Giving Back: The Power of Female Community
I too believe that women are going to be the ones to save the world, and the story of how our most recent community project came together makes me even more sure.
A few weeks ago we hosted our 2nd Suiting & Style Academy as part of the quarterly, 12 week Set-To-Work job training course for vulnerable women with the Downtown Women's Center. The premise of the project is to help guide women who are transitioning from homelessness back into the workforce. The DWC does a wonderful job of providing the resources and tools to be prepared for this next step, however, while many of the women may acquire the skills and cover letters they need to get their new job, they may not always have the right outfit.
I often talk about the importance of the stories we tell with our clothing, and when it comes to interviews first impressions are especially important. Job applicants can be judged particularly harshly, instantly dismissed simply for how they look. Getting a job is already competitive, and not all women overcoming hardship have the right suit or dress shoe to put their best foot forward. Since Bead & Reel is all about helping women tell their best story about themselves through what they wear, I was thrilled for the opportunity to volunteer with the DWC to use my styling background and the Bead & Reel community to help the Set-To-Work women look and feel their best. That's what every woman wants, and deserves!
Right away, our community of women started offering to help. While we began collecting donations at our east Los Angeles studio, the wonderful Jennifer Chan volunteered to arrange a clothing drive on the other side of town, teaming up with the 5-free, 100% organic, vegan, non-toxic, eco-friendly nail salon Can Can Parleur to help arrange a drop off location for West LA do-gooders. Dozens of women ranging from prolific fashion bloggers to new moms came by to donate their gently-used and new clothing, beauty products, and other dignity items to pass along to the women of the DWC.
Next, we started receiving packages from women across the country who were eager to help. We paid for the cost of pre-paid shipping labels to make donating easy and received over 40 packages from the closets of our friends and customers.
While I was incredibly humbled by the generous donations, several of the DWC women we would be dressing were plus size, and most of our donations weren't. Once again our community stepped in and it wasn't long before another incredible woman offered to help. The owner of Abundance, a local plus size boutique, invited me to come in and pick up a few items she wanted to donate, and ended up giving me 2 entire racks full of beautiful plus size clothing, some of which was even Made in USA.
The women in the Set-To-Work program were asked what they needed to help them succeed, and one of the most commonly requested items was underwear, a small dignity that is not often donated. Since I work with two fair trade, organic intimates brands at Bead & Reel, I reached out to both of them asking for their help with a special panties purchase for this project. Unfortunately the first never never got back to me, and other was unwilling to help with the project unless I bought a minimum of $1,000 (!). I was disappointed - that is not the ethical attitude of community and kindness that we encourage and embrace at Bead & Reel, and feeling discouraged, I decided to reach out to other brands. (note: I no longer work with either)
I strongly believe in the power of voting with your dollars so I only wanted to buy from brands that had materials and manufacturing practices that aligned with Bead & Reel's values. The women at the DWC deserve that, the garment workers deserve that, and our environment deserves that. Fortunately it wasn't long before I discovered BGreen, an organic intimates line that is made in the only Fair Trade Certified factory in the USA. Not only did they want to be involved in the project, but they donated a week's worth of panties to every woman in the program. To me, that is the very essence of ethical fashion. It's wonderful to focus on organic and fair trade practices, but when a brand's only goal is profits and not community, they aren't brands that I want to promote and support.
Once we received all the incredibly generous donations from our community of supportive businesses, customers, and friends, we sorted them, packed them up, and set up shop for the day at the DWC.
Besides just myself, I had an amazing team of women volunteers to make the day as special as possible. We had a seamstress to help with alterations, a photographer to take beautiful photos, and a group of friends and strangers and even my mom, who all got up early on a Saturday morning to spend the day helping women who, under other circumstances, could have possibly been any of us.
The entire day was filled with tender moments as clothing allowed for transformations. Women who otherwise may not often have options were allowed the opportunity to choose their dream outfits. When one of the women fell in love with a dress that was several sizes too big for her, our seamstress took it in perfectly for her. One pants-enthusiast found a skirt she adored (a first!), and one dress-enthusiast accepted her first pair of pants, hemmed perfectly for her petite stature. Everyone left with at least 3 tailored outfits that they were able to choose for the way it made them look and feel.
Clothing is such a powerful tool to tell the world about who we are, and I find no greater joy than getting to help women tell their most empowered stories about themselves. I wish all of the women of this quarter's DWC Set-To-Work program absolute success in their new careers, and am so grateful to get to spend time with them through this amazing collaboration for women, by women.
Thank you to everyone who was involved through donating clothing, time, and encouragement. Together, with this kind of community, I have no doubt that we really can save the world.
Photos by Tiffany Williams