Looking the part: One woman's mission to dress job candidates to their fullest potential

Inspiration strikes at unpredictable times. For Sharon Murphy, it came at a job fair during a blizzard.

It was the winter of 2014 and Murphy was meeting potential candidates for her employer, automotive supplier Detroit Manufacturing Systems (DMS). Among the more than 2,000 job candidates lined up outside in the falling snow, one woman, Murphy recalls, was there in flip-flops.  

"Some people might have turned her down because of her appearance, thinking there must have been someone she could have borrowed clothing from to be more presentable," Murphy says. "But the reality was she didn't have anyone she could have borrowed clothing from. She had no family, she was new to the state and living in a homeless shelter at the time."

The woman—who was ultimately hired and continues to work at Detroit Manufacturing Systems—in part made Murphy realize she wanted to help others in similar situations. "This is what ambition and drive look like," she recalls thinking. "Every day, people are turned down for opportunities, simply because they lack the resources to appear professional and job-ready. Something as small as clothing shouldn't be prohibiting our community from financial growth."

From there, Murphy began developing Clothes 4 Jobs Detroit, a nonprofit that launches next month with the goal of providing underserved Detroit-area job candidates with professional attire for job fairs, interviews, and their future careers. While continuing her supervisor role at DMS, she has steadily worked to establishing Clothes 4 Jobs Detroit as an official nonprofit, including submitting her articles of incorporation and assembling a board of directors. 

Once Clothes 4 Jobs Detroit launches, Murphy hopes to build relationships with organizations that have similar goals, including job resource centers, churches, and homeless shelters, in order to reach as many people as possible. She also plans to add free learning centers that will offer interview training as well as provide transportation to and from job fairs. Further into the future, she hopes to expand the organization to other states.

Though this is her first foray into the world of nonprofits, Murphy previously owned and operated Princess Get-A-Way Resort LLC, located in St. Clair Shores, which provided girls with a "princess for a day" experience. 

A Detroit native, Murphy grew up near Fenkell and Livernois avenues and attended Central High School. She graduated from Phoenix University with a degree in healthcare administration. Before starting at DMS in 2013, she worked in an administrative position at Henry Ford Hospital.

Murphy says that she has never personally been in a position where she couldn't afford professional attire, nor has anyone close to her, explaining "anyone around me who couldn't afford work clothes, I made sure they got it."

Monica Brand, director of Human Resources at DMS, has worked with Murphy for the past four years and describes her as an exceptionally compassionate person. Murphy, she says, does the bulk of the legwork for DMS's holiday charity contributions for employees, often on her own time. She adds that Murphy is always sympathetic to issues her employees may be struggling with and works to connect them to resources they need.

"I was surprised but not surprised when Sharon told me about Clothes 4 Jobs," Brand says. "Surprised because it's a huge undertaking for somebody who already has a full-time job. But to devote herself to something like this is absolutely typical of her character; she's got a spirit for wanting to help people."

Murphy concedes that her nonprofit is a hefty responsibility, especially for one person. "Doing everything by myself, I often didn't have the time to work on C4JD. Working a full-time job along with being a mother, sister, daughter, and friend, time begins to slip away from you."

Fortunately, Murphy's family and friends have played an important role in the development of Clothes 4 Jobs Detroit. She cites her mother as her biggest supporter. "She is always provides a helpful ear and encourages me on days when I feel like giving up," she says. 

She also mentions her late brother, Clinton Murphy, as someone who played a role in the genesis of Clothes 4 Jobs Detroit—he was an example of what society would perceive as not career ready. "His appearance didn't match his capabilities, drive, and intelligence," Murphy says. "I told him many times I was going to use him as my poster child because he truly was a smart man that never got the opportunity to showcase his talents."

Clinton died on March 23, 2017 due to multiple seizures. The loss was devastating for Murphy. "I lost the ambition and drive," she says. "I tried many days pushing, but my mind was lost for thoughts. With the help of family and friends, I was able to persevere."

By March, Murphy plans to launch a website as well as establish the organization's first physical location. As of now, she has scouted potential locations in both Detroit and Southfield. 

Murphy still thinks about the woman who came out in a blizzard in flip flops to apply for a job and wonders how many others are just like her. 

"Who else out there is without shoes, coat, bed, or home, but has a desire to do better?" she says, adding that she hopes Clothes 4 Jobs Detroit is one day no longer needed. "I imagine that by starting this organization, we'll provide companies with so many career-ready candidates that unemployment will need to file for unemployment."

This article is part of "Detroit Innovation," a series highlighting community-led projects that are improving the vitality of neighborhoods in Detroit, while recognizing the potential of residents to work with partners to solve the most pressing challenges facing their communities.

The series is supported by the New Economy Initiative, a project of the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan that's working to create an inclusive, innovative regional culture.

Photo by Nick Hagen
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Amy Oprean is a Detroit-based freelance journalist, comedy writer and storyteller. You can follow her on Twitter @AmyOprean