When Dress for Success began in a church basement in 1996, its goal was to provide suits to underprivileged women as they entered the workforce. Joi Gordon, a former district attorney, joined just a few years later as the nonprofit’s executive director, and in 2002 became the organization’s CEO. Under her leadership, Dress for Success Worldwide has expanded its offerings to include employment training and retention programs. Today, they have 130 affiliates in 15 countries and have, since inception, serviced more than 700,000 women.
BlackEnterprise.com caught up with Gordon to discuss the inspiration for her work and their latest project, coffee-table book Threads.
BlackEnterprise.com: What would you say is the fuel behind Dress for Success’ growth?
Joi Gordon: Throughout my 16 years at Dress for Success Worldwide, I have seen our organization grow from a below-ground boutique housed in the basement of a midtown Manhattan church to serving women in more than 130 cities throughout 16 countries. Since our organization was established in 1997, [we have] heard the stories of over 700,000 women throughout the globe and began to realize that these stories are more than just words. These stories are the experiences, actions and emotions that embody every woman around the world. Dress for Success has been able to expand at such a rapid rate because we understand the universality in each woman’s story, despite her language or location. They are what keeps me motivated to come to my office every morning, and they are what inspires others to support our organization.
Those stories also inspired the organization’s first book, Threads. Talk a bit about that.
With so many women passing through the doors of Dress for Success each year, how could we bring those stories to life? How could we tell those stories in a way to make others feel what we felt as we heard them each and every day? I decided that the best way was to highlight the threads that bonded each of their stories but to let the ladies tell the stories themselves.
And that’s how Threads came to be. This coffee-table book is the first endeavor of its kind by Dress for Success Worldwide and features the firsthand success journeys of 20 women from around the world. Inspiring original imagery from world-renowned photographer Danielle Levitt provides a pictorial peek into the personality of each woman, complementing each of their personal threads while highlighting the bonds between them.
What did you learn from the process of developing this book, and what do you want it to accomplish in the long term?
I knew that there were many pieces to put in place for this book to come to fruition, but my passion for this project was apparent in every word that I spoke about it. My excitement spread to my team and before long, we were moving full steam ahead on Threads. In just a few short months, we were holding the book in our hands, fresh off the printer.
I learned that you can make anything happen, but you must first believe in the idea yourself. We want to hear even more stories and help to turn those stories into true success journeys. We have identified about 50 high-need markets in the United States, Africa, Europe and Asia, and are securing interest from constituents within the community who would like to establish a Dress for Success affiliate in their city. We hope to soon be able to transform the lives of these women in these areas so that they are able to build a more secure life, a more stable family and stronger ties to her community.
For more information, or to purchase Threads, visit DressForSuccess.org.