It all started with an idea from Canadian Olympic Sprinter Andre De Grasse.
Andre, a supporter of WoodGreen’s youth programs through the Andre De Grasse Family Foundation, wanted to help young Black men who were embarking on their careers to put their best feet forward. And he thought a good way to do this was through the power of a well-tailored suit.
So, he brought his idea to WoodGreen and custom apparel brand INDOCHINO. Everyone jumped on board. WoodGreen put a call out to youth who participated in Rites of Passage or its VFX Compositing program, offering the opportunity for some of them to get their own custom-made suit.
When the email landed in the inbox of Jason Nugent, a graduate of WoodGreen’s VFX Compositing program, he quickly responded to say “yes!”.
“I don’t have a suit. So, why wouldn’t take this opportunity?” he said. “This is the first time that I’ve ever done something like this, so this is a whole different experience for me.”
The youth were invited to drop by an INDOCHINO store on King St. East to get the full INDOCHINO experience. That included working with a professional style guide to be measured and select the fabrics for their suits, which complemented their styles and personalities.
“The exciting thing about the partnership is that it aligns with our values. Our purpose is for people to feel their best. And that they have that confidence,” said Kadeem Joseph, INDOCHINO’s District Manager.
Suits will help give youth confidence during job interviews
Black youth are disproportionality represented in upwardly mobile careers. To help solve this problem, WoodGreen created its VFX program. This 23-week program gives participants a competitive edge as they launch careers in digital tech. Students learn techniques like digital compositing, the process of assembling multiple images to make a final image for print, motion picture, or screen display. Students also participate in a six-week paid work placement at a local studio.
WoodGreen also offers Rites of Passage for Black youth, which includes resources, guidance and support as they move from one life stage to the next. Through individual counselling and group activities — including art projects, community events, volunteerism, Elders’ circles and trips — participants explore their identity as young adults and work toward long-term personal growth and success.
For the young men who received this opportunity, the suits are a chance to help them on the next step of their journey: job interviews and the start of their professional careers. This aligns with the mission of Andre’s namesake foundation: “to help youth to reach their own unique potential by providing them with similar opportunities that made Andre a champion in sport and life.”
“When you go to an interview, how you present yourself is important,” said Sipho Kwaku, WoodGreen’s Director of Diversity, Inclusion, Belonging, and Equity. “Andre has given these youth the chance for them to look their best and to make a positive impression.”
“I feel important. I feel like I’ve got value.”
A few weeks after their fittings, the youth went back to try on their suits for the first time. When Jason pulled back the fitting room curtain, a big smile beamed across his face.
“I feel important. I feel like I’ve got value,” he said.
He wasn’t alone in feeling that way.
“I love the new suit. I haven’t had a new suit since graduation,” said Vicent Kazibwe, who also graduated from the VFX program, after trying on his suit. “I feel awesome when I wear the suit. I feel like a million dollars.”
“When I put the suit on and looked into the mirror, I felt my back straighten. I feel like I’m ready to take over the world,” said Kalin Thompson-Spence, another fellow VFX graduate who also got a custom suit. “I want to tell INDOCHINO and WoodGreen that I will remember this every time I put on this suit. And I know I will be putting on this suit quite a lot.”
It’s a feeling that the three of them will carry into their futures.
“They will remember that Andre reached back,” said Sipho. “Now, their responsibility when they succeed is to reach back.”