'...good quality clothing that feels special is an investment in confidence as well as comfort.'

Hello Victoria, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to speak to us. Can we start by telling us a little bit about Smart Works and your services?

Smart Works was founded to offer women of all backgrounds, a duel service of clothing and coaching to successfully gain employment.

We have never been busier than at the start of this year, as we are navigating a post-pandemic world there are more and more who need our services. Whether they are struggling with mental health or financial issues, or just want to elevate their careers and self-belief. 

As well as coaching that covers all types of confidence building, CV workshops and interview training, we offer styling for that interview.

Not only do they go home with an outfit (from head to toe), we have partnered with Bobbi Brown to offer a make-up service and even offer jewellery, and other little personal touches that give you that armour to face the world.

They then receive another outfit when they've got the job, for their first day at work.

We believe that clothing can be transformative. How does clothing play a role at Smart works?

We enable women to be themselves and feel the most confident they can be. Styling and clothing absolutely makes that possible for the women who come here. 
The safe space that they come into at Smart Works, makes them realise they are allowed to be 'who they want to be', showing their personality through their clothing. Through the experience of the one-to-one styling session, the client can feel that there’s someone else in the world 'who cares about me’ and that's really critical to our work.
From the 3,000 appointments we’ve seen since opening the Manchester centre in 2015, 70% of the women through our doors have gained employment.

That self-belief not only impacts women but their family and friends who reap the benefits. And that wave of all starts with the clothes.

Before we coach women, we start with the stylist as often clients can feel quite nervous and put up a wall, but during that first hour with the stylist they've become more open and relaxed to the rest of our services.
We try to give her an experience that she might not receive in everyday life, that knowledge that they are worthy of nice things. Although some people may find it quite flippant to say, clothes can make a difference - and good quality clothing that feels special is an investment in confidence as well as comfort.

How did the pandemic affect the work you do, and were there any positives to come out of lockdown?

We remained as positive as we possibly could through the pandemic, as we didn't want to stop delivering our services to women. Although we had to physically close our doors, we coached remotely and posted clothing parcels.
As restrictions have eased we are offering our in-person appointment first, but sometimes clients still can't visit us easily.
They may have family commitments or no spare cash to be able to travel to us, so the necessity of remote working - caused by lockdown - has opened up new opportunities to us.

The theme for International Women's Day this year is 'break the bias'. How does this affect the women that you support?

'Break the bias’ is at the core of what Smart Work does. It's about encouraging women to apply for jobs that sometimes they think they can't do, and identifying all the skills they do have - and might not even realise they have.
When lockdown began we started to see that more women needed support earlier in their journey into employment. Traditionally Smart Works had started at the point of an interview with our styling and coaching, but we discovered that many women were being put off applying because application forms can be overwhelming.
We now support them in understanding what the job specification is asking for and making their CVs bespoke. We are constantly trying to 'break the bias' by showing women they can apply to any industry and any type of job they want to pursue and excel in.

'That wave of confidence…it all starts with the clothes.'

Alessandra from the Beaumont Organic Team, with Victoria Cronquist at Smart Works.

How can you support Smart Works?

We rely on our partners to use our referral scheme (these include the Job Centre, prison rehabilitation programmes and well-being centres) working with women who have lost their self-identity and confidence. Women can also self-refer to our centres and find out more about what we do.
You can lend your support even if you don't need our services. Volunteers are really at the heart of Smart Works and we are always looking to add to our team - whether its styling, backroom support or coaching.
Our clothing comes mainly from retailer partners, but we also are always in need of pre-loved clothing that are sold at our pop-up shops to generate funds back into Smart Works. So think of us the next time you have a clear out!

If you could give one piece of advice to women looking for new employment, what would it be?

Contact Smart Works!…but really just believe in yourself.
We all have life experiences that can transfer into job skills. We can often be dismissive of what our own abilities, so write a list of all your skills and I guarantee it will give you more confidence. 



Thanks to Emma Beaumont for photography

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