Nonprofit helps clients succeed
While working as a fashion consultant two decades ago, Howard County resident Jeannette Kendall had a realization that transformed her life.
Her clients had clothing they no longer wanted. At the same time, people in crisis were struggling because they lacked professional clothing and the skills needed to get a job.
With that a-ha moment in 2001, Kendall launched the nonprofit Success In Style from the basement of her home in Ellicott City with then business partner Patti Francomarco.
More than 20 years later, helping people turn their lives around has become Kendall’s career.
“You have to have self-confidence in your pocket, and you have to start somewhere,” said Kendall, now 63. Giving free clothing to people in need is “one small piece of how we can help them a little bit,” she said.
“It might be the seed that grows and could be the beginning of a new life.”
Helping to overcome hardship
At the core of the Success In Style mission is the belief that people who have experienced hardships could benefit from both professional clothing and career consultations.
Led by Kendall, the organization is run by Julie Neidorf, director of client services; several part-time employees, including two of Kendall’s daughters; and volunteers, who make up about 90% of their workforce.
Francomarco, who passed away recently, served as its board chair for as long as she was able. “She was amazing,” Kendall said. “She just loved working with people, and everybody loved her.”
Kendall has nurtured the growth of Success In Style alongside her own family. She had seven children when she started the organization and has since had two more.
After giving birth to her eighth child, she answered calls and scheduled appointments from her hospital room. “I didn’t tell [clients] where I was when they called,” she said, laughing.
Since its inception, Success In Style has remained true to its initial mission: to provide high-quality professional clothing and fashion consultation while preparing clients for job interviews.
The clients the organization serves cope with a range of challenges, including recovery, homelessness, poverty and abuse. Some are refugees from war-torn countries like Afghanistan.
One of Neidorf’s clients, William Dempsey, met with her when seeking a job after having been incarcerated. Dempsey has reached out several times to tell Neidorf of the impact her assistance made.
“I was clothed in confidence by Success In Style,” Dempsey wrote. “You are uniquely positioned to provide a stylish entry for men and women who still possess the will to aspire.”
Resale boutiques boost growth
Success In Style has been able to serve its clientele, in part, thanks to generous donations of clothing. However, because some of the items the group receives are not suitable for job interviews, that excess clothing started to build up.
So, in 2008, Kendall opened a resale boutique called Charity’s Closet, selling items for $5 apiece. The money earned from selling donated clothing set Success In Style on a path toward becoming self-sustaining.
Three years later, Kendall was invited to move Charity’s Closet from Ellicott City to the historic Savage Mill mall. Once Kendall realized the mall was on a bus route, she also opened a second consultation studio there.
“I always told myself that we would never move our mission unless it was [to a spot] on a bus route — because we were not on one [originally], and it was a hardship for our clients,” Kendall said.
In February 2012, Success In Style moved their original consultation studio and corporate address from Ellicott City.
After the move, Success In Style continued to grow, opening Phil’s Closet to sell men’s clothing. Because Success In Style continues to evolve to meet clients’ needs, they are currently merging Phil’s Closet with Charity’s Closet; the new tagline will be “Pre-loved clothing for all humankind.”
In 2013, Success In Style opened Cherie Sustainable Bridal to sell discounted wedding dresses. The inventory comes from individual donations as well as from traditional bridal shops, who, in some cases, no longer need dresses left unsold at the end of a season.
Customers can find a dress for less than $1,000 — much less than the cost of buying a dress at a bridal shop. While Cherie Sustainable Bridal saves consumers money, it also provides the majority of Success In Style’s revenue.
In 2017, Success In Style opened Charity’s First Picks, selling designer items for $10 or more per item.
While growing its stores, Success In Style has also expanded its mission by opening additional client consultation studios, including at the MultiService Center in Laurel, the Woodstock Job Corps Center in Baltimore, the Glen Burnie District Court House, the Woodland Job Corps Center in Anne Arundel County and the Potomac Job Corps in Washington, D.C.
Relying on volunteers
To keep their client consultation studios and shops running, Success In Style relies on a handful of employees and a crew of volunteers.
Verna Byfield, 72, first started volunteering several years ago after having shopped at Charity’s Closet. She now volunteers at the shops and works with clients at the MultiService Center in Laurel.
When working at the resale stores, Byfield enjoys customers’ delight when they realize how much they can buy for such little money, and that their purchase supports Success In Style’s mission.
Supporting the mission of helping individuals in crisis motivates Byfield to give of her time. “At the end of the day, I feel, even if I’m in the store, that I’m helping somebody,” she said.
And Success In Style benefits tremendously from the time offered by their volunteers. “We love our volunteers,” Kendall said. “They are fantastic.”
Because many of their volunteers have multiple commitments, the organization is always in search of more.
Planning for the future
Before the pandemic, Success In Style had accumulated funds for a dream project: a mobile unit that would enable consultants to travel to community centers, churches and other gathering spaces to meet the needs of people where they are.
It ended up being fortuitous that they had not invested in the mobile unit when COVID-19 started to spread. During lockdown, they were forced to shut down their stores and needed that money to stay afloat.
Kendall and her staff haven’t given up on the idea, though. “There’s an even greater need because people fell on such hard times during the pandemic,” Neidorf said. “We have the ability and skill to serve many more people, [but] getting to them is a huge challenge.”
Success In Style is currently building back up the funding for a mobile unit through sales at their shops as well as through donations.
In describing the continually-growing organization that has helped more than 15,000 individuals in crisis, Neidorf said, “It’s practically a work of art in its conception.”
And the founder? “Jeannette is a visionary to have little by little built this complicated, ambitious, efficient and sustainable organization,” Neidorf said. “The world would be a better place with more people like her.”
To learn more about Success In Style, visit successinstyle.org or call (301) 498-5035. You can fill out a volunteer application, donate items or schedule a consultation via the website.