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BEHIND THE SCENES

We want to shout about Smart Works

Only a short walk away from our London office is one of the locations of the brilliant organisation Smart Works, who we partner with. Social editor Bethany visited their Islington base with blogger Danie Vanier to find out more about the work they do…

Editor: Bethany Rutter

Whether you’ve heard about Smart Works before or this is your first time, I’m going to talk you through exactly what they do, as explained to me and Danie by Robina Lamche-Brennan who works at the organisation…

Smart Works, in simple terms, is an organisation that helps women get ready for job interviews when they’ve been out of work for a while.

It works with around 750 other organisations and charities, from domestic violence support groups to housing associations, who refer women to Smart Works.

And it’s open to anyone who identifies as a woman, not just cisgender women.

Once a client has booked their appointment, it’s time for a one-to-one styling session with one of Smart Works’ network of more than 150 volunteer stylists.

In this session, the stylists ask what the client wants to wear, rather than imposing their tastes on them. Whether it’s skirts or trousers, flat shoes or heels, the stylist will balance what the client is looking for with what’s right for the job interview. The stylists also take into account the needs of women from different religious groups and find an outfit the client is comfortable with.

The clothes come from a variety of places: a lot are new stock donated by retailers (hey, like us!) but some is nearly-new, passed on to Smart Works by generous individuals. Smart Works relies on a steady flow of clothes coming in, because clients get to keep their interview clothes forever.

The stylist curates a rail of clothes they hope the client will love, and the client is encouraged to give honest feedback based on the styles selected for them. Smart Works are used to working to last-minute timescales when a client’s job interview comes up, even down to quickly sewing up too-long trouser legs right before an interview. They can handle anything.

At the end of the styling session, the client gets a full outfit, down to shoes, a bag, any jewellery to tie it all together, and they get to keep it all.

After the styling session it’s time for the interview coaching session which takes place with volunteers who have a background in HR or coaching. It lasts for an hour and involves whatever the client wants: whether that’s general things like confidence boosting, breathing techniques or specific questions they might have relating to disclosure or a mock interview for the job at hand.

59% of women who use Smart Works’ services are given a job within 6 months, which, for a free service is not a bad hit rate!

If clients don’t get the job, they receive followup support and are given other partners who might be able to get them into work.

If they do get the job, the client can come back for 5 more pieces for their work wardrobe that are intended to work with the interview outfit they took away from the first session. It can be a long time between getting a job and receiving a first paycheck with which to buy clothes, so this can be a super useful part of the process.

Clients are encouraged to become part of Smart Works’ network, where they meet once a month and cover different areas of work, from negotiation skills to makeup classes with Bobbi Brown cosmetics. All things that make the transition back into work that bit smoother and more enjoyable.

loved visiting Smart Works with Danie. At navabi, we’ve been passing on never-worn workwear items from our collections to Smart Works for some time, not least because a lot of plus size women pass through Smart Works’ doors. Until now, though, I had never seen for myself the work that they do and the amount of care that goes into making the process as professional, joyful and useful as possible.

As well as continuing to give products to Smart Works, we’ve got something great in the pipeline for the autumn, so I figured now was a good time to introduce you to all the amazing work they do.

In 2017 alone, they’re aiming to give support to 3,000 women across their centres in Birmingham, Reading, Manchester, Edinburgh and the two London locations. If you live in any of these cities and have a way to support Smart Works, they would probably love to hear from you. I’m hoping that I can find a way to make it fit with my work schedule and become a volunteer stylist.

If you found this interesting, check out the Smart Works website for more information, or follow them on Twitter.

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Bethany Rutter

Editor: Bethany Rutter

Social content executive at navabi. Body-positive warrior and fashion obsessive. Likes looks and books.

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