The First Impressions Clothing Exchange is a bright and colourful second-hand store adding joy and laughter to the Mooroolbark Terrace Shopping Centre. A dazzling array of clothing racks, laden with hidden treasures, welcome those who stumble across the First Impressions shop-front.
On Valentine’s Day, visitors to their grand opening event included Mayor Cr Richard Higgins, who stopped by to cut the ribbon and meet the team!
Operating as a small business run by women experiencing long-term unemployment, First Impressions builds on the skills of its volunteer staff to enhance their employability in addition to providing opportunities to connect with their peers and with the community. Run as part of Cire Training’s Small Business course, experienced trainers oversee the day-to-day operations of the store. At the same time, the dedicated training space helps women to build real-life experience, develop skills and gain the confidence needed to enter the workforce successfully.
For customers, the clothing exchange offers a selection of quality, affordable women’s clothing covering every occasion from casual wear to formal events! First Impressions also provide a hire service, with reasonably priced items available for those who need a short-term wardrobe for job interviews or new jobs.
During the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Mayor Higgins noted that “the crowd here today validates the importance of this service to local women”. With attendees from multiple local organisations, including Anchor Housing Support and Employment Plus, as well as customers, shop owners, volunteers and supporters, the community truly showed their support for this wonderful initiative. Mayor Higgins also mentioned- with a note of relief! – that his wife was combing her wardrobe to make a donation of her own.
The event hosted numerous speakers, including Donna Fairweather of the Yarra Ranges Council, a newly appointed ambassador for the store and Gus Seremetis, CEO of Cire Services, the main sponsor of the First Impressions Clothing Exchange program. Gus was so moved by the testimonials of the women involved that she generously extended Cire’s financial support, providing a further three months of funding.
One of those testimonials came from Karon, a program participant, who shared her moving story with the audience. When asked how many job applications she’d submitted prior to her time with First Impressions, she responded: “there were too many to count”. After years of being ignored and rejected, her involvement with the program, along with the support she received from Employment Plus, rebuilt her self-confidence.
This enabled Karon to move into paid employment successfully. However, she still heads down to the First Impressions Clothing Exchange several days per week, to visit with her newfound friends, browse the racks and to help with the store’s operations.
“It was a huge feat, and it was all hands on deck,” the store’s team leader, Renee Cooke of Cire Services, said about getting the shop up and running, “But it’s been so much fun too. This shop has made such a difference already in the lives of those who have created it, and we can’t wait to see what it’s future holds!”