A smart idea to help jobless women

Suits on display: Main picture above, Shelly Berhanu, project co-ordinator from The Berdale Centres with some of the donated suits.               PICTURE: STEVE ELLIS
Suits on display: Main picture above, Shelly Berhanu, project co-ordinator from The Berdale Centres with some of the donated suits. PICTURE: STEVE ELLIS
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Women hoping to land jobs and change their lives are being given a helping hand in the style stakes – by other working women.

Some of the city’s highest flyers are donating to Sheffield’s first ever Suit Swap.

Up for grabs will be smart, tailored jacket, skirt and trouser combos, straight from the wardrobes of some of Sheffield’s most successful lawyers, entrepreneurs, bankers and council officers.

Some 50 suits are currently on the rails and organisers are expecting more by the time the event goes live at 10am on March 16.

Women from Job Centre Plus, lone parents’ charity SCOOP aid and a host of other women’s charities and organisations in the city, will be able to walk in and find the perfect suit for future interviews – for free.

Image consultants from True Colours will be on hand to help them choose the suit shape, size and colour that is right for them.

The event is being organised by Working Woman, a worldwide, one-stop resource website set up in Sheffield five years ago to help businesswomen develop their skills and contacts,

Founder, former management consultant and mother of three Christina Lima Trindade, explains: “We keep hearing it is the toughest time to be a woman seeking work for 30 years, probably more so in the North, so we want to give Sheffield women all the help we can.

“Businesswomen from all over the city – like Adele Robinson, Sheffield City Council’s social justice and inclusion manager, have donated work-wear which they have worn on their journey to success, but which they no longer need. Adele is giving the black Next trousers suit she wore when she won her job in 2008 and a longed-for move back to South Yorkshire after years of living in Wales, and hopes it will bring its new owner, maybe a woman from a disadvantaged background, good luck.

Like all women donating, she will pin a personal message to her suit explaining why she loved it and the success she hopes it will pass on.

The event runs until 3pm at a unit at 65 The Moor, near the former British Home Stores.

Shelli Cooper, manager of SCOOP Aid, helps dozens of women on the road to self-esteem a job each year. She said: “Many of the women we see have had some serious struggles in life and with young children to look after, finding a job in the current climate can seem like a climb greater than Everest. With our partners at Job Centre Plus and other women’s charities, we are hoping to give women all over the city the chance to have a new work outfit to make that all important first impression.”

All women are welcome to come along, with proof of their entitlement to benefits, and choose one suit.

Pre-loved quality suits, tailored separates and blouses can be donated from 9am to 5pm until March 15 at 19-33 Berdale Centres off Trippet Lane, Sheffield S1 2FY. Call Shelly Berhanu at Working Woman on 07405 469704.

Stories Of The Suits:

Jane Chapman is director of True Colours, a leading independent image consultancy based in Sheffield:

“I have donated a size 12 navy Planet shift dress which would be great for an interview.

I bought it when I first started as an image consultant. I needed something smart and versatile. I was going to be standing in front of women and telling them how to improve their image.

“It was a bargain – £10 at Oxfam. I’ve worn it lots of times. But it would definitely not bring me career success now because I’ve lost a bit of weight and it doesn’t fit properly any more.

“I’m always telling women it’s much better to bite the bullet and let go of things; I’m practising what I preach.

I hope it will help its new owner land the perfect job, one she enjoys as much as I do mine.

When you walk into an interview, people start to form an opinion of you before you even open your mouth. So we need to dress in ways that boosts our confidence and creates the right impression before we even speak.”

Jay Bhayani is an award-winning high-profile employment solicitor. She co-launched niche employment law and HR firm Bhayani Bracewell in Sheffield last year:

“I’m donating a lovely black suit which has met Prince Andrew and been to lunch at the Houses of Parliament.

I call it my ‘serious suit’ and I bought it when I was asked to speak at a Law Society conference some years ago. I felt outside my comfort-zone and really nervous.

I deliberately chose a smart trouser suit because I wanted be taken more seriously in my career. But I think the satin belt adds a sophisticated, feminine touch.

It has come out at an ceremony in London where my old firm Watson Easam won a Law Society award. It came out when I went to the Houses of Parliament and had lunch with a group of MPs, at a lunch with Prince Andrew and a number of times where I have delivered seminars on employment law issues across Yorkshire.

It’s not some big designer label, though – it’s from Next’s Petite range. Whoever picks my suit will have to be under 5ft 2ins.

I am also donating a handbag I bought in Italy as a junior lawyer. Everyone always assumed it was designer, but actually it had cost me just £12 – proof, I think, that you don’t have to spend a fortune to look good.”

Ex-Lord Mayor of Sheffield Jackie Drayton, a councillor for Burngreave Ward for 16 years, is cabinet member for children, young people and families, lifelong learning and skills:

“I love the suit I’m giving. It contains two of the colours of the suffragettes in its pinstripes – green and purple.

When I wore it I remembered all those truly inspirational women who have fought for women’s rights over the years.

“I didn’t buy the suit – I’m a serial bargain hunter, always scouring charity shops, bargain rails and vintage sales.

It was my daughter-in-law Kate’s. She bought it at House of Fraser and wore it for an interview for her first job, which she got. Some years later she was getting rid of it and I said I’d like it. It’s a size 12 and is in brown wool. I’ve worn it many times and it’s made me feel good and given me confidence on many different occasions; making speeches in the council chamber, giving out certificates to young people and welcoming people to the city.

It’s very versatile; it looks smart, but isn’t dark and you can dress it up with bright tops, picking out the colour of the pinstripes.

I hope that whoever the new owner is, she will wear the suit with pride, work hard, never give up and remember her sisters are supporting her.”

Sue White, chief executive of Voluntary Action Sheffield:

“I’m donating my lucky suit. I wore it to the interview for my present role as Chief Executive and I got the job!

It was exactly what I needed – very smart and formal. It cost around £220 and is a size 12.

“The skirt fitted like a glove when I bought it from House of Fraser four years ago. I really liked the wide lapel on the jacket.

It has also been useful for funerals because it is black. It has been to 2 of these recently, unfortunately.

I am donating it because I feel passionately about supporting an initiative to improve women’s chances of gaining employment. At VAS we arrange volunteer work placements with voluntary and community organisations, which helps build skills and confidence.

I think a decent suit helps boost confidence when you walk into the room; it always has done for me.”

Tips from True Colours on interview dressing

Check out the workplace dress code before your interview and dress so you’d fit in.

Keep your outfit on the safe side; avoid flamboyant jewellery or the latest high fashion look.

Make an effort! You’ll be taken much more seriously.

Small details can make or break an outfit. Wear a bit of make-up and a few accessories.

Be careful with black – it drains the colour from most people’s faces. Break it up with a bit of colour or go for grey or navy.