The Career Closet provides free professional attire for students, faculty and staff

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Taylor Haydu

The Career Closet welcoming sign on the bottom floor of the Women’s Center in the Williamson House.

Taylor Haydu, Reporter

Graduate student Stephanie Newton successfully balances getting her master’s degree, raising her children and being a manager for University Culinary Services at the DI Dining Hub and at the George T. Simon III Café in the College of Architecture & Environmental Design building. The Career Closet helped not only her but also her family succeed.

“I’ve never worn a suit before. I don’t think I’ve ever worn a pair of dress pants. At the Career Closet I found a lot of stuff that I liked and that I was able to fit,” Newton said. “I applied for a job as a student registration assistant and I had an interview. I was interviewed by pretty much the entire advisory committee at the College of Education, Health and Human Services. They were so used to seeing me in my casual work attire that they were shocked at my transformation.”

Newton is one of the many successes the closet has had since it began in 2017. The Career Closet collects, organizes and distributes business attire that has been donated to help university members prepare for professional experiences.

“We knew people who would be generous and would want to provide. We also knew people who needed it,” Cassandra Pegg-Kirby said, the director of the Women’s Center. “Many students don’t have the resources to buy books or get food. So sometimes that means they don’t have the clothes that they need. We are here to help out. That’s what it is to be a part of a community.”

Mannequins show some of the clothing offered at The Career Closet.

The idea was conceived at the grand opening of the Women’s Center when someone mentioned they had career clothing that they no longer used, said Tabitha Messmore, the assistant director at LaunchNET. The Career Closet has since transformed into a multi-site organization with pop-up shops.

The closet was featured on KentWired in 2017. The story quickly got picked up by the Akron Beacon Journal, the Record Courier and Cleveland.com.

After that, the closet began to get flooded with clothing.

“We didn’t anticipate it being so popular. So over the years we have refined the process of accepting donations and helping students,” Messmore said. “With the two locations on both sides of campus it’s convenient for students. However, the Career Closet doesn’t belong to just one place. It belongs to all of us who did it together.”

The Career Closet is a collaboration between the Women’s Center, LaunchNET Kent State and Career Exploration and Development with two on campus sites. One is in the Women’s Center on the lower level and the other is in the Career Exploration & Development office. Both sites welcome walk-ins and appointments 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The closet has wide varieties of clothing. Styles range from masculine to feminine and sizes include extra small to double XL. It holds anything from blazers to dresses, dress pants to skirts and purses to shoes. All you need to have access to the closet is a valid Flashcard.

The career closet in the women’s center at Kent State University. (Sophia Lucente)

Clothing insecurity, or the lack of sufficient, clean, seasonal and size-appropriate apparel, increasingly affects college students.

The price for college tuition and fees are 2.07 percent higher in 2022 versus 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Overall, college tuition experienced an inflation rate of 1.03 percent per year.

As economic hardship became a prevalent issue on college campuses due to rising costs following the COVID-19 pandemic, it follows that students may lack the resources to obtain professional clothing that is necessary to obtain internships and employment opportunities, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“A lot of students live paycheck to paycheck now,” said Winnie Bush, the program coordinator of the Women’s Center and manager of the Career Closet. “There is no stigma for students to come here. Finances shouldn’t make or break anyone from opportunities.”

April 18 through 23, the Women’s Center will partner with KSU alumni to create materials and donate more items to the Career Closet.

Purses at the career closet in the women’s center at Kent State University. (Sophia Lucente)

If interested in donating contact either the Women’s Center (330) 672-9230 or the CED office (330) 672-2360 to schedule a drop-off time. Items to donate include new or gently used professional pieces for men and women, ties, hangers, and gift cards or donations for dry cleaning. Overflow donations will be donated to the Portage County Clothing Center.

Newton aced the interview and got the job. Her significant other, Terry Clark, used the closet along with her daughter. Clark landed a job wearing his Career Closet attire and her daughter secured an internship at Evelyn Dickerson Hair Design in her senior year of high school.

“Wearing that attire helped boost our confidence,” Newton said. “My whole family has success stories using the Career Closet.”

Taylor Haydu is a reporter. Contact her at [email protected]