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RFID Helps Women Dress for Success

A Pennsylvania nonprofit organization has begun applying EPC Gen 2 RFID tags to apparel and accessories, in order to improve its ability to provide business suits to job-seeking women.
By Claire Swedberg
Oct 06, 2009The Dress for Success (DFS) South Central PA affiliate of Dress for Success, an international nonprofit organization dedicated to helping women improve their lives, will soon employ radio frequency identification to track the apparel it provides to its clients free of charge. This will enable the organization's paid and volunteer staff members to know what they have in stock—no easy task when their inventory has no SKU labels and is acquired mostly through donations from area residents.

The organization gives each client one suit for a job interview, as well as up to a week's worth of work-appropriate clothing following that interview if she becomes employed. In the past two and a half years, its three boutiques—located in the cities of Harrisburg, York and Lebanon—have served 2,200 women. The outlets currently provide clothing to 200 women each month. The majority of the items are acquired through donations from local residents and businesses, though some are purchased. Area women who seek employment but lack the proper business attire for an interview can visit a local boutique and select an appropriate outfit, with assistance from volunteers.

A DFS boutique in south-central Pennsylvania

With the RFID system, which is in the process of being installed for an initial pilot, DFS expects it will be able to track each tagged garment and accessory throughout the boutiques, as well as a large van with suits stored within, that can be delivered to those unable to reach the outlets.

Ruth Koup, CEO of DFS in south-central Pennsylvania
Unlike most retail locations where items are displayed according to sizes and styles, and then tracked with bar-coded SKU labels on the price tags, this business has no such system. Instead, it is all-manual and all-visual, requiring volunteers and paid workers to walk among racks of garments, searching for clothing of the proper size, style and color for a particular client—and if it's not there, the search becomes more complicated. Often, they must place a phone call to the other two locations to determine if clothing of a specific size and color is available. The worst-case scenario would require that someone pull the large truck that acts as the mobile boutique out of the Harrisburg garage, then open the back and look through those items as well.

For several reasons, the Dress for Success operation in south-central Pennsylvania is unique. This is the first branch that operates boutiques in three locations, as well as the first to have a mobile boutique, according to the affiliate's CEO, Ruth Koup. That's because—unlike other regions, where customers can be expected to visit a single store at a central location—south-central Pennsylvania has mass transit and multiple independent communities, causing shoppers to stay within their immediate vicinity. All donated and purchased garments must then be shared among those boutiques, and are often moved back and forth between them, depending on clients' needs. Some more rural clients can not get to any of the brick-and-mortar sites. For that reason, Koup set up the mobile boutique.

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