Helping women with low incomes dress for success

Ms Pang Li Kin, 63, who runs Image Mission, helping to accessorise Ms Nana, 28. The latter was referred to Image Mission and went for her first coaching session last week.
Ms Pang Li Kin, 63, who runs Image Mission, helping to accessorise Ms Nana, 28. The latter was referred to Image Mission and went for her first coaching session last week.ST PHOTO: ALICIA CHAN

Image Mission also coaches them on how to handle job interviews

In an office in Tai Seng, more than 3,000 pieces of clothing are displayed on metal racks and packed in plastic boxes, waiting to be loved.

The 93 sq m space looks like a shopaholic's paradise - with items such as Salvatore Ferragamo shoes, Zara jackets and Armani Exchange dresses - except that the clothes are to be given away for free.

They were donated over the past three months and are meant for beneficiaries of Image Mission, a charity that aims to instil confidence in low-income women preparing for job interviews.

Besides dressing them up, Image Mission - registered as a charity on Aug 26 - also helps its beneficiaries by coaching them on how to handle job interviews .

Ms Pang Li Kin, who runs the charity, has more than 10 years of experience as an image consultant.

 

The 63-year-old grandmother still runs her own firm on the side. Most of her time, however, is spent on Image Mission, which runs the local affiliate of the international movement called Dress for Success Worldwide.

 

Headquartered in New York, the non-profit group empowers women "to achieve economic independence by providing a network of support, professional attire and the development tools", says its website.

 

So far, Ms Pang and her group of 25 volunteer stylists and career coaches have helped about 10 women since September this year.

Half have landed jobs. "It's an encouraging start," she said.

"We are still working with the other women on how to do better at their next interview."

She decided to start the local affiliate of Dress for Success because she saw, in her work, how looking good can transform people.

"The people I've seen mostly have self-esteem issues," she said. "They are worried about not having the right qualifications or relevant work experience."

It broke her heart to hear a woman ask her if "the Ferragamo shoes I chose for her were too nice", she added. "I told her that they are perfect for her and she is worth it."

Ms Pang's plan for now is to grow Image Mission. "We want to reach out to more people."

Currently, it is working with 15 agencies including family service centres, voluntary welfare organisations and charities.

Since September, it has organised about five donation drives at corporations. "Countless individuals have also contacted us to see how they can help," she said.

But Image Mission, which was officially launched last month, hopes that donors can give clothes that are less than three years old.

"They should also be clothes that our donors would wear to work or interviews," said Ms Pang.

The charity does not take walk-ins. "The agencies we work with help us to screen and check that the women do indeed need our help," she said.

Ms Lucy Reeds, a partner at law firm Freshfields, has supported Dress for Success Worldwide since her days as a young associate in the United States. The charity is a household name and it is common for offices to organise drives, she said.

"Women tend to be judged more harshly than men," said Ms Reeds, 53, noting that women tend to worry about the image they portray with a lower-cut blouse or fuss about the hemline of their skirts.

"Men don't have to worry about their nails or make-up or accessories," she said.

She organised a donation drive at her office in Raffles Place last week and more than 100 pieces of clothing were collected.

One beneficiary, who wanted to be known only as Ms Nana, was referred to Image Mission.

She went for her first coaching session last week and said her hour- long appointment was useful.

The 28-year-old mother of three hopes to land an administrative job.

"I feel more confident going for interviews now," said Ms Nana.

"I have a clearer idea of, say, how to sit, talk and maintain eye contact with my interviewers."

•Interested parties can donate their clothes by sending an e-mail to info@imagemission.org

Find out more about the mission behind Dress for Success http://str.sg/ZzYn

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 11, 2015, with the headline 'Helping women with low incomes dress for success'. Print Edition | Subscribe