Dress for Success Des Moines
“I was referred to Dress for Success at a time when I was running out of steam: I had been searching for employment for over a year. Leery of my suiting appointment, I almost cancelled — I’m so glad I didn’t. When I stepped into the beautiful boutique and was greeted by the caring women there, I was truly uplifted. I left that day with a new suit and increased confidence. In my next interview, I landed a job! I am truly grateful for the support and quality clothing that I received. I started my new job with poise and a great appreciation for the work done at Dress for Success.”
— Nichole Michels
Compass Case Manager, Domestic Violence
Children & Families of Iowa
To learn more about Dress for Success Des Moines visit www.dressforsuccess.org or follow the Des Moines affiliate on Facebook at dressforsuccessdesmoines or Twitter #DFSDesMoines.
Drake alumna realizes her dream by helping others pursue theirs
Tucked away on the third floor of the Edna Griffin Building in downtown Des Moines is an elegant, little-known boutique called Dress for Success Des Moines. Appointed with fashionable women’s clothing and accessories, the shop is often its visitors’ first step toward economic independence.
“We aren’t Goodwill,” says Jill Niswander, BN’02, co-founder and program director of the Des Moines affiliate of Dress for Success, a worldwide organization committed to fostering the economic independence of disadvantaged women. “We outfit women for professional interviews and careers. The boutique environment is one of the ways we make the women feel special.”
Feeling special is often a new experience for Niswander’s clients. “Sometimes I think a woman’s visit to Dress for Success Des Moines is the first time she’s been looked in the eye, given a hug or told she looks good,” says Niswander.
Beyond skirts and earrings
Women are referred to Dress for Success Des Moines by partner agencies such as Anawim Housing and Iowans for Social and Economic Development. Once a woman has a scheduled job interview, the agency provides Dress for Success Des Moines with information, such as clothing size and preferences. When the client arrives for her appointment two volunteers, who have already organized several clothing choices from which she can choose, greet her at the door.
“It’s kind of like having a personal shopper,” says Niswander.
But unlike a personal shopper, the conversation between clients and volunteers extends beyond fashion. Anxieties about impending interviews often surface, and what started as a fitting appointment can turn into a mock interview and building up of self-esteem.
“We are positive but honest,” says Niswander, who notes that clients leave their appointments not only with an interview suit but also with a new sense of confidence, which increases the probability of a successful interview.
When Dress for Success Des Moines clients land a job, they can return to the shop to select up to one week’s worth of career clothing. Some come back for more than that; several former clients volunteer for the organization and one who currently works for a social services agency refers her own clients to Dress for Success Des Moines.
Since the doors opened in June 2011, Dress for Success Des Moines has served 42 women from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds ranging from those with a college degree to women with less than a high school education. So far, the organization is meeting its goal of suiting at least one woman every other day and plans to grow this number by 25 percent next year. Additional future plans include a professional women’s networking group and an on-site career center.
Niswander cites widespread support for the shop’s success: Des Moines community members and businesses have donated clothes, retail shelving, generous lease terms, volunteer hours and even hairstyling services.
More than she bargained for
Success didn’t happen overnight: Niswander and Jody White, co-founder and executive director, have been doing their due diligence since September 2010. For eight months, they worked with Dress for Success Worldwide to complete the stringent application and review process. Their efforts paid off when their business plan was accepted on first review, a very rare occurrence.
“When I was a student at Drake, my senior capstone experience was to create a business plan ¾ I drew from that experience and what I learned from working at Principal Financial Group,” says Niswander.
A mother of three, Niswander admits the job of running a volunteer-only, nonprofit organization takes a team effort and can be pretty demanding— but she is excited to be leading an organization about which she feels so passionate. She recently resigned from her full-time position in marketing and sales to focus her talents on Dress for Success.
“I get so much more from this than I give … I get to see the impact humans can have on each other, and it is truly inspiring. We make people feel good,” she says.
— Sherry Speikers, GR’93