Jessica Ewud almost fell into her position as executive director of the Save a Suit Foundation in 2011, impressing founder Scott Sokolowski enough in one meeting for him to grant her direction of the organization.
Ewud wasn’t even interviewing for a position with the foundation, she was interviewing for a job at his personal business.
“The organization had done one suit drive” by the time Ewud took over, she said at the foundation’s storefront in Bethel on Tuesday. “We didn’t have a brand, we didn’t have any processes. We weren’t sending any suits out to anybody. But as an artist I really liked the idea of creating something new.”
Since the beginning of her tenure, Ewud has almost singlehandedly grown the organization, introducing six new programs and processes. She works full-time at the Bethel storefront with one assistant and a few interns.
Nowadays, Save a Suit gives out hundreds of suits every year to military veterans and college graduates who can’t afford the necessary wardrobe for a job interview.
“Every $50 to $75 allows us to get a suit on the back of a veteran,” Ewud said. “That includes getting the suit, sizing it, cleaning it, and providing a suit shirt and shoes.”
But had it not been for Ewud’s quick thinking a few years ago, the organization may never have stuck around for this long.
“So many non-profits go bankrupt,” she said, “and we were probably on our way, had we not created a new revenue model.
“We weren’t entrenched in the non-profit realm,” Ewud said. “I figured just because we were doing something for the greater good, companies would just give us money. But that wasn’t the case. It wasn’t that easy.”
While searching for new revenue streams, the Redding resident realized there was value in the clothing donated to Save a Suit that wasn’t perfect for interview attire.
“What we did was create an online store,” she said. “We were getting so many donations of clothing that people just can’t wear for interviews. Before, we were donating them all to Goodwill or Salvation Army, but I thought, Why don’t we just create our own online store and sell those things veterans can’t wear to an interview? That’s been integral to our growth.”
Save a Suit uses those funds to ship suits out to veterans across the country, to run suit-sizing events for veterans, and even to help local vets in a pinch.
“We had one veteran, Melvin, who was a single parent with a daughter. He’d been unemployed for five years when he called us after he found us on the Internet. …
“He said, ‘I’ve been unemployed for five years and I have an interview tomorrow, but I don’t have a suit.’”
So Ewud and her assistant scrambled in their storeroom, searching for suits that might be the right size for Melvin. When they found a few, her assistant hurried the suit to him in Milford, where he lives.
“We happened to pick out a suit that fit him like a glove, and he went on the interview and he did get the job,” Ewud said.
Suit donations come the way of Save a Suit in a number of ways, Ewud said, including personal donations to the storefront or at local retailers, and from corporate donations.
“A lot of donations come from suit stores,” Ewud said. “What happens is gentlemen will wear a suit for a year or two, then outgrow it. They get a discount for trading their old suits in,” and stores donate the trade-in suits to the organization.
Area residents may also make direct donations at some local retailers, like Mitchells of Westport.
“Most of the time they don’t even want a discount,” Ewud said. “They’d rather give it to Save a Suit, which is more tangible for the community. Goodwill and Salvation Army are amazing non-profits. But they have such a huge client base that one suit donation — even of 50 suits — might not make a big difference.
“But one donation of 50 suits makes a huge difference to us. Most likely we’ll give the majority of suits to people who need them in the community. There’s more of a tangible impact. That’s why people get behind it and donate to us.”
Redding residents may donate suits to the organization at its Bethel storefront, located at 137 Greenwood Avenue in the brick building formerly occupied by Hauser Chocolate, across from the old English Drug building.
“There are a lot of people who want to support this, but have never heard of this before. They don’t even know this exists. There are probably dozens of suits sitting in people’s closet but they don’t know were in existence, so we’re really trying to spread the word,” Ewud said.
Big and tall suits are especially rare for the Save a Suit organization. Any suit sized in the 60s or 70s is especially needed.
For more information, visit www.saveasuit.org.