In her hometown of Lawrenceville, Virginia, a one-stoplight town near the North Carolina border, senior Kayla Branson’s interest in fashion isn’t the norm.

But that didn’t stop her from pursuing her dreams — and an education at Virginia Tech was part of that path.

“The older I got, the more apparent it was that there was no other school than Virginia Tech that could give me the sense of family and community that you grow up with in such a small town, while still providing me the opportunity to venture out on my own and have new experiences,” said Branson, a fashion merchandising and design major.

She has taken the experiences offered to her and capitalized on them. Most notably, she has assumed responsibility for Career Outfitters, an event hosted by Career and Professional Development that provides interview and job fair attire to Virginia Tech students free of charge.

“No student should be excluded from career fairs, job interviews, or networking opportunities simply because they are unable to access what can be a fairly expensive process of finding professional clothing to wear,” said Branson. “Because of Career Outfitters, they won’t have to be excluded.”

Career Outfitters is scheduled for Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Thursday from 9 a.m. to noon.

Branson said that, at the end of her first year at Virginia Tech, she received a flyer advertising the opportunity to become a peer career advisor for Career and Professional Development.

“The position sounded like a great opportunity to have a job in a professional atmosphere, and I loved the idea of gaining skills I would need throughout the rest of my career, while being able to help other students gain those same skills,” said Branson.

Branson is in her third year working with Career and Professional Development. In spring 2015, she was assigned to the Career Outfitters event, due to her experience and interest in fashion.

This year she has handled most of the responsibility of planning and executing the event, with help from Career and Professional Development faculty and staff, graduate assistants, and other peer career advisors. Branson’s responsibilities include organizing and maintaining the Career Outfitters Closet and organizing volunteers for the collection and distribution of donations.

Career Outfitters launched in 2013 and is made possible by donations made to the event throughout the year.

“This is our fourth year of offering Career Outfitters, and it’s truly a service project out of our office,” said Donna Ratcliffe, director of Career and Professional Development. “We do not want a student to be at a disadvantage simply because they do not have professional attire. During the 2015-16 academic year, we had more than 900 students take advantage of Career Outfitters. There is clearly a need for this event at Virginia Tech.”

Attire donated and available includes suits for men and women, ties, belts, shoes, blazers, dress pants, dress shirts, blouses, and skirts.

“It may be a two-day event, but it truly does take the whole year to organize,” said Branson.

To accumulate enough business attire, Career and Professional Development collects clothing donations from alumni associations, clothing drives, year-round clothing collection at Smith Career Center, and local business partnerships.

“Contacting and organizing with those local partners is one of my favorite parts of this job,” said Branson. “It is so great to see how excited local businesses are to get involved in an event that helps students be able to take part in professional events while still in school and on a college student’s budget.”

In the summer of 2016, Branson interned with Belk in store management. Following graduation, she will participate in Belk’s Emerging Leaders Program. This program identifies the top recent graduates interested in retail leadership and prepares them to move quickly into an accelerated career path at Belk.

“Through my work with Career and Professional Development, I have been able to further develop my professionalism, organization skills, time management, and event management skills — to name a few — all of which I would need in any fashion career,” said Branson.

Her experience with Career Outfitters has inspired Branson to one day start or work with a nonprofit organization dedicated to making certain that high school and college students have access to clothes they are excited about to help them express unique personalities and feel confident.

Written by Holly Paulette

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