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How Dress for Success transforms women’s lives through clothes and upskilling

4 min read
Dress for Success

Dress for Success believes in the power of all women. Recognized as a highly professional and compassionate organisation that provides services to women and trans women by building up their confidence and optimising their potential to achieve self-sufficiency and financial independence through providing, free of charge, professional clothing, a network of support, coaching and career development tools to help women achieve success.

Its mission is to restore dignity and help women secure meaningful work and get back on their feet. Third Sector News talked to CEO Leisa Sadler about the success behind Dress for Success, how barriers and obstacles were overcome, and what it means to be nominated and win the Third Sector Awards for Small Charity of the Year.

What was your driving force to continue making a positive impact despite the difficult times?

The women who turn to Dress for Success Sydney for help are among the most economically vulnerable during the pandemic. The statistics from our recent COVID-19 client impact survey highlight that the need for our career and dressing support is greater than ever: 

  • Nearly 66% of clients are not receiving an income
  • 72% are facing financial difficulties due to job/income loss
  • 51% are finding it difficult to afford groceries
  • 29% are at risk of losing their housing due to income/job loss; 28% are currently homeless or have experienced homelessness
  • 1/3 are domestic violence survivors
  • 1 in 3 are single mothers

Women are more vulnerable to COVID-19–related economic effects because of existing gender inequalities. Women have lost superannuation contributions and wages, while also taking the brunt of family responsibility stressors (including domestic family violence). The economic fallout of COVID-19 is having a regressive effect on gender equality. Women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable to this crisis than men’s jobs – all these factors continue to motivate us to provide innovative and holistic career support services despite the challenges that social distancing has created. 

Our services have never been more critical than they are in 2021 and our team has never been more driven and united to help as many women as possible get back on their feet and into the workforce.

To learn more about this year’s Third Sector Awards, click here.

What tools helped you achieve your success?

Learning & Development Portal: our friends and fellow nominees, the Funding Network, kindly hosted a live crowdfunding event to help us raise the funds we needed to launch phase 1 – the design and build of an online platform that would allow women looking for work to access our Career Support Program from anywhere in Australia 24/7. This will revolutionise our service provision and significantly expand our reach and the number of lives we are able to change. We are extremely grateful to the Funding Network for their support in getting us to phase 2 of this project – we then won a government grant to fund a staff resource to develop and launch the online service.

During the 2020 lockdown, we quickly pivoted to offer our clients virtual/online support seamlessly and experienced record numbers of online attendees. Since the pandemic affected so many lives and livelihoods there is no longer any shame or stigma attached to being stood down and losing a job. Women who may have been reluctant to walk through our doors nor deemed themselves “in need” were jumping online and using our complimentary resume review, attending mock interviews and career coaching services.

And because we were, and still are, operating our services remotely, we have been able to maintain many of our corporate volunteering relationships. HR and recruitment specialists are still able to offer their services remotely. 

  • Styled Delivered – our team have all rallied around to provide “essential” clothing packs for regional women to attend court, or women living below the poverty line and desperately need clothes for an interview.
  • The launch of our Community Fundraising Hub (Funraisin platform) – places the onus on our community to engage in virtual fundraising efforts, during this period when we are no longer able to host our face-to-face fundraising events and clothing sales.
  • We used COVID grant opportunities to build capacity, securing a national $ 1 million grant to develop the aforementioned Learning & Development portal, and secured a state government grant to recruit a database manager to oversee our salesforce migration project – filling a critical skills gap.
  • Mid-2020, we ran a successful COVID response appeal to replace our clothing sales income – our community really got behind us, at a time when we were at risk of having to close our doors.

What can you say about winning in the Third Sector Awards 2021?

The small team at Dress for Success Sydney support a larger community of Volunteers and Clients, all of who have been significantly impacted by this pandemic in varying ways. The DFSS team themselves have been through immense change brought on by the impact of COVID-19. We, unfortunately, lost several staff that could not be replaced. Furthermore, the logistics centre which housed our excess clothing stock had to be shut down. 

Despite the pressures on our funding capacity and resources, our team didn’t lose focus, determined to continue to deliver the support our clients needed. As we’ve shared, there were several positive and resourceful changes we adopted, showing not only resilience and resourcefulness but innovation from the team, alongside an unflappable dedication to the mission of DFSS.

The recognition of being a finalist in the Third Sector Awards not only acknowledges this effort but is a timely reminder to celebrate the successful impact we have achieved. It is a privilege to be nominated alongside the short list of outstanding organisations and we thank the Third Sector for this recognition.

Want to be equipped with practical tools and strategies to overcome barriers and capture opportunities? Join the Third Sector Live event.

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Lourdes Antenor is an experienced writer who specialises in the not-for-profit sector and its affiliations. She is the content producer for Third Sector News, an online knowledge-based platform for and about the Australian NFP sector.


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