story by mary king-moore. photos by jan osborn.
Each year, March is designated as Women’s History Month to honor women’s contributions to society. With a focus this month on women helping to change the communities they are in, we would like to recognize Karen “KJ” Johnson. Charismatic, joyful, and mission-oriented, KJ has been the Executive Director of Dress for Success Dallas since last October and is building relationships in the area to help women find employment. This year, Dress for Success’ goal is to move at least 1,500 women in Dallas and surrounding counties toward economic independence.
“You know, I tell people all the time that relationships are so critically important,” KJ says. “The Dress for Success opportunity came about from one of my friends, who is on the board of directors. She initially reached out to me about becoming a board member.”
Soon after KJ joined the board, the executive director position became available. KJ has a heart and passion for women and helping others. Admitting that sometimes the only thing that stands in a person’s way is themselves, she needed the nudge of the friend to consider the position. KJ says she would have never gone for the role had she not been approached. She told the board, “Hey, you know, I can step in, until we find a new [director]. Thirty days later the board said we’ve already found the one,” she says. “So I’m truly excited. I could not really have dreamed of a better place for me to be. I’m excited every morning to be able to help women move forward.”
KJ explains that most people know the name of the organization and may think it just dresses women for interviews. However, Dress for Success goes well beyond a suit. Any woman or anyone who identifies as a woman and is over 18 years of age and is trying to enter the workforce can sign up for Dress for Success. There are no other qualifications. Whether you’re looking for first-time employment or changing careers, or even if you’re part of the recent pandemic exodus, you can seek assistance from the organization.
Image consultants are available to help with styling, and clients receive two complete suits (blazer and pants or skirt and top). They also receive a pair of shoes, a handbag, and up to three coordinating accessories, like jewelry, scarves or a watch. One of the fun things KJ has implemented into the program is the KJ CatWalk, a makeshift fashion runway that also serves as the hallway outside of KJ’s office. “I tell clients to put their hands on their hips, put their head up and walk the KJ CatWalk with confidence. I tell them you have to believe in yourself. You’ve got to walk into the interview like you already have the job.”
The organization also provides career consultants. The consultants are volunteers who are professionals in the workforce and partner with clients in drafting a resume. Mock interviews are also part of the program. “Many times, people haven’t been to an interview in quite some time, and they’re not sure what questions are going to be asked,” says KJ. “We also help our clients set up their LinkedIn profile, because we know employers today are going to be looking at that digital footprint. We want to make sure that it looks great.” The team at Dress for Success also cautions clients about their Instagram and Facebook profiles, reminding them to be mindful about what is posted and who they are connected with. Some other services the organization provides are financial literacy workshops and certification discounts.
Once a client becomes fully employed, they have access to the Dress for Success Women’s Professional Group. The group meets every third Saturday. They listen to guest speakers from a variety of industries. Leaders share their knowledge and group members have a chance to network. And, as a bonus, clients who attend at least three group sessions will receive an additional two suits. Dress for Success is about building relationships with women and forming a community of resources here in Dallas.
It costs the organization approximately $2,500 to assist a woman through the program. The clients do not have to pay anything, which is why Dress for Success relies on donations. KJ shared that the Dallas office sees about 25 women a month. And this month, they will assist an additional 20 women at an offsite event. They are partnering with Union Gospel Center to dress and prepare the attendees for upcoming interviews.
On Thursday, March 17th the organization hosted its annual “Your Hour, Her Power” luncheon at the Marriott Dallas Uptown. The luncheon honored women who are leading today and empowering leaders of tomorrow. Dress for Success honors 31 leaders in the DFW area who have played a pivotal role in moving the advancement of women’s rights. The proceeds from ticket sales will go directly to program costs. Even if you can not attend the luncheon, KJ says, there are so many ways to get involved with Dress for Success.
The Dallas office, located at 5589 Peterson Lane, Dallas TX 75240, is open to take clothing donations every Friday from 10 am to 2 pm. Clothing sizes 12 and up are what is needed most. They also accept accessory donations. Items must be new or like new. Another way to help is through volunteering. Individuals or groups can lend time and talents in the Career Center or sorting through clothing inventory. “We have some really amazing and talented volunteers who care for the clients and take them through the process,” KJ says.
The Dress for Success Dallas organization provides so much more than a suit for clients who are striving for financial independence—they are helping provide the education and tools that are necessary for women to thrive. To learn more about Dress for Success, go to www.dallas.dressforsuccess.org.