SHOP FOR SUCCESS
Story By Elizabeth Brunetti • Photography By André Chung
A local nonprofit helps women dress for new jobs – and renew their self-esteem
A graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology, Kendall began her career as a fashion consultant. After graduating from the Fashion Institute of Technology, Kendall joined up with Patti Francomacaro and Mary Sheehan Warren to start Elegance in Style, a fashion consulting group. As she helped to nudge women toward adopting well edited personal styles, she realized that something should be done with the buildup of castoff clothing. “Once women understand their personal style, they are eager to rid their wardrobes of unflattering clothing,” she recalls. “Under our own noses was an unending surplus of women’s clothing.”
The 54-year-old mother of nine was also aware of a growing population of women who could benefit from fashion consulting, but didn’t necessarily have the resources to seek it. “It was a simple equation,” Kendall explains. Women needed clothing – specifically to find jobs – and she was in a position to help.
Kendall and her colleagues founded Success in Style (SiS) in 2001 and Kendall is still the organization’s president. The nonprofit now has three storefronts in the Historic Savage Mill – in addition to Charity’s Closet, there’s Phil’s Closet (men’s clothing) and Cherie Amour (a bridal resale boutique coming soon). Much of the stores’ inventory comes from community donations of new or gently worn clothing and accessories.
SiS partners provide clients – appointments can be made through a referral program with social service organizations – with style consultation and work attire, free of charge. Clients leave not only with a new wardrobe, but more importantly, with a boost to their self-esteem. “It’s a hand up, not a hand out,” says Kendall. When clients improve the way they present themselves, she points out, “they feel a surge of self-esteem, absolutely necessary for moving forward.”
After struggling to overcome a troubled past, Renee Cornish had gone to several job interviews. “I was trying, and pushing,” says the 33-year-old Arnold resident, but nothing panned out. She says she didn’t feel dressed for the part. But a trip to Success in Style, she says, provided “everything I could possibly need, suits, stockings, accessories.” Cornish even received a hairstyle and makeover. She says Success in Style has reinvigorated her job search. “Now I have the business clothes to look professional,” she says.
Before walking through the doors of Charity’s Closet, 26-year-old Allison Hogan hadn’t shopped for new clothes in over a year. The Gambrills resident has an 18-month-old daughter and sees to the child’s needs before looking after her own. Her daughter, she says, “is my main goal.” Hogan, who has struggled with negative self-image (manifested in a 13-year battle with an eating disorder) says her interaction with Success in Style gave her the boost she needed.
“They just made you feel so good,” says Hogan. At SiS, each client works one-on-one with a trained consultant to determine which styles work best for her age and body type.
After such a great experience, Hogan is more inspired than ever to pay it forward and pursue her dream of helping people in circumstances similar to where she’s come from. “Back then, I felt like I didn’t have anyone to talk to. I want to be there to show people that it’s okay, that they’re not alone,” says Hogan. She hopes to eventually find a career in the social work and community outreach field. “I wish I had done this s
ooner,” she says.
Kendall estimates that about 85 percent of Success in Style’s clients go on to receive job offers. But that isn’t the only way the organization’s founder measures success. “If you want to know how many found confidence in themselves after their consultation,” she says, that figure “is 100 percent.”
When Yolanda Watson made her appointment with SiS, she already had a job offer – she had recently been offered a job with the Department of Social Services. But she didn’t have the wardrobe to go with it. In December 2011, the 29-year-old Annapolis resident was laid off from an the insurance job she had held for three years. “After a while, everything eventually ran out,” she recalls. “My savings, my 401(k), unemployment – I had nothing left.” She was finally able to secure a job thanks to JobsWork! Arundel, the same job-seeking organization that referred Cornish and Hogan to SiS.
Watson recalls her experience at SiS with a laugh. “I walked in, and [the consultant] just looked at me, and she was like, ‘We’ve got to get you a better bra’,” she says. This especially surprised Watson because she had recently purchased a new undergarment at a popular lingerie store.
Even so, her SiS consultant made the right call. The new bra, says Watson, “made me look better, look smoother.” According to Kendall, the consultants at SiS get this reaction a lot. “Most of our clients are in disbelief when they see their reflections,” she says. “We see lots of tears of joy.”
Watson gives SiS credit for helping her along. “This program puts you on a better road to success,” she says.
It’s feedback like this that makes the stress of running a nonprofit worthwhile, says Kendall. SiS, she says, helps clients to see the “the strong, happy and confident” woman they once knew. “Most have not seen that woman in many years,” she points out. “Their transformation of exterior helps to uncover a self-assured individual with dreams, aspirations and hope.”*