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How Smart Works is Helping Unemployed Women Dress for Success

Publication: Greater Govanhill

Smart Works help women secure a job, through their clothing service, interview practices, CV workshops. We met with a representative in their Glasgow branch to find out more.

Founded in 2013, Smart Works has taken the UK by storm, with offices now in Manchester, Reading, Birmingham, Leeds, and Glasgow. The charity’s aim is to help women secure a job, through their clothing service, interview practices, CV workshops and more and is exclusively volunteer-led. Smart Works has assisted over 30,000 women since opening.

Founder of Smart Works and Honorary President Juliet Hughes-Hallett was awarded an OBE in January 2023 and they have also recently been shortlisted for Deutsche Bank’s UK Charity of the Year 2024/25. The charity’s patrons and ambassadors include the Duchess of Sussex, journalist Emma Barnett, fashion designer Betty Jackson, and singer Alexandra Burke.

According to the Smart Works Female Unemployment Index, 25% of clients were unemployed for over three years, with 45% unemployed for over a year. On average, the women they helped had only attended two job interviews despite submitting 28 applications and more than 1 in 10 had applied to over 50 jobs.

We spoke to Head of Fundraising, Partnerships, and Communications Lucy Hannay from Smart Works Scotland about the charity’s background.

“It was founded to help women with their clothing for interviews and workwear really. From there it then became more of a coaching and dressing service and then, in 2014, it was brought up to Edinburgh.”

They now have 11 centres across the UK. Talking about the opening of the Glasgow centre, Lucy told us this came about because during lockdown they ran a virtual service over Zoom, which meant they could reach women across Scotland – and found a real demand for their services in Glasgow. They opened the centre in October 2022.

“In terms of what we do – any unemployed women who has an interview lined up, can come to us. They have to be referred, so they can’t self-refer. They’re referred to us through job centres, through charities – mental health charities, domestic abuse charities, all sorts of charities – Govanhill Housing Association for example.”

When the women come to the centre, they have an hour dressing session with two highly trained volunteers. During the session, they get asked what sort of style they like, what colours they tend to wear, what they would like to see themselves wearing in the interview. Then the volunteers bring clothes out and onto rails. The client then goes up and chooses an interview outfit to wear. 

“We have a vast wardrobe across all of our centres, and 75 percent of the wardrobe is donated to us by our retail partners. So, it’s the likes of Hobbes, John Lewis, Whistles – we’ve just taken on Russell and Bromley – all sorts of different retail partners who donate their clothes, labels still on, absolutely box fresh brand new. Twenty-five percent of the stock that we have is donated to us by individuals, and that has to be really high-quality workwear. We rely heavily on both streams of donations, but it results in a really vast wardrobe.

“They then have an hours coaching session by one of our highly trained HR professionals, really focusing on that interview; interview techniques, the sort of things that they might get asked, body language, how to answer certain types of questions, you name it, they go through it. After their two hours, they’re completely equipped for the interview.”

Lucy also notes the impressive achievements of the charity – 71 percent of the women seen at Smart Works Scotland are successful in getting a job. And when that happens, they are invited back for another fitting in order to find other appropriate work wear.

There is also a ‘career coaching service’, which is for women who do not have an interview lined up but are looking for a job. 

One user of the service, Rhiannon, said of her experiences that:

“My coach was so friendly and at the time I felt quite isolated, so it was nice to have someone to speak to about my situation. After my appointment with Smart Works, I secured a role as a junior software developer for a company in Glasgow. With my increased confidence and self-esteem, and the support of Smart Works behind me, I now feel like a different person.”

Another client, Sam, said:

“I was treated with respect and kindness. I left that meeting with a new sense of purpose and self-worth. I left with the skills to speak confidently during an interview, successfully enough to land a job.”

When asked about some challenges that the charity has faced over the years, Lucy notes that women who face language or cultural barriers find the job process all that more difficult. The organisation runs a project to address these issues. The project includes arranging interpreters and translating marketing materials. She asserts that “It’s an area that we recognise as hugely important and we’re doing as much as we possibly can to be able to accommodate them.”