Whether their situation has been caused by domestic violence, a criminal conviction, a layoff, poverty, or any other number of challenges, clients of Bottomless Closet face significant barriers to gaining employment and self-sufficiency.
“Many times, the women we are working with come from very disadvantaged backgrounds,” says Kendall Farrell. “That can really take a toll on your self-esteem and your confidence, in terms of going out and getting a job – and advancing in a career.”
That’s where her organization comes into play.
Ms. Farrell is executive director of the New York City-based nonprofit organization Bottomless Closet.
Disadvantaged women are referred to Bottomless Closet by partner groups when the women have secured job interviews but require some form of assistance or preparation. Each client meets one-on-one with a volunteer to select appropriate business attire – provided at no cost – and receives support that includes crafting a resume and participating in a mock job interview.
“Our goal is to really help women as they walk through the door by providing an environment that really encourages and uplifts women, [that] increases their self-esteem and self-confidence so they can go out and have a successful interview,” Farrell says.
The coaching helps to ensure that each woman is prepared. Regardless of the interview outcome, Bottomless Closet encourages the women to return: If they are turned down, it provides assistance in understanding what could be improved in future interviews. If they are offered a position, it provides support in learning skills to help them advance in the job.
“Everybody knows that it takes a fair amount of resources and, certainly, time to search for a job, and for many disadvantaged New York City women, those barriers can be complicated,” Farrell says.
Some clients struggle less with the interview than they do with workplace norms that many women might take for granted.
“If you haven’t had a professional parent growing up, you don’t know the rules of the game ... you are already at a disadvantage,” Farrell says. “For me, it’s really about leveling the playing field, and offering services and support to women.”
Bottomless Closet provides an average of 30,000 to 40,000 professional garments each year. It relies heavily on the support of volunteers who assist with everything from fitting clients with garments to crafting resumes and conducting practice job interviews.
“We are very volunteer driven,” Farrell says. The nonprofit has a small staff and is able to help so many women because of the generosity of donors – who donate garments or contribute financially – and volunteers, who work with clients.
Farrell, who has a background in nonprofit management and administration, joined Bottomless Closet as executive director seven years ago. Over the years she has been impressed by how visible the impact of its work is every day.
“In such a quick amount of time, there is such a dramatic transformation in the women we serve,” she says. “It is really remarkable to see the women who walk through our door.”
She adds: “It has been a really wonderful career move for me.”
Bottomless Closet also offers free workshops on professional development, financial management, and personal enrichment. The workshops aim to strengthen each client’s ability to secure and maintain employment and reach self-sufficiency.
“That’s what it is all about,” Farrell says, “helping women to see their potential.”
• For more information on Bottomless Closet, visit www.bottomlessclosetnyc.org.