Kate-Lily de Graft-Johnson had been out of the workplace for four years after suffering from depression and anxiety, when she was referred to Smart Works, the women’s charity of which the Duchess of Sussex is a patron.
‘I used to be a confident person and slowly but surely it got beaten out of me and I didn’t think I was worthy of any job,’ says the 32-year-old, who was had secured a job interview at British Land as a central services manager when she was put in touch with the charity by an employment service. Once there, she received styling and interview advice, taking home an outfit to wear for the big day.
‘I don’t know what it is about clothes but it just kind of transforms you,’ she recalls. It worked: she became one of the astonishing 60 per cent of Smart Works clients who went on to get the job.
Today, she one of seven Smart Works success stories who have come to Burberry’s London showrooms to choose a capsule wardrobe befitting their new jobs. It’s all in celebration of International Women’s Day, and the atmosphere is buzzing with excitement. Cheers go up each time one of the women comes out of the changing rooms in their new outfit.
Wearing a white Burberry dress, blazer and shoes – accessorised with a huge grin – De Graft-Johnson adds: ‘Words can’t describe what this means to me. This experience today has reminded me to never give up.’
The UK charity assists women returning to the workplace by providing high-quality interview clothes and interview training to those in need. Many are referred to Smart Works from job centres, work programmes, prisons, care homes, homeless shelters and mental health charities.
Many of Smart Works clients are from an ethnic minority, long term unemployed or have been unsuccessful with a large number of job applications, and 40 per cent are single mothers. So far, the charity has supported more than 13,000 women at their centres across the UK.
‘It’s a full range of women and each one of them wants to work but has lost that connection with who they are,’ says Kate Stephens, CEO of Smart Works. ‘We have a very specific moment where we help a woman before her job interview, which is when a person really sells themselves – if you can’t do that, that is a real barrier for succeeding. So we use clothes really as a way to unlock that confidence.’