This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.
SALT LAKE CITY — Sometimes, something as simple as a new suit can change a life in a big way. That’s the mantra a Utah clothing company has embraced as it seeks to give back to those in the community who need a bit of kindness.
It’s been two months since Salt Lake City’s Utah Woolen Mills launched the “Suited for Good” program, an effort to provide suits for people who just need “a hand up.” In short, for every suit sold in 2017, the shop will gift a suit to someone who has fallen on hard times.
KSL first checked in on the effort back in December when the program’s first recipient, James Sabey, who is homeless, left the store with a haircut, a shave and a new suit.
Since then, fifth-generation president and owner BJ Stringham and his staff have watched 50 men step out of a dressing room with a renewed sense of self — something he said has touched him deeply.
“It’s been the most rewarding eight weeks of my life,” he said.
Utah Woolen Mills has been a Salt Lake City staple for more than 100 years. It has received national accolades for its service, quality and craftsmanship, but last year, Stringham decided it was time to do more than just make suits.
“I went to a fundraising event a year ago for a mom who suffered from a brain tumor,” Stringham said.
The store donated a suit to the cause, and as Stringham watched the bidding war that ensued, he was struck by a bit of inspiration.
“I just felt an overwhelming need to involve our company in helping,” he said. “We’re a 112-year-old business with a great product, great employees and great customers. We need to use and leverage that into something that was really going to serve our community.”
Stringham sought the advice of friend Michael McHenry, COO of Salt Lake sandwich shop Even Stevens. The concept of the restaurant is simple, yet beautiful. For every sandwich it sells, one is donated to a local nonprofit dealing with hunger.
“He shared his experiences and shared how rewarding it was, and said, ‘Knowing that every success I have in business equates to success in my community,’” Stringham said. “Bingo. That’s it. That’s what I wanted to do.”
The company works with nonprofits and other organizations such as the Division of Workforce Services to identify people who fit the profile they’re hoping to serve. While Stringham says the company is happy to help the homeless, the effort is meant to benefit anyone who may be struggling to get back on his or her feet.
“If they can’t afford to dress the part for the job they need and therefore are unable to present themselves in the best light for an interview, we want to help that person,” Stringham said.
That could include a first-generation college graduate trying to find a way to pay off student loans, or someone who lost a job and could really use a new suit for interviews.
“This really isn’t about the suit, it’s about the people inside." - BJ Stringham, Utah Woolen Mills
“This really isn’t about the suit, it’s about the people inside,” he said. “It’s about giving them that vision of who they could be. When somebody walks out of a dressing room and they look amazing, then they can’t help but feel like there’s no limit on what they can achieve. It’s about empowering people to see what they can accomplish.”
Stringham said the goal is to outfit about 600 men and women by the end of the year. The company has a section devoted to the cause on its website, which includes video testimonials of some of the people who’ve been touched by the gift of a suit.
“It represents a new beginning,” single father Craig Carter says in his video. “It represents hope.”
Jon Boss is a veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. His struggles left him homeless for a time.
"The suit isn't what makes me, but it definitely gives me the confidence and courage to stand with society," he said in his video.
A devastating car accident nearly killed Wade Pollock. After undergoing extensive reconstructive surgeries to his face and body, the father of two decided to go back to school to pursue a career in business management, a difficult task as he suffers from a learning disability.
"Last time I can say I owned a suit, I was 12 years old," he said in his testimonial. "You wear it with pride, you be grateful for it, you walk with your head up and not down."
Stringham said the gratitude he’s experienced has been overwhelming.
“I would say well over half of the people when they come out of the dressing room are very emotional, on the verge of tears,” he said. “A lot of hugs we share. People are so grateful and we’re so grateful to be able to be a part of it.”
It’s a project that tugs at the heartstrings, Stringham says, because most people can all relate to feeling down on their luck.
“We’ve all been in a bad situation where we just needed a hand up,” he said. “That’s why it’s so relatable, and that’s why I think so many people have shared this. We’re all just one step removed from this situation ourselves.”
To get involved or nominate someone who might benefit from the “Suited for Good” program, visit the Utah Woolen Mills website.