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Fashion show displays models’ climb to jobs and self-esteem

on October 29, 2009

Clothes, shoes, jewelry and a job? Like fashion week events in Los Angeles and New York, the fifth annual red carpet do for Wardrobe for Opportunity last night showcased clients who’ve succeeded in the workplace.

But these weren’t fashion designer successes.  The big achievers at this show were the models.  With the slogan, “Find a job, keep a job and build a career,” Wardrobe for Opportunity (WFO) provides anything from professional clothing to workshops for low-income people in the Bay Area, and last night was a chance both to raise money and let the clients strut.   “I’m just ready to do this,” said LaWanda Marrero,  the 2009 WFO Female Client of the Year, a one-time crack addict who modeled last night in a pressed brown suit with a beige scarf wrapped around her neck.  She is now a student, a healthcare worker, and an author; her autobiography is called Alice in Crackland.

Every model had a story. Ricardo Iraheta, the organization’s Male Client of the Year, immigrated from El Salvador at 15 and got a U.C. Santa Barbara engineering degree, but could not find  work in the engineering market. He came to WFO for the interview workshop with Chevron and ended up with interning for the organization. He is now an engineer at Bishop Wisecarver, a manufacturing company.

Anita Chung, who in her early 40’s immigrated to the United States from China, now has a master’s degree in social work. With no English language skills and no work experience, Wardrobe for Opportunity helped her transition with one-on-one attention. She is also a social worker at On Lok Senior Health, a San Francisco nonprofit that provides healthcare to seniors.

And to LaShawn Moore, now a legal secretary at a Bay Area law firm, the guest master of ceremonies offered special compliments as Moore glided across the catwalk.  “You look too good for just brunch, girl,” said Willie Brown, Jr.

What better choice, to MC a fashion show, than the impeccably-dressed Willie Brown? “When they said wardrobe, I said, ‘Take me.’ That’s a no- brainer,” said Brown, the former mayor of San Francisco.

Under a large white tent, more than 200 people waited to seet  the nine Wardrobe clients model. The event, which has been held in Oakland the past five years, was at Scott’s Seafood in Jack London Square.

Wardrobe for Opportunity offers interview clinics, help with professional dressing, training, and technical skills.  Each client last night thanked WFO for the skills they learned.   The clients modeled three outfits—work, brunch and evening attire—which they picked out with the help of volunteer stylists. Each client had to purchase three outfits, with a $100 budget for each, from the WFO’s boutique on 14th Street and the discount brand-name clothing stores Marshalls and TJ Maxx.

The theme of the night: you feel confident when you look good.

“We tried to get them out of their box,” said Georgie Perrins, a volunteer stylist. “If they usually wear pants, we would say, ‘Have you ever tried a skirt?’”

Since the business began in 1995, it has prepared more than 16,500 clients for a successful career.  Wardrobe for Opportunity has provided clothing to more than 2,000 men and women this past year, and bought approximately $80,000 worth of the kind of clothing that is not usually donated, such as plus-size suits and shoes for men and women.

WFO received many donations at the event. People were urged to donate as little as $25 toward purchasing a new pair of shoes for a client or as much as $200 for a client’s “power” suit.

Along with the fashion show, there was a silent auction, in which people could bid on books, custom jewelry, and tickets to New York Fashion Week, with the  proceedings going to WFO.

Each client reeked of confidence as he or she strutted down the catwalk. Men removed their jackets to show off their sleek dress shirts. Women struck a pose, placing their hands on their hips as the audience clapped and cheered.

“Well, that’s it, y’all,” said Brown as the last client walked off.


  1. Lanita Mims on October 30, 2009 at 7:36 am

    This was a very nice event, very upscale and I had a wonderful time participating as a model.If WFO aks me for next year, I will say yes. I brought my 17 year old daughter who is currently a senior. She is deciding on which college she wants to apply for and fashion is one of her loves. I am hopeful with her new experience as a show dresser / stylist she will choose fashion school.
    I am Sad my picture about my photo not making it in this article.
    Lanita Mims

  2. Ashley Mikell on October 30, 2009 at 9:51 am

    I was a model in the show- Just wondering how will I be able to save these great photos since they are uploaded in to a flash player.


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