Rental clothing shop gives job seekers a leg up

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Rental clothing shop gives job seekers a leg up

One Monday afternoon, nearly a dozen university students were having their measurements taken in the waiting room of a second-hand clothing rental store called Open Closet.

Their mission was the same: to find an appropriate outfit to wear to a job interview. What they took away were formal clothes fitted to their size, now properly equipped to take on the corporate world.

The cost? Just under 10,000 won ($8).

At Open Closet, job applicants can get their hands on formal attire on the cheap. Men and women can rent shirts and blouses for just 5,000 won, and jackets, pants and skirts for about 10,000 won, for up to four days - prices that don’t differ much from dry-cleaning fees.

The store has about 1,000 formal outfits and about 3,500 accessories, from ties to belts, mostly donated.

Kim So-ryeong, who used to work as a copywriter at an advertising agency, opened the store in July 2012 after finding inspiration in the Social Designer School Camp, a program run by the private research firm Hope Institute.

Participants in the program had to give presentations on an idea that could change the world, and Kim spoke about the Open Closet concept.

She initially created an online page displaying about 10 outfits she had taken from her own closet or received from friends. In the beginning, only about one person rented clothes every two or three days.

But as word of Open Closet spread on social media, the number of visitors and donations increased.

“I always wanted to help students in the middle of the job hunt,” Kim said. “I started out small but wanted to accomplish more, so I quit my job and delved into the business.”

Open Closet even provides attire outside the standard size range in Korea, particularly since it is difficult to offer properly fitting clothes for different body types with donations.

She once made a dress shirt for a man sized XXXL, as well as a skirt with a 22-inch waistline, smaller than an XS.

Kim currently plans to post photos of her inventory online so that people in more rural areas can rent them via delivery service.

Open Closet also receives handwritten letters from donors, and the stories behind the clothes as well as messages of encouragement to the borrowers are posted on the store’s homepage.

One outfit was donated by a woman who quit her job to stay at home and care for her family. Another was from a man who had to leave his position following an unfortunate accident. And yet another was once worn by a man who was recognized as the best singer in a national singing competition.

But the borrowers also leave replies.

Lee Ju-chan, who rented an outfit in April, left the message: “I was always bullied for my horrible sense of fashion. But after wearing this outfit, I looked like a gentleman from the movie ‘Kingsman.’ Thank you so much.”

Kim said the best part of her job was getting to listen to different people’s stories and sharing in their joy.

“I feel rewarded when I see a job applicant step into the store with an unconfident face and then step out in a fitted suit to head confidently to an interview,” she said.

BY JEONG A-RAM [shin.sooyeon@joongang.co.kr]

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