Luisa’s story

Together we are stronger and there are always people willing to help you.

—Luisa , Toronto, Canada

This interview originally appeared on the Jenny Bird website in celebration of their partnership with the Dress for Success Canada Foundation for International Women’s Day.


At age 19, Luisa left her home country of Bogota, Colombia with one suitcase in hand and moved to Toronto, Canada. Although she could not speak a word of English, Luisa was determined to start a new life for herself.

In honour of International Women’s Day and our national partnership with not-for-profit organization, the Dress for Success Canada Foundation, we wanted to share Dress for Success Toronto client, Luisa’s inspiring story and how this incredible organization continues to empower and assist thousands of women achieve economic independence globally.

JB: Tell us your story.

I came to Canada full of hope for a safer future, and while I was excited and looking forward to building a life here, I was also very scared as I didn’t have any connections in the city and I knew it wouldn’t be easy, especially since I didn’t speak any English.

In Colombia, I was in my 3rd year of University, taking accounting. After almost 2 years of English school I felt confident enough with my English level that I went back to accounting school. Once the accounting training finished, I was called for my first interview for my co-op placement. Since I didn’t have any professional clothing, I asked my Professor if she could suggest a place where I could find an affordable outfit to wear to my interview. That’s when she referred me to Dress for Success Toronto (DFST) and booked an appointment for me at their boutique.

JB: How did Dress for Success Toronto help you? Are you able to shed light on the particular services you used?

I initially went to DFST to find an outfit for my first interview. I had an amazing experience at the boutique. I met some of the volunteers who helped me pick 2 full outfits, including shoes, coats and accessories! They made me feel so special! They were extremely nice and asked what I needed the clothes for. When I told them it was for an interview for an accounting co-op position, they offered to help me practice for the interview. They printed out my resume and started asking me interview questions; We discussed how to better answer each of them, we spoke about the importance of eye contact and a firm handshake, all while I was trying on beautiful clothes! I had an amazing afternoon with them, and I left that room feeling very confident and prepared for my interview.

On top of this, they also mentioned some of the other services that DFST provides. I enrolled in two of them. The “Professional Women Group” and “Achieving Financial Success” [part of the Career Learning Programs] . Both of these groups were of huge help for me, I learned a lot about the Canadian banking system and how to save for the down payment of my first home. I also made really good friends and I am very happy to be part of such an amazing network of support.

JB: You mentioned that the clothing services helped you feel more confident, overall. How were you feeling when trying on your first interview outfit in the boutique?

I really think that the name says it all “Dress for Success”. While it is not about the looks, I do believe that dressing professionally for my first interview and for my first job helped me feel more confident, I felt like it reflected my potential and made me look more prepared.

In my head I kept thinking that I would have to pay for the clothes and I was sure I couldn’t afford all of it, but I didn’t ask. One of the volunteers probably noticed that I was hesitant to pick more than the very basic pieces and she told me not to worry, and to get anything I wanted, that’s when she mentioned that I didn’t have to pay for anything. It almost felt too good to be true. I was still in shock when I got home with all those clothes!

JB: What are some of the biggest takeaways you’ve learned about yourself, after using Dress for Success Toronto’s services?

I realized that I can really achieve my goals if I work hard enough. I learned to ask for help when I needed it. I learned that together we are stronger and there are always people willing to help you, especially if you are willing to help yourself.

And what’s most important for me, I learned to give back, to help others, to really understand and care about other people’s efforts to succeed in life.

JB: At JENNY BIRD, our charitable efforts are focused primarily on economic empowerment. What does economic independence mean to you?

To me, economic independence means to be able to provide for myself, not to depend on someone else or the government to pay for my living. And it is very important for me to have economic independence because it makes me feel free.

That is why I wanted to go back to school and grow professionally as much as possible. I have a very supportive partner and family but I always knew I didn’t want to depend on anyone financially.

I learned to give back, to help others, to really understand and care about other people’s efforts to succeed in life.

JB: I know you feel that Dress for Success Toronto has assisted with opening doors for you. With this in mind, how do you pay it forward, so that you can pave the way for others?

Through our years in Canada, my partner Andres and I kept meeting newcomers who were in the same situation that we were when we got here – struggling to find a decent job and in need of employment. We really wanted to help them so we referred them to the cleaning companies that we knew, however, it felt like these newcomers still l needed more than that.

About two years ago, Andres and I decided to open our own cleaning company, Alliance Cleaning Solutions. Since we knew that most of the people working with us are new Canadians – older women wanting to get back to work, single moms that need to provide for their kids or people that haven’t had the opportunity to go to school. We don’t only offer them a job; we help them find free training courses in their area, free events for them to attend, day cares, financial assistance, and many other resources to help them grow professionally and personally. What’s most important for us, we make them feel part of an organization that cares about them. We are committed to paying them a fair living wage and provide as much support as possible.

We have employed 12 people so far and we currently have lots of people looking for work. We keep looking for spaces to clean so that we can employ these amazing people.

Our main goal is to grow our network and partner with great businesses that would like to help other people grow and receive top quality cleaning services at the same time. We want to create strong and long lasting relationships with our clients to help as many people as possible through Alliance Cleaning Solutions.

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