Wardrobe for Opportunity Helps Job-Seekers Look the Part

Landing a job can be a real challenge these days. It's even more frustrating for those who don't have the right type of clothing for an interview. Experts constantly emphasize the importance of first impressions, but how do you project poise and self-confidence when you lack the means to look the part?

Fortunately, there's an answer to this dilemma. Wardrobe for Opportunity (WFO), a nonprofit based in Oakland, provides professional clothing and career support to low-income job-seekers in the Bay Area. Founded in 1995 "to address often overlooked, yet critical barriers to finding and retaining employment," the volunteer-driven organization helps roughly 1,600 women and men in Contra Costa and Alameda counties achieve economic self-sufficiency every year.

While the transformation includes training workshops and other assistance, WFO's two full-service boutiques, one in Oakland and the other in Concord, represent a key step on the path to success. Accompanied by a fashion-savvy assistant, clients get to shop for an appropriate interview outfit, right down to shoes and briefcase. When they're hired, they return to the boutique to put together a week's wardrobe.

Like most nonprofits, WFO relies on the local community to accomplish much of its mission. Clothing drives play a large part. This month and next, the staffing firm and Hacienda tenant Placement Pros is spear-heading a collection effort from business park occupants apt to have the kind of gently used professional attire the job candidates require.

"Every summer we have a service project, and this year we thought Wardrobe for Opportunity would be a really good match," says Kristine De Natale, Internal Relations, Placement Pros. A member of the Vedior Group, a global company with 2,200 offices in more than 44 countries, the local Placement Pros office has a broad range of practice areas, from attorney and legal, insurance, and financial to hospitality and manufacturing.

"We are looking for donations of interview-appropriate clothing and accessories," De Natale continues, noting that items should be in excellent condition-spotless, pressed, on hangers, and in the current style.

Emphasizing the need for applicants to put their best foot forward during the interview, WFO Executive Director Michelle Augenstein points out, "This is clothing that has a very specific use. It's about empowerment and feeling good." As an aside, she mentions that the yields from clothing drives in the business environment are twice as productive as those from the WFO collection boxes. "Providing items we can really use cuts down on processing time in our boutiques, and that's a big help," she says.

To participate in the Placement Pros collection drive, call De Natale at (925) 734 1594. WFO is also looking for sponsors for its interview clinics and its "Power of Change" fall fashion event, where the non-profit's clients will model and Chip Conley, founder and CEO of the boutique hotel company Joie de Vivre Hospitality, will be the keynote speaker. For more information, contact Augenstein at maugenstein@wardrobe.org .or (510) 463-4100 x.10.

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