Ralph Lauren might not have visited UConn Stamford in person, but he’s there – along with Gloria Vanderbilt, Liz Claiborne, and Calvin Klein.
Students can find them in the old gymnasium in the heart of campus, alongside designers from LOFT, Charter Club, and Chaps, on the labels of shirts, pants, skirts, and dresses that are for the taking as part of Husky Clothing for All.
Started in 2018 as Dress for Success through the efforts of a student club, organizers quickly partnered with Stamford’s Center for Career Development to provide students professional clothing to wear outside the classroom for job interviews, internships, or other typically adult endeavors, says sociologist Laura Bunyan, an associate professor-in-residence who was the club’s advisor and who continues to run the program.
Over two days in the week that preceded the biannual career fair, students would rummage tables to put together an outfit, while workshops to develop an elevator pitch and critique resumes prepared them for employers’ queries, she says.
Then, Bunyan noticed students needed more than just suits and jackets. People started asking for everyday wear like jeans, coats, boots, sweaters, and sweatshirts, she says, and the dress clothing that fell out of fashion among the masses during the pandemic wasn’t as necessary.
“I don’t even dress up as much anymore,” she says.
Around the same time, Bunyan and one of her sociology classes started a pop-up food pantry on campus, which later became part of the University-wide Husky Harvest initiative, giving her access to student workers and experience sourcing product.
“Students in general need social support like access to food and free and reduced-cost textbooks,” Bunyan says. “Clothing is expensive and in their time at UConn Stamford, they change sizes and shapes and encounter situations, like new jobs, where they need to step up their wardrobes. We’re just trying to break down barriers so they can access things that will enrich their lives.”
With a dedicated student worker in spring 2023, Dress for Success became Husky Clothing for All and opened a few hours a week. This academic year, it boasts a handful of workers and is open 15 hours a week Monday through Thursday.
“Yes, Fairfield County is one of the wealthiest in the country, but there’s also extreme poverty here,” Bunyan says. “There’s insecurity at all levels in all the towns around here, but especially in the schools. People don’t always think of college students as needing help because they are privileged in a lot of ways. But also in a lot of ways, they need help more than any of us.”
Karlie Krasowski ’27 (CLAS) says she doesn’t own a single piece of professional clothing, nor does Tiarra Shaw ’27 (ACES).
The only reason Jaret Jimpikit ’27 (ENG) has a shirt and tie is because he’s attended his fair share of quinceañaras, and Nicolas Roman ’27 (ENG) dresses for church.
“When someone starts college it’s a new experience and they don’t know if they fit in or not,” Roman says. “Sometimes people need extra stuff to help them fit in and having a clothing pantry like this means anybody can explore any style they want with our very wide range of clothing selections.”
The four – all finishing their first semester of college – work with Bunyan to staff Clothing for All a couple days a week.
Krasowski says word came a few weeks ago that someone was looking for clothing in extra-large sizes because they didn’t have a cold-weather wardrobe: “We scavenged through the racks and found a lot of items to give her. There are a lot of things in here to fit just about any taste.”
Jimpikit holds up an emerald-colored poncho that could be the perfect holiday accessory for someone.
“Everybody needs help of some kind,” Krasowski says. “It’s cliché to say someone is going to struggle just because they’re in school.”
Much of the clothing comes from community donations, primarily the suburbs of the Naugatuck River valley, Bunyan says. A donation box is located at Piper and Dune, a gift shop in Southbury, and there are boxes around the Stamford campus.
In the spring, one student benefited from a donated tuxedo.
In the fall, many found bathing suits for use at the Stamford YMCA, where students get free admission.
“We have students who take things home for family members, which I encourage just to try to give back to their families and the community,” Bunyan says. “The community, in general, has been so good to us.”
While the immediate hope is to attract more students to Clothing for All, Bunyan says she would like to find a permanent location on campus and expand it with a sewing machine, a few mannequins, a full-length mirror, some couches, and maybe a computer.
Perhaps there’s a way to link it to Husky Harvest, she adds, to provide things like can openers, spatulas, food storage containers – things necessary to make and store food for later, things most take for granted.
Jimpikit says that as a computer science major he envisions a website for Clothing for All, with pictures of what’s available to entice more people through the door.
“The student body has really evolved over the years,” Bunyan says. “If, 15 years ago, you told me I would start a food pantry, I wouldn’t have believed you. But I see the shifting needs of the students and I want to help fill the gaps.”
She continues, “One of the problems, too, is high schools delivering the message that when you go to college no one is going to help you. That’s one of my biggest obstacles in teaching. Students eventually will come to me after I’ve sent a few emails and apologize, saying they’re not used to someone offering to help.”
Shaw says that working at Clothing for All has acclimated her to the campus, made her feel welcomed and needed.
“That’s what I feel like this place is for also,” she says.
Monetary donations to Husky Clothing for All can be made to Husky Harvest Stamford through the UConn Foundation. For large clothing donations only, contact Bunyan at firstname.lastname@example.org.