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Dressed for Success

Professional clothing displayed on mannequins on a red wall

After devoting hours to studying and preparation, a job interview is an exciting chance for a student to apply what they’ve learned at NC State to the first stages of their career.

But this hard-earned moment can turn to stress about what to wear, especially for students who may not have the funds or transportation to buy new clothes.

That’s where the Career Development Center’s Wolfpack Styled Professional Clothing Closet comes in. 

“They’re already such amazing students,” said Kelly Laraway, director of employer relations at the Career Development Center. “To be able to give them the opportunity to feel really good about the way they’re presenting themselves is that final piece.”

While the clothing closet is for anyone to use — everyone is welcome, no questions asked, to prevent any stigma around visiting — Wolfpack Styled often partners with NC State’s TRIO programs, which help students overcome class, social and cultural barriers to higher education. Styling events help students develop a professional look.  

This fall, the Office of Annual Giving solicited proposals from across the university for NC State’s first crowdfunding projects. Laraway saw a chance to put a long-time plan into action. 

“Something I’ve always wanted for the clothing closet is a fund we could use to provide stipends,” Laraway said. “We get nice things at the closet through donations, and we’re so grateful. To be able to build on that and serve under-resourced students with new items has always been my dream. Crowdfunding gave us that opportunity.”

The crowdfunding project will provide 20 students receiving need-based financial aid with $250 to purchase a professional outfit for a job interview, internship, career fair or conference, as well as assistance with selecting clothing and putting pieces together for a complete look. For a student with financial need, being able to buy something new that fits well is an empowering confidence boost.

“I think everyone can connect with how it makes you feel when you have a great outfit for an event, how it boosts your confidence,” she said.

Laraway has been with Wolfpack Styled Professional Clothing Closet since it began in 2014 as a Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service project for an AmericaCorps Vista student working in the Career Development Center. 

What started with a rack in her office has now grown into its own space in Pullen Hall, complete with clothing displays, communications interns to take LinkedIn photos and even graduation regalia for loan, thanks to a collaboration with Student Government. Photos are included with regalia loans too, to ensure students get to celebrate every part of their journey without financial barriers.

More than 600 students visited the closet in 2019, and staff continued to provide assistance during COVID-19 shutdowns, creating porch pickups where students could send in their sizes and needed items and then pick up items. 

Clothing donations, grants and support from corporate partners like JC Penney have helped Wolfpack Styled grow, and crowdfunding has opened even more doors. This was the first time the closet received direct monetary donations from alumni and friends, and the publicity from the campaign has meant even more student visitors to the closet.

The success of the crowdfunding campaign is helping Laraway realize the dream of clothing stipends and plan for what else the closet can do in the future.

“I would like to be able to have a fund like this every year so we can better support students,” Laraway said. “We know what the staples are — black pants, black blazers — and with more monetary gifts, we could make purchases to supplement the items we get donated.”  

An endowment would make this possible, as well as enable Wolfpack Styled to offer stipends each year, as some other universities do. Though financial support provides more flexibility, clothing donations — gently used or even new items interested donors find on sale — will continue to be important. 

“Having physical clothing is meaningful. It’s tangible. What might be something you’ve outgrown or no longer wear can make all the difference in how students feel about themselves,” Laraway said. And when those donations come from alumni and their families, it creates connections across generations.

The future for Wolfpack Styled is bright, and Laraway is grateful for those who have gotten involved with its work through crowdfunding. 

“It was so much fun to be able to connect with so many people. And that was the coolest thing about crowdfunding. You don’t have to give a lot — we just needed a group of people to give a little, and it does have a huge impact. I am so thankful for the people who gave.”

This post was originally published in Giving News.