For women experiencing financial difficulties, obtaining a job is a big step toward financial security. However, some women lack the professional clothing, support, and career development resources they need to achieve their goals. Dress for Success, an international nonprofit organization, gives women tools to help them succeed in the workforce.
Dress for Success affiliate locations provide suits and other professional attire to women who are facing financial difficulties. Affiliates also help clients prepare for job interviews, gain work-related skills, and explore careers. With over 150 affiliate locations, Dress for Success provides career support to women all over the world.
South Dakota has one affiliate location in Sioux Falls and another in the Black Hills. Valerie Loudenback, the founder of Dress for Success Sioux Falls, decided to open the location several years ago.
“In 2011, I was just at a point in my career and my life where I was looking for something to add a little more meaning,” Valerie said. “I always have been interested in empowering women, and I was actually reading a story about a woman who had done a similar concept in her hometown.”
Valerie started researching the topic and learned about Dress for Success.
“They have a very stringent process about how you apply, who they approve,” she said. “The year that we applied, they had hundreds of inquiries, and they approved fifteen affiliates. I was really impressed with their methodology and the time and effort they required for you to put into becoming an affiliate before they approved you. We opened the doors in October 2013. We started the process in December of 2012, and we were granted our affiliation from Dress for Success Worldwide in April. So we worked really hard from April to October to do everything that was needed.”
In 2016, EmBe, an organization that empowers women and families, took over the operations of the program. Today, Valerie serves as an advisory board member at Dress for Success Sioux Falls. She is also on the EmBe Board of Directors, and she volunteers at various events at Dress for Success.
Most Dress for Success affiliates, including the location in Sioux Falls, require women to obtain a referral to visit their locations. At the Sioux Falls location, the list of referral agencies includes churches, medical clinics, and shelters. Once a woman receives a referral, she can visit Dress for Success to obtain an outfit for her job interview, as well as resources and guidance that will help her prepare for the interview.
“They come to what we call a ‘suiting,’ and they meet with a Client Coach, and depending on where they are, they may be getting ready for an interview, or they may be trying to figure out what job to apply for,” Valerie said. “They get one or two outfits that will be perfectly appropriate for when they go to an interview. We want them to have total self-confidence, inside and outside, when they leave that meeting.”
While meeting with a Client Coach, women also receive interview coaching to prepare them for their interview, or they can receive help with their job applications.
After getting a job, clients can come back for an employment suiting, where they receive two weeks worth of clothing. Valerie believes that Dress for Success is “so much more than just the clothes.” Dress for Success Sioux Falls also offers a program called Women to the Workforce, where women get ready for a career, practice their skills, and apply for jobs. Another program, Professional Women’s Group, follows a one-year curriculum that helps women succeed in their careers, teaching them about topics such as work-life balance, insurance, and financial literacy.
Dress for Success accepts clothing donations from community members. The organization accepts donations of professional, interview-appropriate clothing such as suits and dresses. In Sioux Falls, the most-needed items are non-slip shoes and undergarments.
Since October 2013, Dress for Success Sioux Falls has served over 1,500 women. These women have gained the confidence and resources they need to find employment in the area. Valerie told a story about a woman who succeeded in her career after utilizing the services provided by Dress for Success.
“She was coming out of a relationship — an unhealthy relationship —and had been denied access to most of her possessions. Her self-confidence had been weakened,” Valerie said.
The woman had secured a job, but she needed proper attire for work. To help her, Dress for Success staff members provided both clothing and emotional support. After Dress for Success assisted the woman, she and Valerie met once again.
“Our paths actually crossed again on a professional basis when she actually had moved onto another job, and she had become extremely stable,” she said. “It was just really pleasant to talk to her and to hear how well she was doing.”
Valerie said that when women visit Dress for Success, they learn that “it’s not about where you’ve been. It’s about where you’re going.”
To help Dress for Success achieve their mission, individuals can make a monetary or clothing donation to an affiliate in their community. Dress for Success also offers volunteer opportunities at its locations. Visit their website to find your local Dress for Success affiliate and find ways to get involved.