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‘Cinderella Experience’ giving women confidence to succeed

For some women, a barrier to employment can be as simple as not having the right clothes to wear – but life-changing charity Dress for Success (DFS) is helping them succeed one “Cinderella experience” at a time.


Video: Dress for Success Auckland


The organisation has been operating in New Zealand for more than 20 years, and provides free interview appropriate clothing, accessories and advice to more than 1200 women each year, many who are looking to enter, or re-enter the workforce, as well as to those who lack suitable clothing for other important events like court appearances and rental property interviews.


The Ministry of Social Development (MSD) can refer women to DFS, but many also come to the charity directly, and DFS Board Chair Andrea Hardy says a diverse range of women come through their door.


“They’re generally vulnerable women - long term unemployed, new immigrants, school leavers, those unexpectedly unemployed and many more from a diverse range of social economic groups,” Andrea says.


“You see women come in in their jandals and trackies, and they’re embarrassed about coming in and they don’t know what to expect, but we are here to give them the care, attention and confidence they deserve by giving them what I call our ‘Cinderella Experience’.


“They meet a stylist, who works with them to understand their needs and what clothes they will feel most comfortable and confident in, and then they’ll try on a few different outfits and find some they love.


“Then they move into the shoe section and get to take their pick from our selection and do the same for a handbag and accessories, then move into the makeup section for a wee makeover, learning tips & tricks – and they leave with this big bag of goodies, a huge smile on their face, and confidence they didn’t know they could have.


“When you see them at the end of it, you see a transformation – there’s this beautiful woman who in the past hour and a half has gained so much confidence from the love and care she’s been receiving, and she’s like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon – it’s just such a wonderful feeling to see that.”




Liz Skinner is among the thousands of women who have benefitted from DFS’s help.


When her marriage ended shortly after she had her twins, she was left feeling alone.


“I had resigned from my job as a teacher to be the sole carer for my children, and had lost a lot of income, as well as a lot of sleep,” Liz says.


“I was coming to terms with living a life that was not what I’d expected.”


She was referred to DFS through Work and Income, and when she arrived at the Auckland branch, she was met with kindness and generosity.


"I gained a wonderful experience, as well as beautiful clothing, and returned to work walking a bit taller than I had before."
- Liz Skinner


“As well as the dressing service, I was offered career coaching through DFS’s Career Centre, which included a number of personal and professional development workshops – those became the catalyst for me developing my own small business while I continued to work in schools as an outreach teacher.”


Liz says Dress For Success had a profound effect on her.


“I realised that the way we dress can impact on the way we see ourselves, and the way others see us - clothing can be like a protective cloak that enables us to feel more confident when we don’t feel as brave as we’d like to.


“When I look back at my younger self, walking through the doors of Dress For Success for the first time, scared to navigate a life that wasn’t going according to plan – I’m not sure if she would believe what I’ve been able to do since, with the encouragement of this amazing organization.”


Liz is most proud of the effect that has been passed on not only to her, but to her children.


“Now, nearly a decade on from when life was a day to day struggle to get by, I no longer let my past experiences define me, and

I’ve grown into what some might call a success – and more importantly, my twin daughters have grown up seeing me as that,” she says.


“When you help a woman, you can change a generation.”




With a cost of close to $300,000 to keep DFS running, it relies on donations from the public, as well as partnerships and corporate sponsorship.


The ANZ Staff Foundation allocated more than $700,000 in funding to 55 charities in its latest August funding round - up about 30% from the last round in February. Dress for Success charities in Auckland, Hamilton and Wellington have received more than $40,000 in donations across the last two funding rounds.


ANZ New Zealand CEO Antonia Watson says she’s proud to be helping the charity remove barriers to success.


“It’s widely acknowledged that, for certain jobs, you need to dress a certain way, and charities like Dress For Success provide such a wonderful service for those women who need a helping hand in doing that,” Antonia said.


“Being a woman in business, or in any job, comes with its own challenges, and we’re so proud to be involved in making the path the success easier for them.”


As well as offering women suitable clothing ahead of employment, DFS also works with women after they land the job, to help them keep it, and adjust to life at work.


Andrea says DFS is focusing on this aspect of the charity over the next few years, to continue to improve and expand on the support, advice and training available to women who have moved into new jobs.


“That’s a really important piece of the service – there are all sorts of programmes that we run, and we’d like to expand those, so we’re always looking for opportunities – just like the women we help.”


You can find out more about the services Dress For Success provides, or donate to the charity on their website.


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