IWD: In Conversation with Thandi, Amber and Suzi

Working alongside charity Smart Works, River Island is proud to support women in realising their full potential this International Women's Day. Smart Works provides women seeking employment with the clothing, coaching and confidence they need to get the job and transform their lives, and have helped over 20,000 women in its centres across the UK. With a focus on empowering the female workforce, we sat down with three inspirational women from different professional backgrounds to hear more about their stories, successes and challenges along the way – using the power of fashion to help unlock confidence. Power houses in their areas of expertise, we are proud to introduce you to; Thandi Maqubela, Amber Jackson and Suzi Grant.

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Thandi Maqubela, The Sartorial Lawyer

Tell us a bit about your work with Smart Works?

Smart Works is a charity I hold close to my heart. I feel very proud to support them as their ethos is something I really believe in. I’ve worked with them in a few different ways; from donating workwear pieces to help them support the clients they engage with, to contributing an edit to their famed fashion sales, as well as talking on a panel about my approach to workwear and how I feel this plays into how I present at work.

What role does fashion play in your career?

It plays a significant role. It’s something I thoroughly enjoy as it makes me happy and it has a very real impact on how I present at work. The clothes we wear are a very valid tool of self-expression which plays into how we would like to be seen in the context of our careers – typically this is confident, capable with a whole heap of gravitas.

How do you navigate working in a male-dominated world like corporate law? What are some of the challenges you’ve faced and how have you overcome them?

This is something that I’ve always been aware of, although things are moving in the right direction. I decided quite early on in my career that I was not going to compromise on my femininity in order to succeed. In fact, I lean into this while still being assertive and authoritative in expressing my thoughts and aspirations. In terms of challenges, the main one would be not seeing myself reflected back at me when looking at leadership which is something that can definitely limit ones view of what is possible.

In the past you’ve mentioned being ‘passionate about encouraging women, especially women of colour, to know that they can show up as their full authentic selves and still be successful.’ What would be your top tips for this?

I’m going to share something that was shared with me which has helped me over the years. Don’t be afraid to take up space because you deserve to be in the proverbial room. We aren’t in these spaces by accident, no one is doing us a favour. We’re there because of our hard work and tenacity of will. This is something I always come back to when I have moments of doubt.

For International Women’s Day, what’s one change you’d like to see to improve the lives of women?

It would be the real economic emancipation of women and I think the work that Smart Works does goes to the very heart of this. This would have a significant effect on the choices women are able to make at the various stages of their lives and in my view a robust and reliable childcare framework is a key element of this. This would have an immensely positive impact on the wider economy so it’s not just a women’s issue.

Amber Jackson, ITV Stylist and Fashion Editor at This Morning

Have you ever suffered low confidence at work? How did you get over it?

I think everyone has their low days. It’s part of the creative process. You have to remember that you are where you are because of who you are and the work you do. You have to trust the process and believe in yourself.

How do you think clothing can affect someone’s confidence?

It has a huge effect and impact on your confidence. If you're in a tracksuit, you immediately feel like lounging. Even when I WFH, I make sure I get dressed into work clothes to get me into ‘work mode’ and avoid a lazy mindset. When we're in our favourite outfit, whatever it is, I think we all walk taller and feel happier.

Do you think the idea you can “dress for the job you want” is true?

Definitely! It's all about confidence. If you feel good and confident in your outfit that will translate in your interview. Like it or not, your outfit is your interviewer's first impression of you so you want to impress immediately.

What's your go-to outfit for a job interview?

Tailoring with a twist! I love mixing tailoring with a cool trainer or fun boot. Suits and blazers don’t have to be boring. I opt for a bold colour and wear with a tee or a staple stripe top. Alternatively, a fab frock with a knee high boot is an easy way to wow.

For International Women’s Day, what’s one change you’d like to see to improve the lives of women?

I think we could do a lot better when it comes to maternity leave and women returning to work. I’ve seen so many great stylists, editors and producers give up work to be a full-time mum due to the financial pressure and stress of returning to work. New mums need more support when it comes to getting back to the office.

Suzi Grant, Broadcaster, Author & Content Creator

What are your top tips for embracing positive ageing?

Exercise, diet, and learning new things. Don't be afraid to try something a bit different either!

What are your tips for finding your personal style?

Try everything on! Not everything will suit you, but it will help you find your style. For example, not everyone suits '50s and '60s style, but I love it! For me, I don’t want to blend in so I avoid grey, black or navy and am always adding some funky accessories! If you're still not sure, ask people for their opinions. Whether it's people you trust, a stylist or other customers in the shops (they will be much more truthful!), it's sometimes really helpful and confidence-boosting to hear a different perspective.

What advice would you give anyone considering taking the plunge on a big life change – at any age?

Do it! It’s so good for you. Jump off the edge and jump into the water. Learn everything you can about what you’d like to do, whether it's a career change or a hobby. And also, only do things you’re passionate about; it keeps your mind active.

What do you think needs to change when it comes to conversations around ageing, especially women’s ageing?

It’s getting better, and we’re being represented more. I don’t want to be a token oldie but lots of ad campaigns are doing better, even if there is still room for improvement. I don’t want us to be labelled either. I hate being called vulnerable, elderly or being put in a box.