Suits for Success: An embodiment of what it means to be a community

Suits for Success’ impact transcends to three other UAB closets and a community closet serving students, patients and underprivileged women facing domestic violence.

CSW Chairs TKIn 2006, Ona Faye-Petersen, M.D., a physician at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, identified a crucial need and set out to make a difference. The result was Suits for Success, an annual clothing drive that has since provided professional attire for interviews and new employment to countless women in need. Today the initiative, organized by the UAB Commission on the Status of Women, supplies several tons of clothing not only to women but also to students and patients in need.


Since its inception at the Whitaker Clinic by Faye-Petersen, the drive has been dedicated to empowering underprivileged women to pursue careers and gain autonomy in their lives. 

To support this mission, the initiative collects and donates gently used, clean, women’s suits, jackets, skirts, pants, shirts and dresses to My Sister’s Closet, an outreach program of the Young Women’s Christian Association of Central Alabama that serves women in need.

An empowerment tool

At My Sister’s Closet, the donated apparel, shoes and accessories are provided at no cost to women and girls escaping domestic violence, living in shelters or facing extreme life transitions.

“I wanted to serve on the CSW, Suits for Success subcommittee, because I volunteered at My Sister’s Closet several years ago,” said Kelly Schiff, co-chair of the Suits for Success committee. "It was a really good experience in that it’s an actual clothing boutique, selling quality clothing. Anyone can purchase items at reasonable prices; but women staying in the shelters are given vouchers for clothing, shoes and accessories. Often they have to leave a really bad situation with only the clothing they’re wearing. With the vouchers, they can pick out items to wear to job interviews, giving them an opportunity for a better living situation for themselves and their families. The donations really do make a significant impact.”

The partnership between My Sister’s Closet and UAB helps the two organizations pool their resources to meet a common goal — serving women in the community. 

“UAB is a large institution in our community and is known worldwide. Its cultural and wide range of diversity further aligns with and supports a huge piece of the YWCA’s mission statement, which includes ‘eliminating racism and empowering women,’” Stinson said. 

“The impact of this partnership includes our collectively assisting women returning to the workforce, mothers’ being reunified with children, homeless women’s receiving basic hygiene supplies and clothing, and affordability for the everyday consumer to shop,” said Ayana Stinson, coordinator of My Sister’s Closet. “Not even COVID-19 kept UAB from hosting this drive safely and effectively and naming us a recipient. We’re grateful. Our consumers look forward to these items yearly. We’re excited.”

Stinson finds the most heartwarming moments to be when women who have benefited from their services return as customers, eager to give back and support others. “It is incredibly uplifting to witness the dedicated volunteers assisting these women in choosing appropriate clothing, conducting mock interviews, and offering words of encouragement,” she said.

The evolution

Suits for Success has evolved over the years, expanding its scope beyond clothing to include accessories such as shoes, handbags and jewelry to provide a complete professional look for recipients. 

Laura Tull, a past member of the CSW and past co-chair of Suits for Success, has volunteered at the drive since its launch in 2006. Tull was a member of Alpha Xi Delta and initiated the partnership between the UAB Career Center and the CSW. 

“Watching Suits for Success grow and change over the years has been such an honor,” Tull said. “When I started as a volunteer back in 2006, I was so inspired by Ona Faye-Petersen and her vision for women in our community. It really came full circle for me when I had the opportunity to co-chair the committee 12 years later. The drive has moved around campus over the years, but the commitment of the UAB and Birmingham community has remained the same: providing women with an opportunity to gain confidence and put their best foot forward.” 

After COVID-19, the initiative lost its storage space, and handling donated clothing became challenging because of the overwhelming response of the community with their generous donations. That ignited a new idea, channeling a broader impact. The committee partnered with the Collat School of Business’ Career Closet, which provides attire for various career-related occasions to business students, thus broadening its reach.

Furthermore, Suits for Success has recently extended its support to the UAB Heersink School of Medicine’s Compassion Closet, an initiative by a first-year medical student, which aims to provide emergency and trauma patients with new and clean clothes to they leave the hospital with dignity, as they often have their clothes cut off during the course of their care.

“Many of our trauma patients have their clothing damaged during the course of their injury or care delivery process,” said Jeffery Kerby, M.D., PhD., director of the Division of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery. “Life is different in many challenging ways after a traumatic accident or injury; but ensuring our patients have new, clean clothes when they leave the hospital will allow them one less thing to worry about as they begin their road to recovery.”

Winning together

CSW PackingAlthough the event has had a significant impact both within and outside the community, the drive is not officially funded. Rather it is a collective effort that relies on the dedication and passion of faculty, staff and student volunteers who share a common goal of promoting equity and advancement. Through their collaborative efforts, they are stewarding positive change and making a meaningful difference in the lives of those they serve.

“The only cost is with printing the yard signs. The rest of the needs, such as markers, paper, snacks and water for volunteers, etc., are graciously provided by members of the CSW,” said Rita Stewart Hampton, co-chair of the Suits for Success committee. “All other needs such as graphic design and advertising of the events are also volunteer efforts by the committee members.”

The event is thoughtfully designed to be held at a drive-thru location, the lower of Alys Stephens Center, for several days, allowing individuals to conveniently donate their items at a time that suits them. Once the donations are gathered, the clothing is then transported to the appropriate locations for distribution. This streamlined process ensures that the donations are effectively and efficiently distributed to those who need them.

The YWCA picks up donations from the ASC at the end of each day of the drive to take the items going to My Sister’s Closet. The donations going to the Collat Closet and the hospital are delivered by CSW volunteers. The boxes and tape are generously donated by Armstrong Relocation Services, a locally owned company that gives wide-reaching support to the entire UAB community.

According to Schiff, the Commission on the Status of Women is what keeps the drive going by their dedication and support. The Suits for Success subcommittee is one of the many subcommittees within the UAB Commission on the Status of Women.

“The beautiful thing about the commission is that it includes women from all over UAB,” Schiff said. “Women from each unit are represented, and it’s great how everyone comes together to make Suits for Success happen.”

The event, Suits for Success, enriches all the lives it touches — whether it is by helping students dress their way to a successful job interview, sending recovering patients to their homes in dignified clothing or helping domestic abuse victims move into a stable living situation. This year, the drive had 33 volunteers, 69 cars drop by and 55 boxes donated to My Sister’s Closet, UAB Career CenterUAB Collat Career Center and the Compassion Closet.