The year is 2005. The city is New York. Two women are walking along the street, arm-in-arm. They are surrounded by the loud urban hum of the city but, so deep are they in discussion, they don’t hear it.

Abruptly they stop, turn to look at each other and smile. In that moment, both understand they have hit upon an idea that has the power to profoundly change lives. Out of this knowing, Fitted for Work was born.

The idea of Fitted for Work came out of a casual chat between Marion and Renata, who was living in New York for six months of the year. Renata had been involved with a similar organisation in the city.

“I had read the research about how, what impact first impressions have on employers and how judgments are made, much more about women than about men, in terms of how they look. I saw taking the concept to Australia as a way that you could really make a big difference in a woman’s life at a critical time.” says Renata.”

“With more than 300,000 Australian women looking for work at that time,” adds Marion, “Fitted For Work was a ‘no-brainer’”.

When Renata mentions the types of women attracted to the first service of its kind in Australia ten years ago, she could be talking about the women who access the organisation today. “We saw young women who had not been able to complete their education. We saw older women who had had a death in the family and hadn’t worked for a very long time and then found they had to work because there’s no breadwinner. We saw lots of single parents going back to work.”

Marion recalls a highlight for her was helping a woman who arrived very depressed, needing something to wear. She was fitted into a smart navy suit. “It was late in the day and it came time for us to pack up her clothes. She said, ‘Could I wear the clothes home? I’ve always wanted to be one of those other women who walks down to Flinders Street station and goes home with the other workers.’ She went on to get a job and she was one of our many success stories.”

Renata credits part of the organisation’s success to the thousands of generous women who donate around $800,000 worth of clothing each year. “Women love to give their used clothing where they think it will be useful to somebody else.”

In 2011, in recognition of their vision and achievements, Marion and Renata were the recipients of the Ernst and Young Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award for the Southern Region.

Since 2005, Fitted for Work has expanded to their services to include interview preparation, mentoring, transition-to-work and staying-employed programs. As a result, the organisation has helped more than 20,000 women get work and keep it.