University of the Fraser Valley

Students dress for success at the Career Closet

Students dress for success at the Career Closet

The Career Closet opened at the Clothes the Loop event in March, as part of March for Sustainability.

For the third year in a row, the Career Closet is clothing student job-hunters while battling prejudice in the workplace.

Hillary Rowe, a Student Transition and Engagement Coordinator with UFV’s Student Experience Office, created and directs the project. The Career Closet is part of March for Sustainability, an annual event series addressing topics like climate change, biodiversity, EDI, and gender equity. After premiering at an event called Clothes the Loop, the Career Closet is available in room S1111 on the Abbotsford campus until April 19. Students seeking professional attire for job interviews are welcome to stop by and take what they need, free of charge.

An important aspect of the Career Closet is its focus on reducing systemic barriers to employment. Expectations around professionalism vary from culture to culture, and can be influenced by bias around race and gender. For many students navigating the job market for the first time with limited financial resources, there are a lot of obstacles that can hold them back.

“It’s something really, really important to me,” says Rowe. “Reducing those barriers, access and employability, especially for students, is so huge. Not only do you need money to pay for your education and probably your living, but also that experience is valuable when you’re looking for employment opportunities once you graduate. And to think that folks would miss out on those opportunities simply because they don’t know or don’t have access to the right shirt — a shirt they might not even wear at the job that they’re working. It made me a little bit upset at first, and then I was like, okay, what can I do about it?”

Rowe partnered with Campus Living, Centre for Experiential and Career Education, and Office of Sustainability to create an accessible resource that would address some of those unmet needs. Many student volunteers have also joined to help clean, steam, and sort the garments — including Ray Kelly. Kelly, along with the African Students Club, set up a booth at Clothes the Loop to educate about the ties between Euro-centric professional ideals and colonialism. With the heartfelt collaboration of so many employees, students and alumni, the Career Closet aims to make employment more inclusive for everyone.

Rowe appreciates the atmosphere of community it creates, remembering the buzz of activity around the racks and the spontaneous connections visitors made through conversations about fashion advice. One student shared that the care taken to organize the clothes by garment type instead of gender made shopping there a welcoming, affirming experience.

“It’s our goal that by raising awareness about clothing bias and interview spaces, and at the same time, arming people with the very clothes they need to enter those spaces, we’ll all be able to create change from the inside,” Rowe explains.

Donations are still being accepted for specific under-donated items, like menswear and plus-size clothing. If you’d like to contribute, make sure the garments are laundered, wrinkle-free and ready to wear. To drop them off, connect with or visit the Student Lounge in room S1111.