Never in my life did I dream of becoming a Fashion Stylist. Yes, I love clothes but I can't even dress myself easily at times. In the past, I used to consult one of my friends who is a legitimate fashion stylist for some tips on how to dress up for certain occasions. But now, perhaps I can say that I can put on together a good ensemble confidently without having to ask for anyone's opinion. It's all because of Dress For Success (DFS), a non-profit organisation with a mission to "promote the economic independence of disadvantaged women by providing professional attire, a network of support and the career development tools to help women thrive in work and life".
I found DFS through Volunteer Wellington in March when I was seeking for volunteer work. There were only three words from the advertisement that convinced me to volunteer for them: Dress, Success, Women. I knew that this was something that I wanted to do.
I submitted my CV and a cover letter online and almost immediately, I received a phone call for an interview. That was my first ever interview in Wellington and it was all very casual. It was more like getting to know each other than anything. I was hired right there and then and was asked to go back for induction and eventually for training.
I first trained as a clothing manager. My role included checking donated clothes for any stains or damages and then sorting them into different groups (client, sales and donation to another charity). I never thought that doing such thing can be both so entertaining and therapeutic. I must say that women in Wellington are very generous and they (based on what they donate) have genuine desire to help other women. The amount of donated clothes, shoes and accessories that we sort can be so overwhelming sometimes. We get all sorts of stuff. Most of them are obviously used but some are new (with tags on). We get a number of designer clothes too. There are some occasions however, when we get stuff that has been very well loved, in which case, we pass them on to another charity.
When I've gained enough knowledge and confidence, I trained to be a stylist. I was skeptical at first because I had zero styling experience. I never had to dress anyone before other than myself, so I wasn't sure if I could do the job. But then I realised that perhaps I would never get another opportunity to be a stylist again, so when people started asking if I was going to train as a stylist, I just said yes.
As part of our stylist training, we had to learn how to dress a mannequin. Believe me, dressing a mannequin can be quite intimidating. First of all, they're much taller than me (haha). And of course they have that perfect body. Not to mention that they have removable body parts. I have never experienced dismantling a mannequin before and although seemingly simple, I struggled a lot. It was even more challenging to assemble it with clothes on. But I got there in the end with the help of my fellow volunteers. It was such a fun thing to do.
Honestly, dressing the mannequin was a revelation to me. I have put together outfits that I wouldn't personally wear for interviews before. I came out of my comfort zone and experimented on mixing colours and patterns. As I continued dressing the mannequins, I slowly moved away from monochromes and neutral colours. On my second mannequin dressing, I introduced a bit of colour (pink)and used a patterned skirt (which is not obvious on the photo) and a gray jacket. During that time, I couldn't completely get away from the greys just yet. :)
And before I could style any client for real, I had to do a few mannequin dressings, two styling observations and two supervised styling sessions. It was only after then that I became a "stylist".
I will never forget my first official styling session with a very delightful lady. She told me that although she was excited, she was also nervous because she never had this experience before. She apparently couldn't recall the last time she actually shopped for clothes and therefore was excited to try on some. She said, "this is going to be fun", and I knew then that this was going to be a positive experience for both of us.
After discussing her clothing preferences (trousers), I took her in the dressing room and asked if she was willing to try on any dresses at all. She said she hasn't worn a dress in years but was up for the challenge. I gave her four dresses to try on. I stood outside the dressing room and instructed her to use the whole body mirror outside when she was ready. All of a sudden I heard her say with so much glee, "Wow, I love it". That was only the first dress she tried on. When she came out to show me the dress, she was twirling. We both laughed. I could tell that she was happy with the dress but I wasn't going to let her settle with it. I asked politely if she could try the other dresses as well just in case they suited her better. She happily obliged and she loved them all. Unfortunately, I could only provide her with one dress at that time as it was her first dressing. In the end, she chose a monochrome slim-cut dress. She looked absolutely fabulous in it. The look on her face was priceless. She couldn't stop giggling. I gave her a nice jacket to go with the dress, a shoulder bag and a pair of high-heeled shoes.
She couldn't stop thanking me afterwards. She told me that this was one of the best experiences she ever had and that she thoroughly enjoyed it. She gave me a hug and thanked me over and over again. She actually said while looking at herself in the mirror, that she was more confident and was absolutely ready for her job interview. What hit me the most was when she said that she would definitely pick herself up from that time on and would never look back. She left the office in her Dress For Success outfit. No, she didn't have an interview that day. That's just how confident she was after our session. Oh, I forgot to mention that she came to DFS in baggy sweatshirt, jeans and trainers.
I was proud of myself that day because I knew that somehow, despite being new, I was able to do the job right. But most importantly, I knew that I made a difference in someone's life.
Volunteering for Dress For Success has been such as rewarding experience. For me, it was not about putting an outfit together successfully and making my clients look good. It was actually making them feel good about themselves. Every client that I have dressed so far left our door with much more than clothing. They left feeling special and with much more confidence, hope and determination to succeed. As Nancy Lublin (founder of DFS Worldwide) said, "only about 25% of the Dress for Success programme is about providing clothes, the other 75% is about building self-confidence". And to be honest, I am also more confident now knowing that I can dress someone for success.
Behind my success as a clothing manager and a stylist at Dress for Success were the fashionable ladies that I had the pleasure to work with. It was so amazing to be surrounded by women who are passionate in helping every woman succeed. I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to have worked in an organisation, where women empower each other to do better in life.
So, if you were wondering what I've been been up to in the last seven months, here you go. I was doing something really amazing and valuable.
I left Dress for Success on Thursday with another feather in my cap, and I will forever be grateful to the organisation for all the lessons that I have learned, for all the skills the I have gained and for all the friends that I have made. I hope that I will be able to continue volunteering for DFS in London.
After volunteering at DFS, I vowed not to complain about not having enough clothes to wear ever again...