Stephen Mendoza, a first-year business economics major, volunteers at the Career Closet, where students can pick out donated business attire for job interviews, among other occasions when they need to dress well.
It’s an unfortunate fact of life that people size up strangers within minutes of meeting them — they only have one chance to make a good first impression.
With that in mind, UCLA seniors Amir Hakimi and Meelod Daneshvar want to ensure that their fellow Bruins are always able to put their professional foot forward even if they lack the clothes to do it in.
Hakimi, a neuroscience major, and Daneshvar, a psychology major, recently opened the Career Closet at UCLA. Tucked away on the third floor of the University Religious Conference Building, located at the corner of Hilgard and Le Conte avenues, the Career Closet provides UCLA students with gently used business attire that they can keep and wear to work or interviews for a job, internship and graduate school, and professional networking events.
Hakimi said he was inspired to take up this cause following a conversation with Maria Blandizzi, interim dean of students and executive director of student services initiatives. That’s when he learned that not having proper clothing for such occasions is a major worry for some students.
“It made me pause because we go to UCLA to get higher education to go to graduate school or get a good job, and attire shouldn’t be the one thing holding us back from achieving our goals,” Hakimi said.
At the program’s open house on March 31, 14 students took 24 pieces of clothing home with them. Students with valid BruinCards can take up to four items each academic year, said Hakimi. They may also return items and trade them in for something else. The Career Closet is currently open Tuesdays from 5-7 p.m. Hours may be extended in the future, depending on student demand and the availability of volunteers.
“As college students, we’re on a budget,” said April Chau, a third-year student who is majoring in sociology and minoring in education. She was perusing the racks of clothes in search of blazers and pants with her roommate Eileen Joseph, a third-year psychobiology major.
Both women plan to apply for summer jobs and internships and realize it’s important to dress well for interviews and on the job. “It is hard when you don’t have the resources to buy new clothes,” said Chau. “Something like this is beneficial for college students.”
The UCLA Career Center has also been supportive of the Career Closet. “Having access to professional attire means there’s one less thing for students to worry about,” said Wesley Thorne, the center’s director. “Dressing professionally will enable students to focus on other more important things like acing the job interview or developing a professional connection with an alumnus at a networking reception.”
Giving the shirt — or suit — off his back
Donations of clothing have been coming in steadily since January when Hakimi and Daneshvar started collecting them. To date, more than 300 gently used items, including suits, skirts, shirts, pants, blouses, blazers and ties, have been donated. Collection boxes and bins are located near the main entrance to the James West Alumni Center, which is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Donations are also being accepted at the Career Closet during its hours of operation.
To potential donors, Hakimi advised, “Imagine you’re going to an interview tomorrow. What would you wear? If that doesn’t fit you or you don’t wear it anymore and it’s still in great shape, go ahead and donate it to us.”
Jariel Bytheway, a UCLA alumnus who works as a contracts negotiator at Raytheon, has not only dipped into his closet, but also the closets of friends, to come up with half a dozen men’s suits, among other items. A 2009 graduate and board member of the UCLA Young Professionals Network, Bytheway learned of the program through the UCLA Alumni Association.
“I’ll always support programs that help current students who are trying their best to succeed,” said Bytheway. “Not having something to wear to a job interview shouldn’t be a worry for applicants.”
A track record of giving
The Career Closet is just the latest venture for Hakimi, who has a history of helping people in need. In 2013, he and two friends created Furnish the Homeless to collect donated furniture from Westwood’s North Village at the end of each quarter. They deliver furnishings to formerly homeless individuals now living in transitional housing.
Hakimi also helps direct the Fall Harvest Feast, a free Thanksgiving banquet held on campus for low-income students and their families. The program, started by his cousin in 2010, also provides food and gift bags for guests to take home.
Additionally, Hakimi has volunteered for book and toy drives as well as for Swipes for the Homeless, which encourages students to donate excess meal plan points that can be turned into food donations for the needy.
Those with questions about donating to the Career Closet or who require special arrangements to make a donation can send an email to organizers or call 559-366-2831.