Clothes make all the difference

By Melissa Walsh   Photo Yanni

It has been said that clothing has a significant effect on self-esteem and confidence, and the volunteers at Clothes4U are in the frontline to witness this every day.

The business that started four years ago, when a group of local women got together to talk about how they could serve the community better, provides clothing and accessories to women who have very little.

President and CEO Clothes4U, Veronica Whittaker, is dedicated to serving women and girls in need in her own community.

“Being born into poverty does not have to define your life. Sometimes all you need is someone to give you a helping hand. At Clothes4U our arms are always open, ready to embrace everyone who walks through our doors,” said Veronica. “Our motivation was to address the actual needs of women.  I knew a lot of people in the community and I also volunteered for another group, so I could see what was needed. We dress women for rental interviews, special occasions, and we recently dressed a whole lot of women for the NAIDOC ball.”

Veronica, who works alongside a team of volunteers, says the emphasis is on everyday wear.

“Our service is totally free. We give them good quality clothing, accessories and toiletries, as most of them don’t have any of these things. We also have baby clothes for those in need,” says the former lawyer who has practised in the US and Australia.  “We are all retired women here who volunteer. It’s not just the clothes we give women; it’s the confidence and self-esteem that comes from the positive attitude and the encouragement that the volunteers give to the clients.”

While there are a number of professional services for women on the peninsula, Clothes4U addresses the issue of raising confidence and self-esteem in those women who need it most.

“Our idea was to pamper women who were fragile and damaged. We wanted to provide clothing and accessories to women who have very little,” said Veronica, who started the business in her spare room with no clothes, no premises, and no money. “We were, however, determined to move forward. Deciding on the name Clothes4U, we incorporated and obtained ‘not for profit’ status and became a registered charity, eventually receiving ‘deductible gift recipient status’. We accumulated clothes from ourselves and friends, and tried to raise money from local organisations. We then progressed into a garage, negotiated free rent for six months, and slowly clients started to arrive. When we had raised a little money from various grass root events, we looked for better premises. Taking the plunge, we rented premises on Boneo Road, in Rosebud. It was very small; in fact our dressing room doubled as our kitchen. We could only dress one client at a time, and the shop was very crowded. At this stage, our storage facilities were off site in an empty house owned by a volunteer. It was hard work transporting clothes to Boneo Road, and took a lot of physical effort.”

As client numbers grew quickly, and the need for the service became more evident as organisations were referring women to Clothes4U, the ladies realised they needed a bigger premises to give their clients a better experience.

“For six months we inspected a number of rental properties, however they were all too expensive and landlords were not willing to negotiate. We faced rejection after rejection, and began to feel there was no solution to our problem until we discovered the Point Nepean Road premises, consisting of an area within a larger shop that was available. It was an empty canvas, and would take a lot of work to turn into a workable shop. After much negotiation with the landlord, we came to an agreement,” said Veronica, who found a local building company GEM Taylor Constructions to do pro bono work for them and renovate the premises to the delightful boutique style shop it is today.

“We now have two dressing rooms and an area that looks like a real shop, so the women feel special and pampered when they walk in,” she said.

These days, Clothes4U engages on average 40 clients per month, and in a small period of time has made a positive impact on the peninsula.

“Our client numbers are still growing, donations of clothes have increased, and our name has become well known. We have added educational programs that assist clients with interview preparation. We have also added a line of toiletries and essentials which have been welcomed by all our clients,” said Veronica.

Clothes4U is in need of donations of money and good quality clothing.

Clothes4U is at 1355 Point Nepean Road, Rosebud
Phone 0409 058 596

First published in Peninsula Essence – August 2017