It was a little under a year ago that I started my first professional role after completing my graduate program. During the first few weeks of work, my director came to my office and asked me “What will you do to innovate?” It took me almost three months to answer his question In student appointment after student appointment, I was hearing students state they were working at least 25 hours a week, had financial hardship, and were unaware of career development resources that would serve their needs. Students were sharing that they could barely afford tuition and living expenses. So, purchasing $200-$500 worth of professional wardrobe items were out of the question. I started to see a glaring need for career development support for the large number of low-income students on-campus.
The theme of innovation then led to the creation of a Professional Clothing Closet on campus, in partnership with the student food pantry and a learning community.
The Professional Clothing Closet operates monthly in conjunction with a one-hour professional development seminar. During the event, students are coached on career branding and selling their skills to employers. To conclude the event, students are then matched one-on-one with a staff member to pick out interview suits and professional dress that fit their industry. Our goal of each event is to have students leave with one interview outfit and at least one outfit to wear while working. Students leave the event with clothes in hand and an increased level of confidence.
During the past year, the Professional Clothing Closet has served over 100 students. We continue to see our numbers increase. As a result of the Professional Clothing Closet, we have seen an increased engagement with our office as well as an increased level of attendance at career events.
If you are thinking about creating a Professional Clothing Closet here are some things to think about:
Where will the clothing items be kept and how does that location impact the reach of the program? Is the clothing closet within a college, department, office, or campus wide? Currently, we are able to keep the clothing within the food pantry on campus, which allows us to serve all students on campus.
Will the clothing closet be a partnership? Currently, we market and organize the Professional Clothing Closet events within the career center. The food pantry and learning community manages inventory and donations.
How will you obtain and replenish the closet? Currently, the Professional Clothing Closet operates purely off donations. We strategically collect donations from community members, student-run clothing drives, and staff-run drives.
How will clothing closet operate? Universities can create clothing closets that are continuously open, on an as needed basis or are operated through specific events.
Finally, how will you measure and evaluate the usage of the closet? Measuring the impact is crucial for professional clothing closets to continue receiving donations and funding. Currently, our professional clothing closet measures pre- and post- learning objectives and confidence levels of students.
This month is a grab bag, with no particular theme – writer’s choice! Because nobody puts baby in a corner.
This post is part of our #SACareer series, addressing careers in student affairs, careers outside of student affairs, and the work of career services professionals. Read more about the series in Jake Nelko’s intro post. Each post is a contribution by a member or friend of the Commission for Career Services from ACPA. Our organization exists to benefit the careers of career services professionals, student affairs professionals, and anyone supporting students in the career endeavors. For more information about how to get involved with the Commission for Career Services or the #SACareer blog series, contact Cristina Lawson at email@example.com.