It all started with Dress To Impress, an initiative by STEM Sisters that addresses the
fashion expectations CALD STEM women face in their professional lives.
It recognises the significant cultural shift and the associated dressing style
differences for migrant women of colour in STEM fields in the way they dress for
work and brings attention to the struggle of dressing in a certain way to feel more
accepted and welcomed in a male-dominated profession. This environment hits hardest
against those of us who belong to marginalised groups such as women of colour. For some women,
fitting in means renouncing traditional cultural garments; for others, it is the standard dress
codes to which women in STEM are expected to conform and dress as non-confrontational as possible.
Hand in hand with addressing this issue, the project recognises the role of a circular fashion economy and raises awareness of environmentally sustainable alternatives to fast fashion. The goal is to support these women to rediscover their confidence while contributing to environmental sustainability by enabling them to swap or donate clothes and acquire high-quality second-hand or brand-new (factory fashion excess) professional outfits. This is mainly because many of these jobseeker groups of women don’t have appropriate interview clothing or footwear and don’t have the money and resources to buy it. Acquiring an office-appropriate wardrobe can be a significant hurdle for migrant women of colour who often struggle with hardships such as not having enough to pay the rent or mortgage, let alone buy or launder an outfit for an interview. These women may struggle to find attire for their first job or interview. After all, they feel they need to be even more presentable because they are women of colour, and they don’t necessarily have the finances to buy a lot of new clothing.
The goal is to reimagine the institutional perception of dress codes that STEM women of colour feel pressured to follow to feel more accepted and acknowledged in a culturally different and male-dominated STEM field. While the conceptual objective for the programme is to instil “confidence”, it refers to how this initiative will provide professional attire to CALD women to help them excel, build confidence, and take pride in their work. Recognising and carrying one's style aptly for the workplace is being able to express oneself through clothing. It's all about being one's true self and experiencing true alignment between one’s inner and outer self. A woman's self-esteem and confidence can be boosted by having this independence. This will empower these women to feel more secure and at ease in their flesh. It would likely have the potential to liberate the flow of creativity and ingenuity stifled by workplace customs and cultures that make women unable to express themselves completely in a workplace-appropriate manner.
A significant challenge for the initiative has been the common barrier relating to reuse: public confidence and stigma associated with re-using garments. Herefore, our sustainability goals include contributing to the fashion industry's circular economy and eradicating the stigma associated with donating and recycling garments. As our year-over-year goals develop, we continue to put challenge, confidence, and sustainability into our important objectives for this innovation, with more participants and collaborators in the future.
To ensure the successful implementation, we created an awareness campaign and a survey to investigate the shopping values and perceived risks among STEM women and their desire to have clothes swapping with other CALD women. This is to understand behaviour better to obtain the greatest results on our innovation—the survey was conducted with a specific background to accomplish our mission.
Our survey allowed a better understanding of CALD women's garment-swapping intentions and behaviours: reasons and impediments. Our research was shared with Victoria University's Environmental Social & Governance for Sustainability Conference 2021.
The awareness campaign and the survey helped in normalising the concept of swapping and donating garments in our community off migrant women, as some cultures are accustomed to the idea of exchanging clothes with family and friends. However, having moved to a different country, the opportunity to do so is limited, and the SWOP SIS was born.
Dress to Impress made its debut on November 20th, 2021, at Melbourne Fashion Week 2021. At the Dress to Impress 2021 event, we carried out panel discussion and creative restyling demonstrations followed by a runway show where aspirants and STEM professionals participated as models to showcase creative restyled outfits that were styled to capture their style and identity, keeping in mind our enforced belief that WOC should not be forced to change their appearance to fit into societal and work expectations.
We received an overwhelming reception from the greater CALD women's community. We received media coverage from The Guardian, and the article was among the top five. We also attracted further support from the City of Melbourne to develop SWOP SIS and partnered with Melbourne Fashion Week 2022 and Thread Together for our annual Dress To Express 2022 event. We welcome partnerships from other city councils' women's communities, workplaces, and universities to set up swapping groups in the SWOP SIS platform.
Our Hardworking Team