A Brooklyn-based nonprofit is inspiring men to make strides in their professional lives, one suit at a time.
PK Kersey, founder and executive director of That Suits You, believes in the power of first impressions.
“First impressions are extremely important,” Kersey, 48, said. “We teach that there’s a seven-11 rule, that people form 11 judgments on you within the first seven seconds of meeting you.”
Several years ago, while working for the Department of Motor Vehicles, Kersey noticed that many of the young men who would come in to interview for a job opening at the agency were not dressed properly. Typically, he said, there were two main reasons: either they didn’t know how important it was to wear a suit to an interview or they couldn’t afford to buy one.
“So I really felt bad about it because a lot of these guys weren’t working and they weren’t getting any work because of their attire,” he said. “So my brother and I went into our closets and started giving away suits and we noticed that their confidence grew once we put suits on them.”
But Kersey said they didn’t want to stop at just suits, so they began organizing workshops and job trainings and fostered partnerships with homeless shelters, colleges, high schools and corporations in New York City.
“You can give somebody a suit and their confidence can grow but if they don’t have the skills or they lack the knowledge about why wearing a suit is so important then it doesn’t help,” Kersey said.
Founded in 2013, That Suits You works with city homeless shelters, the City University of New York, ASA College, high schools and other organizations to teach men and teens how to dress properly and succeed in the workplace. The nonprofit runs a program called CHOICES, which stands for “Change Habits Options Image Communication Effort equals success.”
Sometimes they are called in to hold a one-day pop-up event, while other organizations may ask the team to teach a course that lasts several weeks. Each option ends with participants receiving a suit and a heap of confidence.
“We teach them how important their image is, and once they learn about that, they get excited, they get confident, they want to wear suits all the time. We teach them how to tie a knot and that empowers them too,” Kersey said. “It’s not so much about the tie training but it’s about the relationships they’re building from us teaching them, the mentorship and how they’re learning to communicate and express themselves.”
With the help of corporate partners like HBO, Banana Republic, Viacom and Barclays Center, That Suits You has given out over 8,000 suits since its inception. Kersey said they hope to deliver 2,000 additional suits by the end of 2019.
“There are a bunch of companies that see the importance of working with the community,” he said. “They give the suits to us, we give the suits to the individuals who need them and it works in an excellent circle.”
Kersey said when he was first starting out, he quickly learned the value of strategic partnerships and brand awareness.
“When we first started collecting items we told people suits, but people would donate sweaters and sweatsuits and all types of things,” he said. “People have often heard of Dress for Success for women but not to many for men, so just letting people know how we function, what we provide and what we don’t provide was a challenge.”
To see that his work can have an impact on someone’s life, however, makes it all worth it for Kersey, who recalled a time they had held a workshop at a church in Baltimore and fitted a man for a suit who had an interview the next day and ended up getting the job.
“That situation really inspired and motivated us,” Kersey added.
And it was success stories like the one in Baltimore that eventually led to Kersey authoring his first book, titled “Suited for Success.” Released in July, the book details 25 inspirational stories from men about their struggles on the path to achieving success.