For almost 25 years, Philadelphians who found themselves jobless have had a boost of inspiration from Career Wardrobe.
The nonprofit social enterprise serves the five-county region, including Delaware, Chester, Montgomery, Bucks, and Berks counties, providing used clothing to more than more than 90,000 Pennsylvanians in professional or personal transition.
This summer, Career Wardrobe celebrates the 10th anniversary if its Spring Garden Street store by opening a second public shopping and service location at 62 West Marshall Road in Lansdowne. The sites offer high-end resale clothing and accessories for all genders, as well as provide free apparel and services to clients from referral partners.
“This makes the case for why we think moving forward with a social enterprise, especially in the counties, is really important to us,” said longtime Executive Director, Sheri Cole. “This is our path to success: the clients report self-confidence that makes them engaged in their job search, they get employment, they transition off benefits. That’s what we’re trying to see happen for our Workforce, Welfare to Work or Workforce Development clients.”
In 2016, Career Wardrobe expanded its successful model to assist even more people, including those struggling with poverty, violence or incarceration.
“The goal is not always ‘work’ for every client,” Cole said. “For instance, a youth who is aging out of foster care needs access to no-or-low cost casual clothing that allows them to be part of their peer group.”
Upon approach and while perusing the Philadelphia headquarters of Career Wardrobe, visitors will promptly note a steady stream of foot traffic comprised of clients, interns, employees and donors dropping of of tax-deductible clothing and accessories.
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In addition to opening a new store and hosting another round of paid internships, the program is focused on “intentional engagement” with LBGTQ and nonbinary individuals. “Because maybe the reason they’re coming to us is not for professional clothing for work, but clothing that affirms their identity so that they can be treated better in their life,” Cole said.
“Shopping while trans is, like, such a monster in its own right and such a challenge,” said Al Sharrock, program director, during a press visit. “I’m trans, and it’s just a minefield of mental games whenever you’re shopping. Being able to come into places like Career Wardrobe … was really my only option.”
It’s not just the selection of clothing that is important, according to Sharrock. “I think being an opening and welcoming space with gender neutral bathrooms, a staff who knows what they’re talking about, and definitely knows how to help you tie a tie — because no one ever taught me how to tie a tie, because I wasn’t supposed to know.”
Philadelphia Program Coordinator Tameka Young’s passion for fashion is evident. In addition to her expertise with tie knots, she’s a sharp-eye style tactician overseeing a showroom boasting a curated collection of suits, business casual clothes and accessories available for purchase or selection. She, and a team of volunteers, interns and staff, provides both dress guidance and career support to clients.
“You never know what anybody is going through when they come in here,” said Young, 45. “I’ve been on the other side, so I’ve also been a client. So, I know: sometimes we come in and we’re going through some things. I just want to make sure everybody feels great when they leave here.”
Young, a former Wardrobe Careers intern, delights in selecting work clothing for job seekers and the newly employed. “I’ve had some people come in, who’ve never worn a suit, who put on a suit, and cry,” Young said. “It’s just so passionate and joyful for me. And I love my job and that I get to motivate and inspire and dress people.”
“Clothes make the person,” she added.
"I've had some people come in, who've never worn a suit, who put on a suit, and cry."
A soft opening for the second Lansdowne location is planned for mid-August with a grand opening on Monday, September 16, the 10-year anniversary of the ribbon-cutting of the location in Philadelphia. In line with the Philadelphia location at 1822 Spring Garden, the Delaware County site will offer high-end resale clothing and accessories for all genders, as well as provide free apparel and services to clients from referral partners.
With funding from corporate and foundation partners, both boutiques are able to offer paid internships where participants interested in careers in fashion, retail, or customer service can learn valuable job skills in a supportive environment.
During the 12 weeks of the internship, the interns learn the importance of workplace norms and behaviors, specific retail and customer service skills, and employer expectations and responsibilities. Career Wardrobe plans to run three cohorts of the internship program annually: February 1 – April 30; June 1- August 30; and October 1 – December 31.-30-
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