Dressing For Success With Smart Works

At Bramber Bakehouse we believe employment is one of the most important achievements for the women we support. Smart Works are a UK charity with a vision to help women in need secure employment and change the trajectory of their lives. We are excited to announce a recent partnership with the charity, an amazing opportunity to connect our graduates with further support that will propel them forward and into employment.

Through clothes and coaching, women are equipped with the confidence they need to succeed at interviews and transform their lives. We sat down with Sophie Rutherford, Head of London Service Delivery, to hear more about the incredible work they do.

What is the Smart Works mission? What is the need that you meet?

Smart Works is a UK charity providing high quality interview clothes and interview training to unemployed women in need. Our story began in North London in 2013. Our mission was, and still is, for any woman who needs our help to be able to find her way to a Smart Works centre. Unemployment is one of the biggest causes of poverty and is also associated with physical and mental health challenges.

We exist to help marginalised women break the cycle of rejection and deprivation that results from unemployment.

Can you tell us more about Smart Works and the process for women who are using your service?

Women are referred from organisations such as job centres, work programmes, prisons, care homes, homeless shelters and mental health charities. Half have been unsuccessful in over 20 applications. A third have been turned down from over 50 jobs.

All are suffering from a lack of confidence in their own abilities. We harness the power of clothes and confidence to allow a woman to be her best at a crucial moment in her life, giving her the confidence and the practical tools required to succeed at interview and transform her life.

Each client receives a bespoke dressing consultation with two trained volunteers to find a beautiful and high-quality interview outfit that will fill her with confidence. Our service is free of charge and the clothes are hers to keep. This is followed by a one-to-one coaching session with an expert interview coach, where each client receives valuable interview preparation.

Once a woman gets the job, which 62% of our clients do within a month of their appointment, she is welcomed back for a Second Dressing and receives a capsule working wardrobe to last until her first pay cheque.

Where does your clothing come from?

We are incredibly lucky to have both wardrobe partners and individual supporters who help to keep our wardrobes fully stocked. Approximately 40% of our clothing is brand new and comes from a range of luxury brands and high street retailers such as Burberry, Hobbs and John Lewis. The other 60% is donated by individuals, companies and various other organisations that run clothing drives for us.

How have you seen the programme change and develop? What has the journey been like?

At the heart of Smart Works sits a dressing and coaching service which has and will always remain the core of our service. However, since 2013 we have developed the service to accommodate the changing climate.

Our biggest innovation has been the introduction of our virtual service in light of the pandemic. The impact of the pandemic has increased pressure to succeed at job interviews, meaning our support has never been more needed. Overnight we transitioned our service to a fully virtual one. For women with an interview, we can now deliver one to one interview coaching, virtually, and a bespoke parcel of wardrobe essentials, delivered to their door.

We also introduced Career Coaching, focused on helping women with their job search and securing an interview.

In the last 12 months, we have delivered 745 Career Coaching appointments and 67% of clients were invited to an interview within two months. 62% of our clients have also gone on to get the job, a month after their appointment.

Could you share some of your success stories?

One of our success stories is Jivan.

When Jivan came to Smart Works, she’d had a difficult few years. After losing her job in a school she felt alone and sought support from a local charity who helped her get her life back on track. Now Jivan has a wonderful job working in a pharmacy and is able to fulfil her love of socialising and talking to different people every day.

About her experience with Smart Works she said, “It changed my attitude, I felt positive and I felt proud of myself. The clothes I wear now compared to a few years ago are so different, they give me confidence. The experience has made me feel fantastic.”

What are your plans for the future?

The statistics continue to speak for themselves. The Office of National Statistics tell us that a quarter of a million UK women lost their jobs between December 2020 and March 2021. And whilst the pandemic is something we have all experienced together, it is women who have often born the brunt of both the increased domestic pressures and the significant reduction in traditionally more female dominated job opportunities.

It is more important than ever that our charity has found a way to extend the scope of our services and reach women who are that one step further from re-entering the workplace. For the future we want to make our services accessible to every woman who needs us across the UK – helping more women reconnect with their potential and transform their lives.

We are so excited to be partnering with you! How important is it to partner with charities like Bramber Bakehouse?

Charities like Bramber Bakehouse are vital to running our service. All of our appointments are made by referrals from another organisation or charity who is supporting a woman on her journey to employment. Without referrals like Bramber Bakehouse we would not be able to find the women who need us most.

Every Bramber Bakehouse graduate will receive the opportunity to benefit from Smart Works and the incredible work they do to support women into employment. Watch this space as we see lives changed!