Sohyun Choi, a sophomore intended marketing major at the University of Georgia, knew she had an upcoming mandatory meeting for the Arch Society and needed a new blazer to look the part. With the meeting quickly approaching, Choi doubted whether she’d find one in time.
A day before her meeting, Choi visited the Career Center’s Resume Critique event on the first floor of Tate Student Center. She noticed a sign for a Professional Clothing Closet, a UGA Student Government Association-sponsored program that provides free professional clothing for students. The closet opened on Nov. 21, 2019, according to SGA Communications Director Hannah Payne.
“I [felt] relieved because I thought I actually would have to drive somewhere and find something that fits me while also thinking about the cost of the professional attire,” Choi said.
The Clothing Closet will provide each UGA student one free “professional” outfit per academic year, according to the program’s website. Right now, students can complete a request form on SGA’s website to indicate the items and sizes of clothing they need from the Clothing Closet. Clothing Closet co-founder and SGA President Pro Tempore Matthew McDaniel said students can also sign up for a 15-minute dressing session.
Students are allowed to keep or return the attire they receive from the Clothing Closet. The Student Merchandising Association and the Fashion Design Student Association offer free tailoring for items through the program.
Choi kept the blazer she found and said she was “surprised” by the quick turnaround. On Jan. 22, she visited the Clothing Closet and was confident her new clothing item would be available in time for her meeting the next day.
“Having to choose whether or not [students] are going to buy groceries that week or have a suit for their dream job shouldn't be a choice that they have to make,” said McDaniel.
With the pop up shop “conveniently” located on campus, Choi said she no longer needs to find the time or the money to prepare for her meeting.
The closet works with UGA alumni chapters in New York and California as well as other alumni groups such as the Young Alumni Association and Black Alumni to collect most of its donations, McDaniel said. The Clothing Closet has received more than 2,000 items through alumni and donor donations, according to McDaniel.
The clothing selection process begins by organizing the donations and taking inventory. Then, student volunteers sort and clean items.
The Clothing Closet partners with other student resources on campus such as the Division of Academic Enhancement in Milledge Hall. The DAE, focused on helping students achieve academic success, carved out a space to house the Clothing Closet. Clothing Closet staff connect students to the Career Center and its resources.
Laura Nwogu, a junior journalism major, said she felt “excited and relieved” when she heard of the Clothing Closet. Nwogu said the valuable part of the Clothing Closet is not the clothes but the opportunity the clothes provide to students.
“How you present yourself in a professional capacity can greatly affect how employers perceive you, and the closet is giving students the tools to easily pass the first step,” Nwogu said.
According to McDaniel, the university was originally reluctant to tackle the large project due to staffing concerns. As a result, SGA instead decided to create a student-led resource.
While similar programs can be found at other public universities, such as Florida State University, McDaniel said UGA’s program is unique because of its work to integrate the Clothing Closet with other resources to prepare students for their upcoming job interview or networking event.
“It just really starts the path of what resources a university should be providing for students,” McDaniel said. “I'm excited about Professional Clothing Closet because it shows the university cares about every aspect of the student getting employed, not just the skills that we were focused on 20 years ago in higher education.”
According to McDaniel, the closet received two grants. The Office of Sustainability awarded a grant to further “efforts of recycling clothing and implementing sustainability practices.” Terry College of Business awarded the Diversity Grant, which supports the students to “enhance their professional goals,” McDaniel said.
This spring semester, McDaniel hopes to incorporate more walk-in hours for students and increase volunteers. The Clothing Closet will also host spring pop-up hours to handle a high demand for professional attire during spring career fairs.