Project Pinstripe is the kind of work that is exhausting, detailed and adrenalin-fueled. But it also is the kind of project that allows for rewards that span years and years.
For the past decade, Project Pinstripe has worked with Detroit-area youth to not only outfit them with a classic suit but to give them the skills they’ll need to succeed in college, the workplace and beyond.
The nonprofit organization sponsored by custom clothier Tom James Co. and its Metro Detroit partners will celebrate its 10th anniversary. And it is the largest event so far with 137 participants and more than 50 volunteers for the day-long affair. It began with about 25 kids and a handful of people who thought it was a great idea, said organizer Rob Wachler.
This Saturday, a lineup of fashion advisors, career consultants and professional haberdashers will provide these young men with a free, gently used suit as well as advice on everything from how to tie a Windsor knot to offering a firm handshake to which fork to use in the salad course, all in one jam-packed happening at Don Bosco Hall in Youthville on Woodward in Detroit.
“Looking good is only one part of it; we want to impact these young men and their confidence levels,” said local coordinator Wachler, a Tom James professional haberdasher in its Southfield office. “It’s about how you deal with people. It’s how you speak. It’s about when you sit in an interview, how much eye contact should you made. That’s as important as how to tie a tie or shine your shoes.”
Wachler has a long-term goal for the project, which he describes as a whirlwind day of meetings, fittings and conversation. He wants it to last a bit longer — he hopes to maintain a relationship with volunteers and participants beyond those few hours together Saturday. Not only does Wachler want more sponsors to step up and become involved, he hopes to create a database of everyone who comes that day as well as a scholarship fund to take one or more of the participants into the future in even grander style. In other words, he’s open to suggestion via phone calls, emails and donations.
Tom James haberdashers as well as members of the Detroit A.M. Rotary Club and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity (Gamma Lambda Chapter) volunteer their time to sort and display the clothing to create an atmosphere similar to a fine men’s store. The haberdashers work with each Project Pinstripe participant to select an outfit, measure each young man and provide on-the-spot tailoring.
Most of Saturday’s participants are already participants in local mentoring programs, organizers say, so they’re ready for this next step in their lives. Many are about to graduate from high school and are going to attend college while others may be starting to interview for full-time jobs.
Today’s Millennial generation seems to be interested in learning how to dress well, emulating their grandparents, who were more formal and thought about the details in their accessories and the like, said John Burton, a Project Pinstripe volunteer and fellow Tom James professional haberdasher.
“You see the students’ excitement and enthusiasm. That’s the opposite of what you hear about (that generation) and typical 18 year olds,” Burton said. “The energy is over the top.”
Project Pinstripe began at Tom James in New York City, where a young female employee from Livonia suggested the program as a way for the custom clothier to give back to the more than 125 communities where it works, Wachler said. That woman grew up with second-hand clothing, so she understood the struggle to find appropriate outfits and the importance of making a lasting first impression when finances are tight or non-existent.
Tom James in Southfield has grown its Project Pinstripe into an all-day event. It starts with presentations from local business people from the Rotary and Alpha Phi Alpha, who share their stories of growing up, finding success and the challenges they faced. They are the inspiration for students to see if they reach high they can follow the same path, Wachler said.
The event continues with one-on-one sessions on interviewing, networking and more. In between, students work with Tom James haberdashers and volunteers to find a suit, tie and dress shirt, which are professionally tailored and prepared for the new owner by Huntington Cleaners. Most of the suits, which were donated by Tom James clients, range in value from $400 to $2,000. The event concludes with a catered luncheon from O’Mara’s in Berkley, during which students are partnered with the day’s speakers and volunteers to continue the conversation.