The Second Life Collection
Ms. Bonavita - Board President (New Orleans)
Nina Simone knew about the power of fashion when she said, “I love clothes. If you come out and you look the way you want to look, you will create a mood before you open your mouth and sometimes that can be enough to get your audience in the groove that you want” (Interview by Lilian Terry, July 1968, Voices from the Jazz Dimension) Dressing up for any occasion requires thought but none more than when you are dressing to impress. Dressing for an interview may not feel like dressing for a performance but you are in essence trying to win over your audience. You want them in the palm of your hand.
My Grandpa saved me from law school
This idea of fashion and its ability to influence was not lost on Nancy Lublin, a 20 something law student who remembered her father’s words that he ‘could decide who he was going to hire, by the time he saw them walk from their car to the front of the building’. So, when she got a $5000 check from the estate of her late grandfather - a polish immigrant who worked all his life - she knew she wanted to put that money towards those in need. She shared her idea with her law professor who told her to go see 2 nuns in Spanish Harlem in New York City. Ms. Lublin learnt from these nuns/community workers that they came across many women who didn’t show up for an interview because they didn’t have anything to wear or at times wore their most expensive outfit even if it was inappropriate.
These events were the lead up to the creation of ‘Dress For Success’ – a non-profit global organization that provides free clothes and services for women who need a little help to return or enter the workforce. Ms. Lublin, after many sacrifices and relentless pursuit was able to see her passion project grow from New York to cities across America and even overseas.
A ‘Dress For Success’ affiliate exists in New Orleans, LA and initially this gave me mixed feelings. While it’s great that there is an organization helping women in need, it also points to the sad reality that life can spiral out of control and put us in vulnerable situations, and that even the ‘Big Easy’ is not immune to this harsh reality. Meaghan Bonavita, Lori Byargeon and Brianna Reddeman, along with generous volunteers, are the reassuring face of the New Orleans affiliate. These women continue to work relentlessly towards providing ‘economic independence’ for women who are referred to them by other social service agencies. Ms. Bonavita, the Board President, pointed out that each ‘Dress For Success’ affiliate has to raise its own funds. While key partnerships provide support with products they do not provide financial assistance. They also rely on donations from the community in the form of work appropriate clothes, shoes and accessories and even monetary donations.
The space they currently use on Magazine Street used to be a bridal boutique and so while it’s fitting for holding beautiful designer suits and accessories it restricts them from offering more career center opportunities. This is their vision for 2017 and beyond, to ‘grow their career center, and provide a comfortable space and more computers’ to foster a learning environment. This non-profit’s mission has always been more than just the clothes they provide, it’s also about ‘keeping women in these jobs’ which is why the New Orleans affiliate, partners with Women In Action, to provide a mentorship program that continues to provide a network of support.
Ms. Bonavita, fondly recalled a fundraising event, where she was approached by a woman who was working at the hotel and had been waiting all day in the hope of seeing her to thank her and ‘Dress For Success’ for changing her life. These are the life-changing stories that Ms. Bonavita hears quite often and which provide the impetus to keep on planning, fundraising and supporting these women. After being around some of the women they help and hearing some of their stories, I couldn’t help but feel optimistic about the success they have enjoyed and the growth that also awaits them.