Sheffield suit charity helping unemployed men dress to impress at interview

Vanda Kewley, of The Suit Works.
Vanda Kewley, of The Suit Works.
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Image isn’t everything – except in the first moments of an interview.

That’s when bosses size up – and pass judgement on – a candidate before a word has been spoken.

Vanda Kewley helps unemployed men dress to impress at her charity The Suit Works.

Vanda Kewley helps unemployed men dress to impress at her charity The Suit Works.

But a decent suit isn’t just about outward appearances. A sharply-dressed man can be transformed into a jobseeker at the top of his game.

Clothes maketh the man, or put another way, The Suit Works.

That’s the name of the charity Vanda Kewley established to help unemployed men get suited and booted for interview.

It accepts donations of decent threads and once she has weaved her magic, her clients stride out, cloaked in confidence.

The Suit Works receives donations of mens' clothes, but shoes are always in short supply.

The Suit Works receives donations of mens' clothes, but shoes are always in short supply.

For, along with her eye for couture, she also has a way with words.

Duncan Miller, aged 64, was offered a job after a Suit Works makeover.

He said: “It was a top-of-the-range outfit that included a jacket, trousers, shirt, belt, shoes and cuff links. I got loads of compliments and felt great before the interview. Vanda was really encouraging and when I went in I really felt the part.

“It’s an amazing organisation and she’s a fantastic woman.”

Sir Andrew Cook, of castings company William Cook is a cash donor to The Suit Works, via South Yorkshire Community Foundation.

Sir Andrew Cook, of castings company William Cook is a cash donor to The Suit Works, via South Yorkshire Community Foundation.

Vanda said: “I stand them in front of a mirror in a beautiful suit that fits really well and it has a big impact.

“They see themselves in a different light, many have never worn a suit before and they can now tell a different story about themselves – they just stand a bit taller.”

Vanda’s background is in charity finance and admin. She retrained as an image consultant in 2002. But due to the financial crash she says there was little demand for her services. And she always had an urge to help others.

Two weeks volunteering at London charity Suit and Booted changed her life forever.

She said: “I was blown away. It was the perfect blend of image and altruism, helping people using my skills and talents.”

Her determination to replicate the model took her all the way to Sheffield Soup – a pitching contest for start-ups.

And when she won, the £620 prize gave her the funds to launch. Today, the charity is based in the New Mesters complex, at 53 Mowbray St, Sheffield.

In its first year, The Suit Works had 73 clients, last year it had 120. Some 55 per cent get a job within six weeks.

Men are referred by a host of organisations that work with the unemployed.

Donations come from ‘suit drives’ at companies and firms in the clothing business. Sheffield dry cleaning company Goodman Sparks cleans all donations free.

Other organisations have helped with accommodation and finance, including the South Yorkshire Community Foundation which receives grants from companies including Sheffield casting company William Cook.

James Newman, chairman of South Yorkshire’s Community Foundation, said: “Having the support of local businesses like William Cook enables us to deliver more grant funding to the people and community groups in South Yorkshire, who need it most.

“William Cook’s recent funding to the Suit Works and many other charitable groups shows how diverse the needs and issues are in our region.”

William Cook chairman Sir Andrew Cook said: “I have been fortunate in being able to build up a successful company almost from scratch to support the employment and wellbeing of more than 600 people and their families in Yorkshire and the North East.

“We must never forget those less fortunate and I encourage other successful business people to support the work of South Yorkshire’s Community Foundation. It is tragedy when people become trapped in poverty and homelessness and they need help and work to get out of their difficulties.”