By Madison Duddy
BU News Service
BOSTON — Nadia Stoyanova-Lyttle spent months struggling to find a job after graduating from Bentley University’s MBA program in 2013 when she found Dress for Success.
As an international student from Bulgaria, employers would not sponsor her work visa with the risk of it being denied. With her short-term visa about to expire, she discovered DFS’ workshops for women searching for jobs.
“I don’t know if I would have given up. Finding DFS and the workshop they offered was really pivotal because I no longer felt that I am alone, I belong to a community of women,” Stoyanova-Lyttle said. “That kind of ‘we’re here for you,’ it’s very important.”
DFS is a non-profit international organization that helps women find economic stability and reach their professional goals. The organization was founded in 1997 and Co-founders Nancy Schneider and Enith Levine opened the Boston affiliate in 2001.
DFS dresses women for interviews and jobs and offers informational seminars so their clients can learn how to thrive in a professional work environment.
“We collaborate with regular training agencies, literacy programs, domestic violence shelters, pre-release prison programs and any agency that is doing work to get people economically back on their feet,” Schneider said.
Schneider explained that when a woman has an interview scheduled, agencies will call DFS so their clients can be styled. The personal shopper gets them everything from the outfit to accessories, and if the woman is offered the job, they can come back for a week worth of work clothes.
Unlike most non-profit organizations that offer clothing, DFS provides a unique boutique experience. Their locations are set up like clothing shops, with dressing rooms and clothing and accessories displayed on racks and tables. Each client is treated with dignity and respect, and there is no digging through messy clothing bins.
“I think the beauty of what we do is each client is treated like a shopper at Saks,” Schneider said. “They are greeted, they are given a cup of tea, we talk to them a little bit, we go pick out the different clothing sizes, there are dressing rooms, we consult about what looks good.”
Schneider referenced a “transformative” moment she has witnessed many times at DFS during the shopping experience.
“A woman will come out of the dressing room and stand in front of the full-length mirror, and her whole expression changes because suddenly she looks professional,” Schneider said. “The support of the personal shopper, the quality of the clothes we accept and the encouragement that I think you can feel when you come into the boutique, they’re just a magical combination.”
Stoyanova-Lyttle compared the DFS shopping experience to the fairy godmother in “Cinderella.”
“You need to feel that you can accomplish it and you’re not just the girl in the corner who sweeps the room and who is not a part of the successful crowd in front of her,” Stoyanova-Lyttle said. “No. She can be a part of that.”
The organization also has a career center that helps women with resume preparation, online job searches, mock interviews and provides clients with highly positioned women in different industries as mentors. DFS hosts the Professional Women’s Group for former clients who got jobs.
“The group has monthly seminars where professionals, usually women, talk about writing resumes, dealing with office politics, what’s a 401k plan, do you know you’re credit score, health insurance, tenants’ rights and other important things to know when you are in the professional world,” Schneider said.
Six years later, Stoyanova-Lyttle is a member of DFS’s Professional Women’s Group. She works at an international education software company in Cambridge called StratX Simulations and is married with a baby. Stoyanova-Lyttle is still in contact with the women she met at DFS and plans to be for the rest of her life.
“The thing is, it’s not just the one-time engagement. It’s the continued support, dedication, assistance and opportunity to grow in your life that DFS provides to different women,” Stoyanova-Lyttle said. “I don’t know of any other organization that is so transformative in the life of women. I haven’t heard of anybody, throughout those six years, who went through Dress for Success and did not experience a leap in their life after.”