Dress for Success CEO shares her inspiring story during New Plymouth visit

Twenty years ago Joi Gordon gave up a successful legal career to work in the basement of a New York church, with the dream of leaving an imprint on the world.

She’d heard a small local organisation needed suits and “boy did I have some suits”, the Dress for Success Worldwide CEO told an audience in New Plymouth.

“Really all I wanted to do was donate one suit but by the time I got off the phone from the founder I had joined the board.”

She was asked to run the New York office so she left her job as a prosecutor “with really just a hope and a dream that I would do something to leave an imprint on this world, leave the world better than I found it.”

Three years later Gordon became CEO. Since then she has built Dress for Success into a global organisation with affiliates in 162 cities across 30 countries.

Gordon was in the country to celebrate 20 years of Dress for Success in New Zealand and was the keynote speaker at a gala in Auckland over the weekend.

Dress For Success New Plymouth chair Sue Matehaere Patten, left, with Joi Gordon

On Friday, she and daughter Sydney made a flying visit to New Plymouth.

“I said to my team ‘I’m here for five days where should I go?’ and New Plymouth was where they pointed me. ‘You must go see Dress for Success New Plymouth’, they said, ‘they are small but mighty and they get it done’.”

Gordon was guest of honour at a lunch at the TSB Centre attended by volunteers, partners and sponsors of the organisation.

She told guests she was excited about the possibilities for Dress for Success New Plymouth, which has been operating for 12 years. She stressed it was no longer only about providing women with clothes, but about giving them the tools they needed to succeed in work and in life. 

“We are creating programmes, wrap around services not only so she lands her job but so she keeps her job, that’s the forward growth of Dress for Success,” she said.

“I am certain that today there is a woman sitting literally at the edge of her bed. She wants to work; she just doesn’t know how. My hope is that somewhere in this city there is another woman who gets her to Dress for Success and that we are there to receive her, clothe her, love her, direct her, move her into her destiny.”

Dress for Success New Plymouth success story Renee Manella, left, with the organisation’s worldwide CEO Joi Gordon

New Plymouth woman Renee Manella is a local success story. She told guests how 18 months ago she was on a benefit and struggling to feed her kids after her marriage broke down.

She was apprehensive about going to Dress for Success.

“But I went in there and it was like the feel-good moment of a movie. The women were so welcoming and so positive and they just really did see me.”

She got the job and today is a health and disability advocate.

“It was incredible to feel part of that community of women who want what’s best for each other.”

Dress for Success New Plymouth chairwoman Sue Matehaere Patten said she was proud to have hosted Gordon.

She said while New Plymouth was one of the smallest of the seven New Zealand affiliates it was “enthusiastically growing” thanks to the support of the community.

To view Gordon’s speech in full, or for information about Dress for Success New Plymouth, visit Dress for Success New Plymouth on Facebook.

Words by Katie Holland