Nonprofit Spotlight: Dress For Success Triangle

With boutiques in both Durham and Raleigh, Dress for Success Triangle allows women to truly “change into” who they want to be.

If you really want to know what Dress for Success (DFS) is all about, a simple Google search is not going to cut it. Yes, DFS Triangle is an affiliate of a global nonprofit organization that exists in almost 150 cities in 25 countries. If you’re looking for numbers, they’re easy to find — globally, Dress for Success has helped more than 1.2 million women work towards self-sufficiency, and Dress for Success Triangle, founded in 2008 by Fortune 100 executive Pat Nathan, has served 20,000 clients over almost 15 years.

The figures are impressive, to say the least, but for a full understanding of the impact this organization has on local women — and the sisterhood it provides — you need to speak with the members who have experienced it themselves.

Terri Conyers, currently the executive director of Fellowship Home of Raleigh, first engaged with Dress for Success in 2008.

“I was experiencing major transitions in my life,” said Conyers. “My self-esteem was virtually nonexistent, and I needed to move toward a new career. I was referred to DFS by a local agency and was hesitant to seek their help. I couldn’t imagine how they could help me, but I took a chance and made the appointment. Much to my surprise, they treated me like I was the most important person in the room.”

“That moment when they come out of the dressing room and see themselves, that’s the moment we’re going for. It’s a real pivotal moment and keeps our volunteers coming back,” said Heather Dennis, executive director for DFS Triangle.

Like all women who are referred to DFS, Conyers experienced a network of support and advocacy like no other — including career coaching, development tools, mentors, professional attire, and everything else needed to get from point A to point B.

“The volunteers and staff assisted me with finding an outfit that was current so I could go to interviews with confidence,” said Conyers. “They also coached me on the current trends in hiring and assisted with how to pitch myself professionally and accurately. I was employed within a couple of weeks and joined a supportive team that valued my skills.”

But the support didn’t stop there — after finding a job, Conyers joined the DFS Professional Women’s Group, a monthly meetup that provided education, fellowship, and career advancement tips.

“Their continued support and coaching allowed me to stay involved and offer hope to other women who are facing a life-changing transition,” said Conyers, who now serves on the Board of Directors.

Darelyn “DJ” Mitsch, the CEO of The Pyramid Resource Group, a corporate coaching company, is a longtime supporter and former board member who has been involved with DFS Triangle from the very beginning.

“I think each of us female executives, we have a way of giving — for some it’s time or energy, for some it’s money, and for some it’s serving in leadership roles,” said Mitsch. “Pat stayed in her role as both the president and the founder for the first two years I was on the board, and then the third year she asked if I would consider being the board president, and I said yes. At that point, if we could serve 1,500 women a year, that was significant. Now we serve 20,000 women.”

Individual donors and retailers in the area keep DFS Triangle stocked with professional clothes, handbags, shoes, and jewelry.

Beyond her commitment to women helping women, Mitsch had another reason for joining DFS: families.

“I served for three and a half years on the board of Prevent Child Abuse NC,” said Mitsch. “One of the frustrations I had as a resource development chair was that the number of cases in NC for child abuse and neglect was the second highest in the country. What I realized is that when you help mom, you are potentially helping at least two children. So for me it became a really holistic story about impact in the community at large. This outreach has an impact on the family.”

DFS Triangle provides help to anyone who identifies as a woman; there are no economic requirements to receiving assistance. Whether you’re a professional who just got displaced in the workforce, a woman looking to switch career paths, or a mother juggling several jobs to make ends meet, DFS Triangle offers a plethora of free client services, from suitings and networking groups to mock interviews, job training programs, and more.

As the executive director of DFS Triangle for the past three years, Heather Dennis pivoted quickly during the pandemic to meet the needs of women by any means necessary — from mailing clothing kits to providing virtual programming.

“We decided very early on in the pandemic to find the opportunities in this challenge and try things with an open mind,” said Dennis. “That mindset led us pretty early on to what I think is probably the most successful program of ours to date, the Wednesday Webinars. We do two every Wednesday on career building or life skill topics, and they’re extremely popular. Because it’s virtual, it’s a very low bar for someone to engage with us for the first time. There’s no intimidation about walking into an office, and you’re not on screen. It’s proven successful in introducing women to DFS, and they eventually engage in those one-on-one or in-person services.”

Although all of the services at DFS are about building confidence, both Mitsch and Dennis agree that the best feelings — what Dennis calls the “warm fuzzies” — happen during suitings at either the Durham or Raleigh locations. DFS clients have two separate suitings, one for interview clothing and one for employment clothing. They end up with a week’s worth of clothing for the job they get, be it pinstripes or scrubs.

“We get about half a million pieces of clothing donated to us over the course of the year,” said Dennis. “The things that we can’t use for either client or sales we sell to a fabric recycler and get paid by the pound. So if you donate clothing to us, we are putting it to use somehow.”

“To have a woman come out of that dressing room and look at herself in the mirror and see what we see in her, that’s a beautiful moment,” said Mitsch. “Pat Nathan used to say that for some women it’s just a donated suit or jacket, but for this woman, it’s a life jacket. It really is a way of bringing people to life and helping them see themselves as worthy.”

For women who would like to round out their wardrobe, DFS Triangle offers periodic excess inventory sales with clothing they receive from retailers and boutiques — with clients getting first dibs. Once the sale is open to the public, all the money raised goes back into DFS Triangle’s life-changing services.

“The things that we can’t use for either clients or sales we sell to a fabric recycler, so we get paid by the pound for those,” said Dennis. “So if you donate clothing to us, we are putting it to use somehow. One way or another, you are helping a woman!”

Aside from donating clothing, volunteer opportunities include everything from one-time projects (helping set up or break down a pop-up sale, for example), regularly showing up at a donation center to sort donated clothes, career or image coaching, presenting during a webinar — you name it. There is a volunteer page on the website for those who are interested.

Looking for stilettos? At DFS Triangle, members can come in for a full interview outfit, head to toe.

“If you have an interest or a talent, we’ll find a way to put it to use,” said Dennis.

In the end, Dress for Success is much more than clothes and resume building — it’s about empowering women by helping them achieve independence and economic sustainability. All women have marketable and unique skill sets and deserve to be supported through the tough times and celebrated during the good times.

“I think Dress for Success makes dreams come true. There’s a sisterhood — and I want to really underscore the word sisterhood,” said Mitsch. “It’s holding hands, standing side by side. No board member is greater than the client who comes in. Everybody is in this together, and that is a really meaningful connection.”

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