Vancouver organization helps change women's lives by dressing them for success

Oct 30 2019, 7:36 pm

Almost everyone knows the feeling of being nervous for a job interview. But those nerves are intensified when you are a single mother, a new immigrant, and you’re already struggling to pay the bills.

That’s the position Mercy Campbell was in over 20 years ago. She immigrated to Canada from the Philippines in 1996 and settled in Vancouver.

Being a single mother of a son with special needs and living to paycheque to paycheque, Mercy needed help landing a steady job and that’s when she turned to the Vancouver chapter of Dress For Success (DFS), an organization that offers free clothing and professional training to women who are looking to join the workforce.

At the time, DFS Vancouver ran out of the basement of St. Francis Church on Main Street. Campbell arrived and was assigned a dressing consultant to help her look the part and give her a confidence boost for her upcoming job interview. It was that confidence boost that helped Campbell land the job.

The year after, she was invited to join the DFS inaugural Professional Women’s Group where she received further training and mentorship.

On Wednesday, Campbell received the Inspiration Award at DFS Vancouver’s Success Luncheon, celebrating the organization’s 20 years of providing more than 35,000 women in the Lower Mainland with workforce development programs and services.

Dress for Success

Mercy Campbell accepts her award at the Dress for Success lunch/ Ida Adamowicz

For DFS worldwide CEO, Joi Gordon, seeing success stories like Campbell’s is further proof of the organization’s powerful impact.

“It’s not only the 35,000 women impacted (in Vancouver), it’s the ripple effect. So with the majority of the women we serve around the world being single moms, we know with the 35,000 women, you could times that by three children at best and so that’s the real impact of the services,” Gordon told Daily Hive.

Dress for Success

Joi Gordon speaks at the Dress for Success Vancouver Luncheon/ Ida Adamowicz

“Because when mom works, children’s lives are different. Not only does she thrive but they thrive.”

Vancouver is the first DFS chapter established outside the US and the diversity of the city brings women from all different backgrounds to the organization.

Amy Robichaud, executive director for DFS Vancouver, explains that being an inclusive space for all women is one of the organization’s core values.

“Our career centre, our boutique, the doors to our office are open to women who need it,” she said.

“We serve trans women at a greater percentage than they are in the population because what we do is custom built to help a woman see herself and to learn who she really is and that’s fantastic. We have an accessible space, we have our volunteers who dress our women and work with them in our career centre one on one and [they] are trained in diversity and inclusion.”

Robichaud adds that more importantly, volunteers are trained in something she calls “heart centre leadership.”

They are here to put their heart first and to see a woman as she needs help and to listen and provide as is needed,” she said.

For women like Campbell, that “heart first” approach has gone a long way.  The skills she acquired at DFS and the encouragement and support she received from her mentors have helped her become a successful accountant and business owner.

Now Campbell is giving back by leading with her heart and inspiring other women to achieve their dreams in the workplace and beyond.

Want to get involved? The non-profit Vancouver chapter of DFS is always looking for donations of gently used, nearly-new professional attire at its downtown drop-off, and monetary donations.

These are the items it can use the most to get women dressed for success: