The Green Line team took the TTC to Willowdale to learn how Dress for Success' programs help local women gain employment.

Lichu Chen sitting on a grey couch at the Dress for Success boutique.

Lichu Chen, a client at Dress for Success, sits on the couch inside the boutique.
📸: Aneesa Bhanji/The Green Line

Amanda Seraphina James Rajakumar BW


Indian immigrant with a post-grad in journalism from Centennial College. Now living in Grange Park, meeting new people, and hearing different stories. Has four names, so it’s a pick-your-player situation.

Aneesa Bhanji BW


Currently a journalism student at Toronto Metropolitan University who's also studying communication and design. Grew up in Vaughan, now living in downtown Toronto. Always loves a good chai latte.

April 5, 2024

A group in Willowdale is helping underserved women gear up for job interviews with the help of fashion — but more than just clothes, it’s about feeling confident.

Dress for Success, a nonprofit focused on helping women gain economic independence by finding the right "fit" to help them get a job that fits, is based in Willowdale, a lively suburb lined with restaurants, hangout spots and stores.

The global organization started its Toronto branch in 2009, and now helps 1,700 local women each year. Programs manager Joya Mukherjee says fashion is an essential part of helping women feel confident in the workforce.

“How we present ourselves in spaces and how we're perceived is really important, and first impressions go a long way," Mukherjee explains. "By putting themselves forward, feeling confident on their first day or in their interview — whether that's virtual or in person — fashion allows us to do that, right? We can play with our identity, our personality, and really communicate what we're looking to do in our jobs.”

At its boutique near Yonge Street and Sheppard Avenue West, Dress for Success welcomes all women, including immigrants, single moms and Torontonians with lower incomes. The nonprofit provides free suiting services for interviews and also hosts workshops to help attendees build job skills.

Dress for Success suiting program

Dress for Success programs manager Joya Mukherjee (pictured left) suggests clothing options to her client Lichu Chen (pictured right) inside the Dress for Success boutique.

Lichu Chen, a client, says she found community at Dress for Success.

“I am a single mom, and I raised my child primarily as a single mother with a career, so that has its own challenges, as well," she says. "So, I find that when I came to Dress for Success, there were other women, professionals, as well, that actually went through the same thing as I did.

"I was able to connect with them, and we were able to support each other.”

Line graph of the number of immigrant women in Willowdale over the years.

Line graph showing an increase in the number of immigrant women in Willowdale over the last decade.
📸: Paul Zwambag FOR THE GREEN LINE

With today's hyper-competitive job market, newcomers in particular face big hurdles. They may experience discrimination, and may need to get relicensed or re-credentialed in their field.

According to Statistics Canada’s 2021 population census, more than 3,000 new immigrant women moved to Willowdale between 2011 and 2021.

Willowdale Councillor, Lily Cheng sits inside her office overlooking Mel Lastman Square.

Willowdale Councillor, Lily Cheng sits inside her office overlooking Mel Lastman Square.

That's why Lily Cheng, councillor for Ward 18 Willowdale, believes Toronto needs support services like Dress for Success.

“With all the challenges of being a newcomer or living in an under-resourced community, it can be even harder, actually, because in Willowdale, there's quite a diversity of income," Cheng explains. "When you're surrounded by people who are living quite wealthy, it can be intimidating, and you might have a hard time finding your confidence."

"So, I think this kind of service allows us to support the broad range of people in our community and really, really lift up those who need that extra lift.”

To date, Dress for Success has provided local women with over 150,000 pieces of clothing and accessories. But beyond the clothes, Chen says clients tend to re-enter the workforce with a renewed confidence.

"I don't think that I was as strong as I normally am, or how people actually see me, and so I needed to find that inner strength again within myself," she says.

"I think that's what the organization actually has done for me is — I was able to find myself again."

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