Jacques-Henri Strubel, Nicolas Gradziel and Yann Lotodé, © La Cravate Solidaire

And if we stopped trust on appearances?

Meeting with Jacques-Henri Strubel,co-founder of « La Cravate Solidaire* »

It was then that they were still students in business school that Jacques-Henri Strubel and his two classmates Nicolas Gradziel and Yann Lotodé had the idea to create La Cravate Solidaire, an association that offers clothes to the job seekers for their job interview. The mission of the association is threefold:

  • Collect costumes, suits, shoes, jackets, shirts, pants, ties and accessories;
  • Distribute these clothes to people who need them for hiring interviews;
  • Help these people prepare for the interview with the help of image coaches and recruiters who are volunteers.

Jacques-Henri Strubel (who has no family relationship to me) tells the story of this association, which makes the link between the world of business and people in precarious situations.

How did the idea of creating “La Cravate Solidaire” come to you?

All three of us studied in Paris, in the field of entrepreneurship. During a creativity seminar, we were awarded the theme “James Bond”. For us, James Bond, in his impeccable costume, was the absolute chic. We then imagined what would become the concept of “La Cravate Solidaire”: offering clothes to those who cannot afford it. Besides, we could not ourselves afford costumes at the time! This problematic spoke to us directly. So it’s a bit of a personal story. We quickly decided to create an association and we started in a simple way, on a very small scale, asking our parents and our friends to give us the clothes they no longer had the use of.

Your slogan is “the dress does not make the monk but it contributes to it”. Can you give us your opinion on this notion of “appearance”?

Contrary to what one might think, clothing is an important source of discrimination: the way of presenting oneself is essential when you are looking for work and you have to go to an interview. But this discrimination goes beyond the appearance of clothing. There is also the way of moving, the vocabulary we use, the mimicry, etc. All these are codes that many do not master because they were not learned during schooling.

How do you find the beneficiaries and who are they?

We started in collaboration with the town hall of Joinville-le-Pont, where we were based, which knew young people looking for work. It was for them to regain confidence. On the occasion of our first workshop, a journalist was present. Just after the publication of the article on our association, the local mission of Paris contacted us and offered to support us; it served as a springboard.

Your mission today goes far beyond the distribution of clothing.

Yes, because job seekers do not just need adequate clothing: they also need advice to prepare for their interview. So we surrounded ourselves with volunteers in the field of image consulting, human resources, and we developed our own “coaching”.

In this regard, do you feel that there is a lack of public services that would explain that your association has been so successful?

Not quite, because we do not have the same approach as the different existing services. We organize “boost” workshops that last 2 hours and are supervised by 4 volunteers. We favor relaxation, building confidence. The public service works for the long-term. I would say that we are complementary.

You are involved in many very large companies. What links do you have with their employees?

We are fortunate to be welcomed by companies whose employees, in addition to donating their clothes, participate in their sorting. This was again the case very recently at the “Société Générale” bank, which welcomed us in 20 entities of its French network with a very nice result since more than 2,000 kilos of clothes were offered on this occasion! These are always moments of very convivial exchanges. We also sometimes offer employees to participate in our “boost” workshops. Thanks to all these meetings, we now have a team of about 800 volunteers in France, often specialized in recruitment. At the same time, we developed a team-building quiz for them on discrimination based on appearance. They are very often surprised to find that some of them practice it without knowing it.

After 6 years of existence, where are you and what are your development projects?

Since 2012, more than 4,000 people have been welcomed into our association and we have a 70% return to work rate, which is a real pride for us. Regarding our development, we are in phase of spinning in regions. There are now 9 “Solidarity Ties” in France and 1 in Belgium. Of course, we are responsible for training their volunteers. Yet, when we started this adventure in my studio, we were not trying to expand at all, which proves that what we are proposing answers a real need. Today, we want to continue our development in other regions while thinking about the structure of the association, creating, why not, a federation.

*Solidarity tie