The Suit Works: “It’s a fantastic, simple model that really has a big impact”
Last month Exposed paid a visit to Vanda and Faye at The Suit Works, a charitable organisation supporting unemployed people of all ages by providing smart clothing for job interviews along with a personal styling session.
How did The Suit Works first come about?
Vanda: To be as brief as possible, I had been made redundant again; and it gave me the opportunity to take a bit of time out, to think about what I was going to do next. During this time I volunteered at Suited & Booted in London, which is a similar venture, and I thought it was a fantastic, simple model that really has a big impact. So, I came back to Sheffield, talked to various friends and as these things do sometimes, the universe just conspired and it started to come together.
What were the main steps after that?
Vanda: There’s an organisation called CIQ Agency, who are architects and social entrepreneurs and they offered me a space free of charge to work out of. People started donating stuff, but I had no money, I was on benefits basically. Five years ago I applied for Sheffield Soup, the local crowdfunder, and won £640 in funding, so it built gradually from there and I loved it. I was passionate about it and it was helping people, so I just did lots of networking and plenty of people got behind it because it’s a good simple concept. We went from around 70 clients in the first year to 178 last year.
How do clients find out about it? Is it word of mouth?
Vanda: They can’t just drop in; they have to have a referral beforehand. So, generally, they’re referred through other agencies. I’ve just been doing the stats for last year and about 33% come through job centres, about 20% through Sheffield City Council, and the rest through local organisations, charities and training agencies.
When did Faye join the team?
Vanda: After having done it for a while, whenever I went anywhere to give a talk or a presentation about the service people would always say the same thing: “What about women? Why just men?” There were lots of reasons for that, the main one being I was part of a small group and had a lot of experience styling men in the past so it was much more straightforward. But last year, I felt like we’d got the model under wraps and knew what we were doing. We had funding in place and had the experience to develop the project and then one of my trustees introduced me to Faye.
Faye: I had a background within the NHS and left a couple of years ago. Similarly to Vanda, I had the opportunity to leave so I took some time out. I got involved in the charity sector, which is very appealing to me, and then we met through an old friend of mine called Cheryl, who had also become a trustee, and knew I would be interested in that area of work.
What do you enjoy about the work?
Faye: It brings together everything for me. My background is around engagement, events, and governance, and specifically working with vulnerable people, especially vulnerable women. It brings all of that together with the fashion element of it too. I told Vanda that if Suit Works was ever going to launch for women I really wanted to be part of it. I came onboard at the beginning of last year, we started putting a plan together, and in August we launched for women as well, along with a bit of a general re-launch and new premises.
Vanda: We’re still sort of in our pilot phase for the women’s side of things, so we’re kind of still seeing how that goes. I suppose we just want to be completely gender-neutral really. But there are differences in how you work with the clients and their needs, so we’re kind of still exploring that and staying open to assistance and how it might develop as a service.
What are the main challenges that you’re up against?
Vanda: Of course, funding is the main issue. We have a small contract with Sheffield City Council and we would not be here without them. They’ve been fantastic. We’ve applied for some grants and we’ve had quite a few donations, so we now have a reasonably well-developed board of trustees, a three-year business plan and a funding strategy. Basically, I’ve got to crack on with it! We’re looking at developing a corporate strategy on the side and hopefully some sort of trading wing to support the business. That will hopefully relieve it from the constraints of having apply to bid for funding every year just to cover the basics.
What does a typical day look like at Suit Works?
Faye: It varies greatly! I suppose a regular day would be coming in and having loads of donations left for us to sort; we’ll see if anything need cleaning, store things away, or forward things on to other charities if we can’t keep them. Each session lasts an hour with a client, so if it’s a guy, he’ll come in and be measured up, we’ll have a quick chat with him, try and get a feel for what his style is or what he needs it for. We don’t like to force anything on anyone, we like to bring out their personality naturally, so we have a bit of time with them. It’s very similar for women – a relaxed, informal chat to begin with, just to break the ice really. By the end of their session you see the change; when they see themselves in the mirror with the right outfit you can often see that confidence and how they’re really ready for their interview.
How to donate:
The Suit Works need donations of business attire and accessories (in good condition!) for both men and women. At the moment they are particularly short on small and large men’s sizes!
These can be dropped off at:
Unit 37, New Mesters, 53 Mowbray St, Sheffield. S3 8EN (Mon-Fri, 9.30-4.30)
Goodman Sparks Dry Cleaners on Ecclesall Road or Meadowhead (they will clean and deliver free of charge).
If none of these work for you call on 07468 464776