We speak to Liz, a stylist, from our charity partner Smart Works for International Women’s Day
Smart Works is a unique charity that provides support to aspiring, out-of-work women through interview training and head-to-toe dressing. They have offices in some of the UK’s major cities including London, Edinburgh and Birmingham, and have a great success rate in giving their clients the confidence to secure employment. Every season we support them with the donation of our all of our unworn production samples and a selection of our current range, which enables them to offer more choice to their clients and set them up for success. Both in the women they support and the team of volunteers that make it all possible, they are a real inspiration.
So, to celebrate International Women’s Day we spoke to Liz Grove, a Stylist at Smart Works, to find out more about her and her role, why she loves what she does and how what they are doing is really benefitting women.
Liz, in your own words, please can you describe what Smart Works do?
Smart Works is a fantastic organisation that helps women who may have been out of the job market, often for some time, to get back into work.
We provide them with a complete outfit, appropriate for a job interview, that they may otherwise not be able to afford. And one of our fabulous interview experts offers them interview coaching. All of our interview experts and stylists are volunteers.
How and why did you get involved?
I got involved about five years ago when I saw an article in the Sunday Times Style magazine advertising a fashion fundraising event for Smart Works. I loved the idea of helping women, and often vulnerable women, find work. The option to volunteer as a dresser, style clients and work with fashion was hugely appealing.
What were you doing before?
I had worked in fashion retail and had my own home visiting beauty therapy business before I became involved with Smart Works so the idea of helping women to look and feel good about themselves was something I was very familiar with. I had previously worked with charities in a fundraising capacity, but working here has been a far more hands on and proactive experience.
Tell us about what you find most fulfilling…
The most fulfilling thing about working here is seeing the change in our ladies who often walk through the door feeling very nervous and intimidated and leave us feeling enormously confident, happy and positive about their job prospects.
We’d love to know more about the kind of women you meet…
We meet women from all walks of life, some very vulnerable. For example, some clients come from women’s refuges, the prison system, may have suffered from homelessness or sometimes have just been out of work for some time, often having spent many years caring for children or family members. Our clients are all amazing and I am constantly in awe of their positive attitude to getting back into the workplace.
What does the dressing session involve and, in particular, what makes it so valuable?
The biggest challenge we face is making our clients feel comfortable during their time with us. The prospect of being dressed by two people can be quite a daunting experience, and we spend a lot of time reassuring our ladies that we are here to guide them and not to force them into an outfit they are not completely comfortable with.
What’s the biggest challenge you face at Smart Works – and how do you embrace it?
Size can be an issue when finding an outfit, as it reduces the options available due to less stock being donated in smaller and larger sizes. It can be as hard to dress a size 4/6 as it is to dress some of our larger size 20+ ladies, and it may take a little longer, but we always endeavour to find the perfect pieces of clothing. We attempt to make the experience as fun as possible, to boost confidence and to put a smile on the faces of our lovely clients.
Tell us about two or three highlights of your time at Smart Works.
I’d say every week coming here knowing that I have helped a woman on the road to getting back into work is a highlight.
It is always very satisfying when you have helped some of the most vulnerable members of our society change the course of their lives, often from being at rock bottom, to fulfilling their potential, it is a very humbling experience. I feel enormously privileged to be involved with Smart Works, everyone who works here makes a real difference to someone’s life!
We’d love to know more about you – outside of Smart Works. Please tell us something people might not know about you. Is there another project you’re involved with? How do you spend your time? What matters to you?
Outside of Smart Works I do a little bit of styling, mainly helping ladies sort out their wardrobes, so not necessarily encouraging them to buy more clothes but helping them to think about putting items together to create new outfits.
I have just started a 3 year course (what was I thinking?!) in Naturopathic Nutrition something I have been interested in for some time now. Nutrition is a minefield and I really want to understand more about this subject and maybe set up my own practice one day.
I am very lucky to have 3 children and a husband who keep me busy. I love being involved with Smart Works and over the last 5 years have met some amazing people it really has been a wonderfully rewarding time for me and one I hope to continue for years to come.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our International Women’s Day interview with Liz. If you want to read more about the amazing work that Smart Works do, or would like to get involved either through clothes donation or becoming a volunteer, then simply visit their website here.