Helping Ontario Tech students dress the part for free

Ontario Tech student union’s First Impressions booth during Career Carnival week inside Ontario Tech’s career centre. Photo credit: Courtesy of Ontario Tech Student Union

Ontario Tech students who need a suit or dress for a networking event or interview can get it for free – thanks to a new service on campus.

It’s called ‘First Impressions’ and was launched by the Ontario Tech Student Union (OTSU) in January.

Professional clothing hanging on Ontario Tech student union’s First Impressions booth during career carnival week inside Ontario Tech’s career centre. Photo credit: Courtesy of Ontario Tech Student Union

The service is effectively a high-end thrift store located in the OTSU building behind the campus library. It provides professional attire for students with financial barriers.

OTSU president, Owen Davis, 22, says First Impressions provides an important service.

Ontario Tech Student Union President, Owen Davis in the Student Union building’s board room. Photo credit: Dennis Price

“For students who are less fortunate and have an interview or a job fair,” Davis says, “they have the ability to come in, get professional clothing and keep it.”

First Impressions offers male and female students clothing like dress shirts, pants, skirts and blazers, along with ties, dress shoes, handbags, and a small selection of fedoras.

The service’s overall selection is mostly donated by campus staff and faculty, but OTSU vice-president of student affairs, Jessica Nguyen, 23, says they’ve been getting donations from other sources on campus.

“It’s all just been donated from even students themselves,” says Nguyen. “So we’ve collected such a huge bunch of donations from everybody that could provide some.”

Ontario Tech student union vice president of student affairs, Jessica Nguyen inside First Impressions based out of the student union building. Photo credit: Dennis Price

Nguyen says the service has accumulated more than 500 items and has received plenty of feedback from students.

Some are “shocked” the service exists, she says, while other students want to help out.

“The feedback we got was that the students loved it, but a lot of them wanted to donate which is really great,” says Nguyen.

The long term goal for First Impressions is to add more clothing, she says, adding she would like to work with more businesses to build the inventory.

“I’ve been trying to work with local businesses, even stores like Moores or Le Chateau,” says Nguyen. “Sometimes they also donate some of their suits that customers don’t essentially want, a slight rip maybe we can sew it up and allows us to get that instead.”

Nguyen adds OTSU is working with the Bibles for Missions Thrift Store in Oshawa, in case First Impressions doesn’t have clothing in a student’s size.

Ontario Tech students can go into the store, located south of the Taunton and Simcoe intersection and get the clothes they need, present their student ID and get a 50 per cent discount on their purchase, Nguyen says.

First Impressions is also working with other companies like Gillette, which donate razors and deodorant as essential needs for the service.

The service has been in development since the summer with startup funding of more than $500. Nguyen has been attached as the lead of the project since its inception.

OSHAWA, Ont. (01/13/2020) – Inside Ontario Tech Student Union’s student runned thrift store, First Impressions. The men clothing section of the store with the shoe rack. Photo by Dennis B. Price.

It was initially supposed to launch at the start of the school year but Nguyen says it didn’t because of scheduling difficulties.

“We were supposed to launch in September but there were just a lot of things that we were launching, we were launching ‘Zen Zone’,” says Nguyen. “So I wanted this year, you know ‘new year, new decade 2020’ definitely wanted to launch (First Impressions) for this year.”

One other goal for the service down the line is to bring First Impressions to Ontario Tech’s downtown Oshawa campus. In the meantime, those students will have to come to the main campus to get clothing, she says.