After Irina Gorbun of Parker left the government job she held for 11 years in 2017, she realized she might need some help landing new employment, or choosing a different career entirely.
The 41-year-old was referred to the non-profit organization Dress for Success. The Denver-based help group not only offered professional attire, but also a suite of services that helped her gain the confidence she needed to launch her own company.
“I was convinced I could not sell and was just terrified,” said Gorbun. “Dress for Success was like a huge stepping-stone to overcome that.”
It gave her financial training (sponsored by Capital One), leadership coaching, resume and job hunting skills and, perhaps most importantly, a network of supporters.
“If you go in there, you will not be judged,” she said. “You will be welcomed and provided with resources to get ready for the interview. The office will dress you from head-to-toe. They will prepare you mentally, help with your resume and cover letter. You will absolutely feel confident and be ready to go for your job interview. You’ll feel like a million dollars and the best candidate out there.”
Dress for Success, a “Global Women’s Empowerment Movement,” started in Denver in 2006. Since then, the organization has helped some 18,000 women, gifted some $1 million in apparel and connected with 200 nonprofits and government agencies, said Executive Director Amara Martin.
“We’re seeing an uptick in the number of women we’re serving, back to pre-pandemic levels,” Martin said. “There’s so many jobs out there. Jobs everywhere. We’re trying to take advantage of those opportunities for those who might have been incarcerated, homeless, hard-to-hire. There’s more opportunity now than ever.
“Dress For Success helps level the playing field so they can go and be successful.”
That, in turn, also provides the workforce with more women, minorities and LBGTQ population.
“We’re focused on helping women identify careers, not just jobs,” she said.
The organization has been at its current location, 2425 S. Colorado Blvd., since 2018. But the building has sold — a common refrain in metro Denver nowadays. The landlord gave them until the end of the year, but the clock is ticking for them to find new real estate.
“They gave us a wonderful deal on rent,” Martin said.
They’ve got about 5,000 square feet now, and have outgrown it as they need space for the retail shop and offices. The new location would ideally have access to public transportation, parking and be in the Colorado Enterprise Zone so and landlords would get a tax credit.
The previous location at Colfax Boulevard and High Street was “very urban,” so there was no parking and clients had to walk blocks.
“As soon as we moved, our numbers skyrocketed,” she said. “We were up to 2,000 clients per year.”
Gorbun was one of those clients. She started as a client. Then became a volunteer. Then an ambassador.
“I didn’t know they offered so many resources,” Gorbun said. “I especially enjoyed the Professional Women’s Group meetings.”
Now she’s the president of the Professional Women’s Group, as voted on by members.
“It was so great to see they saw the value in me,” she said.
They saw what she did winning an Community Action Project contest. She put together a plan to benefit the community and chose a healthy-approach-to-weight-loss program.
“I got 30 local businesses to help sponsor it and hired a professional guest speaker — it was very informative and helpful to the many women who attended it,” Gorbun said.
It won the state competition, and took second place nationally.
“A lot of my personal transformation happened to me after that,” she said. “It got me past my fear, made me challenge myself and get rid of my own mental blocks. I was completely outside my comfort zone and it was about time for me to test it.”
Tired of being rejected repeatedly on the job hunt, despite being complemented on her resume and cover letter, Gorbun decided to turn her hobby of baking into a business.
Kookiz and Kakez, LLC specializes in baked treats that can accommodate any dietary restrictions.
“You name it, I will make a recipe for them,” she said. “I launched my own product called the Lactate Cookie. For those who just had a baby, it helps increase the supply of breast milk.”
She registered the business in February and just a month ago got her certification as a woman-owned business from the federal Small Business Administration-approved Women’s Business Enterprise National Council.
“I would have continued to knock on doors that wouldn’t open,” Gorbun said. “They pushed me and made me think of all these things out here to do this.”
Martin said the organization is hoping to push more women.
Schomp Subaru donated a 20-foot box truck Dress for Success is turning into a mobile retail pop-up.
“We want to meet women where they are and provide essential services to them,” she said. “We’ll be able to go outside the metro area and reach those pockets of poverty around the state. … We’ve already got places lined up who have requested it when we get going next year.”
The organization’s annual fundraiser fashion show “Unstoppable: Women on the Move” to help pay for all this is scheduled for Friday. Sept. 23 at Infinity Park in Glendale. For more information, or tickets, visit the website dressforsuccess.org.