Maryam Rainwater had an interview for an internship coming up and she knew she needed something new to wear.
The University of Arkansas at Little Rock junior figured she would have to shop for an outfit when she got an email from Shannon Gwinn, director of Career Services at the school’s College of Business Health and Human Services.
“She told me to come to her office, and she had all these beautiful, nice, dressy suits and blouses,” says Rainwater, who is studying accounting. “The timing was perfect. It was so nice.”
Rainwater, who is from Newport, chose two blazers and wore one of them, a black and gray blend made by Lafayette 148, to the interview she had scheduled for the next week.
“It was something I never would have seen myself buying, it wasn’t like a normal blazer. It was a zip up one and this was the winter and it was warm and nice, I can zip it up.”
She wasn’t familiar with the brand, “but just the feel of it, I knew that this was a really nice jacket.”
It also made her feel confident, she says.
The interview went well, and she is now an intern at Conger Wealth Management.
“I wrote to Ellon and told her that was the blazer that got me the job,” she says.
Ellon is Ellon Cockrill of Little Rock, and that blazer was part of about 20 other pieces of dressy business attire that she donated to UALR’s Trojan Career Closet, a program started in 2016 to provide clothing for students to wear to job interviews and other professional settings.
“During the pandemic you find things to do, and I was cleaning out my closet and I had all of these business suits that I don’t wear anymore,” Cockrill says on a rainy afternoon earlier this month at Boulevard Bread Company in Little Rock.
She called a friend at UALR to see if there was a way to get her clothes to students who could use them and got connected with the career closet.
Of course, she didn’t just load them up and drive them over.
“I had them dry cleaned and put in plastic bags. I put them on nice hangers and took them out there.”
And then went back to her closet and brought more.
She received “two wonderful notes” from students (including Rainwater) thanking her for her donations.
“I was in tears because I realized that my giving to them made a difference in their lives,” she says. “A small gift can really make a huge difference in someone’s life.”
At a recent UALR function, she got to meet a recipient of one of her outfits.
“She looked great in it,” Cockrill says.
She got her friend Jill Ricciardone, who had recently announced plans to close her boutique, Feinstein’s (where Cockrill got her outfits), to donate some of her leftover stock.
“I’m not afraid to ask for something as long as it’s for someone else,” Cockrill says.
Not only did Ricciardone donate clothes, she also gave two clothing racks, makeup, jewelry, belts and accessories from the store.
“We went and picked up all those clothes and racks, and now we really look like a boutique,” Gwinn says.
The recent donations are kept in a space in the Reynolds College of Business Building near Gwinn’s office.
Having a well-put-together look can help a student on a budget feel more at ease in an office or meeting with a potential new boss, Gwinn says.
“You may think, this is what I see on TV or on social media and I like it, but that may not transfer to a professional business environment.”
Students get to keep the clothes, Gwinn says, and they can peruse the selection after making an appointment with her.
And don’t think that a student might not be interested in your slightly more mature outfits.
UALR has traditional college students and a number of older, nontraditional students, Gwinn says, so that pantsuit or pinstripe button down might be just the ticket for a 40-something preparing for an interview or a first day at work.
Knowing how to dress for work can be a challenge for some, and UALR offers a workshop each semester to help students find the right fit.
“It’s called Dress to Get the Job,” Gwinn says. “We have partnered with our friends at Dillard’s to provide this workshop, and it’s a fun event.”
Models show appropriate looks for job interviews — business casual and other office fashion.
The most popular part of the workshop, Gwinn says, is when models show off what not to wear to work.
Cockrill has been an indefatigable volunteer for decades. She heads the Central Arkansas Leadership Council for the Arkansas Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, she’s involved with Little Rock Rotary Club 99, the Little Rock Junior League, CHI St. Vincent Infirmary, the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Arkansas Enterprises for the Developmentally Delayed and more.
She has donated clothing to Goodwill and Jericho Way Day Resource Center, but for the business attire she had accumulated, UALR seemed to be the best fit.
“They’re classic. They are good designs, good fabrics and if you take care of them they will last a long time,” she says.
“A lot of people donate to Goodwill,” Rainwater says, “but she took the time to come and take her clothes to Shannon. She knew Shannon would put them in a good place.”
Cockrill is now eyeing her husband’s wardrobe. He has lost weight recently, she says, and there are some items that would go over well at the school.
“You know, I didn’t do anything other than clean my closet out,” she says. “If you have really good clothes, clean them, put them in a bag and call UALR. Clothes don’t make a person, but they can help you feel comfortable and be who you are.”
To donate professional attire for men and women, call Gwinn at (501) 916-5788.