Each client receives a tailored dressing consultation with trained volunteers, to find a high-quality interview outfit that is free and hers to keep. This is followed by one-to-one coaching, where clients benefit from valuable interview preparation and CV development advice.
As female unemployment rises, it is clear our service is needed now more than ever before. In response to the pandemic, we created a virtual service to continue helping women despite lockdown restrictions. This includes video coaching with a trained volunteer, a virtual dressing consultation and bespoke wardrobe parcels sent in the post.
We are proud that in the last year, 62% of clients got a job within a month. Once a woman gets the job, she is welcomed back for a Second Dressing, receiving a capsule working wardrobe to last until her first pay cheque. In London, clients can join the Smart Works Network, meeting with a network of previous clients for tailored sessions that set them up for professional success.
Why is it important how a woman dresses when going for a job interview – does same apply if it’s an online interview?
We truly believe in the power of clothes to transform a woman’s confidence. First impressions count, and we know that if you look good, you’re more likely to feel good. Our work goes beyond the clothes, but the confidence that is unlocked within each women and what the clothes allow them to become. Whether the interview is in-person or online, we dress our clients with this same approach, as how the client feels is still so important.
How can people get involved to help?
There are several ways that people can get involved, from volunteering in one of our eight centres as a stylist, interview coach or in the wardrobe team, to donating beautiful items of clothing that will help a woman to feel confident and empowered. You could also hold a fundraising event with friends, family or colleagues to help us raise money. Showing support can be as simple as following our social media channels and engaging with our content so that we can spread the word about our service. We love it when people engage with us in any form, so if you’re unsure you can simply drop us an email on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Many women must have ‘work clothes’ sat unused in their closets as they work from home more now – how can they donate their clothes and accessories to your charity?
We’ve definitely seen people donating their excess work clothes as we all transition to a new way of working. Donating clothes to Smart Works is super simple. You can visit either our North London or West London centre from Monday to Friday, between 10am and 4pm to drop off donations. Alternatively, we accept donations via the post to both centres. We do accept items that are lightly used, but they must be in high-quality condition and help a client to look and feel her absolute best. My advice is to ask yourself if you would still wear it. If not, then it might not be right for our clients.
Do you publish a wish list that changes or is the list of what you need always the same? Any particular size ranges?
Our wardrobe constantly needs restocking and so we are grateful for donations of all types, styles and sizes, but we do have a particular need for clothing in a size 16+. We can also never have enough shoes or handbags – the accessories complete the outfit and we love to give these to each woman who walks through our door.
If a woman would like help from you with an outfit or having some coaching is their criteria she needs to fulfil, or can anyone ask you for help? What’s the best way for them to get in touch?
Smart Works can help any unemployed woman. We work on a referral basis, meaning that women need to be referred by an organisation who is supporting her into employment. This could include a work coach in a Job Centre, a support worker, a GP or a local charity who is helping her along the way. If a woman would like to access our service and is unsure about how to be referred, we encourage them to email email@example.com or give the team a ring on 020 7288 1770 – we are here to help.
What are your funding sources? Do you hold fundraising events throughout the year?
Our funding sources are varied: from individual donors who donate or fundraise for Smart Works, our corporate and retail supporters who support us financially and through clothing donations, and a vital cornerstone of grant income from trusts and foundations.
We also hold fundraising events throughout the year, including fashion sales where we sell clothing that has been donated from our supporters (and isn’t appropriate for our clients) with 100% of profit coming to Smart Works. Our sales are a treasure trove of special items, with designer, vintage and sample items from the most sought-after brands, at a fraction of the cost. It’s guilt-free, sustainable shopping at its best!
We also have our very own Fashion Club, where members have exclusive access to ‘in conversation events’ with leading figures in the fashion industry at iconic locations across London. They also get exclusive access to our sales before the public. It’s a wonderful community of women who love fashion, style and supporting women into the workplace.
On top of this we also have an annual sponsored challenge, Cycle for Smart Works, where teams pedal for a purpose and fundraise for Smart Works.
What obstacles does your organisation face?
Our biggest obstacle in the coming year will be finding a way to help the increasing number of women who need our support. We have started to welcome women back into our centres for in-person appointments, which has been so wonderful, but our appointment numbers are already high. Fortunately, we have moved into a larger centre in North London that has increased our capacity and enabled us to safely see more women. We are so lucky to have a brilliant community of volunteers and supporters, who we know will be there to help us be there for the women we serve.