March 22, 2023
Professional attire accessibility, equity and sustainability in spotlight at law school
Steve Jobs was famous for his basic work attire: jeans, sneakers and a black turtleneck. Mark Zukerberg is often seen in a grey t-shirt and jeans. But for many working professionals, basic outfits like these are not an option for day-to-day work wear, and require suits, skirts or dresses, or other more formal attire.
This type of professional attire, however, comes with a cost. And for many people early in their careers, it’s a cost that can be quite burdensome. For law students, those costs can often start to add up before they step foot in a law firm, when you consider how much care and attention on appearance is required for job interviews, social events or networking opportunities. For students from a lower socioeconomic background, this could add up to a much larger, and usually hidden, disadvantage.
“We wanted to address the financial barriers associated with professional attire, which also aligns with our club’s belief in sustainability,” says second-year student Emily Zheng, who is the VP communications and academic for the Environmental Law Society in the Faculty of Law.
“While most professional attire comes with a high price tag, it also means that the quality of each piece lasts longer than the pieces circulating in fast fashion.”
Supporting students and local charity
To solve these issues of equity and sustainability, the club organized a professional clothing drive in partnership with local law firms.
“Considering the mental, emotional, and financial stress that many law students face, the message we wanted the firms to support was the idea of paying it forward,” explains second-year student and ELS president Amanda Cha.
“Law students would not be able to explore their career opportunities without the chances given to them by local law firms, and on the flip side, law firms look to the students for future talents. We wanted to continue fostering and strengthening the culture of giving back and overall mentorship.”
The first event took place in October 2022, and was such a success that a second event was held this past February. Not only did the events provide professional clothing options at pay-what-you-can prices, all monies raised were also donated to Dress for Success Calgary.
Dress for Success provides professional clothing to those in need in addition to a support network and development tools to ensure their clients can reach their full potential.
“Their mission of helping women succeed in the workplace and achieve economic independence aligns with our goal to provide accessible professional clothing to students so they can have one less thing to worry about,” says Zheng.
More than $1,500 raised
The two events welcomed close to 150 attendees and raised more than $1,500 for Dress for Success Calgary. Clothing donations were made by employees at some of Calgary’s biggest law firms, including Bennett Jones, Borden Ladner Gervais LLP, Gowling, Fasken, and McCarthy Tétrault, as well as faculty and staff at the law school.
“It was so exciting to see the support from law firms and the legal community for these events,” says Cha. “Not only are we supporting a great organization in Dress for Success, but we’re supporting law students as they start out in their careers, and encouraging folks to think about sustainability when they make their fashion decisions.”