He wore ratty clothes, had holes in his tennis shoes and his long matted hair hinted that he hadn't bathed in some time. Despite his appearance, this homeless man walked out of a store with a $650 suit and hope to start a new life.
This man was James Sabey, and he was given the opportunity of a lifetime. A camera crew, videographer, journalists and a hairstylist gathered at family-owned Utah Woolen Mills (UWM) to record this amazing event at 1:30 p.m. on a Friday afternoon.
But 1:30 came and went and Sabey was nowhere in sight. BJ Stringham, fifth-generation owner, found this man through Catholic Community Services, so he called the organization to find out where Sabey was.
Unfortunately, they didn't know. And since Sabey was living in his car without a cellphone, there was no way to get in contact with him but twenty minutes later, Sabey walked through the door and Stringham's tense shoulders relaxed with relief.
"I could see this guy was going to need an amazing makeover," Stringham said in an interview with FamilyShare.
He was marking the length of Sabey's pants when he noticed his tennis shoes were covered in holes. Stringham realized that without a nice shirt, tie and shoes, a suit wasn't going be enough.
"The next thing I know, we're outfitting him with shoes, with socks, with the suit, with the dress shirt, with a tie," he said. "The whole thing."
They dressed Sabey head to toe, and even gave him a haircut. When Sabey's new look was revealed at the end, Stringham said there wasn't a dry eye in the room.
This man was the first participant of the program Suited for Good. UWM started this charity in January 2017 with the promise to donate one suit to people in need for every suit sold for the entire year.
It only took one month for this idea to become a reality, but the events that led up to it started early in 2016.
In February 2016, two loyal customers asked Stringham if he might be willing to donate something, even just a pair of socks, to a gala that would benefit a mother with a brain tumor.
As a parent himself, Stringham desired to help this family he didn't know.
UWM donated a suit to be auctioned at the gala. While attending the event, he was overwhelmed with joy to see so many people rally together to help this family.
On the way home, he said the desire to help people hit him like a ton of bricks. Stringham called his father, who also worked in the family business.
"We have got to do something as a company to help people," he told his father. "With the amazing business and the amazing customers we have, we should be able to leverage this."
With the desire to help already rooted in him, a conversation with the president of Even Stevens helped Stringham see that it was possible to help others while building a viable business —Even Stevens donates one sandwich to someone in need for each sandwich purchased. Stringham was able to see how rewarding their mission was, and he knew he could do something similar.
In December 2016, Stringham started to create the program Suited for Good.
Suited for Good received recognition worldwide after KSL posted a story about one of their recipients — Brian Smith— who landed a job after receiving a suit from UWM.
Brian Smith's case was extreme, Stringham said. Smith, whose last name is changed for privacy, was homeless, sent out about 180 résumés, received rejection after rejection and contemplated suicide.
With tears in his eyes, Smith told KSL he had lost faith in humanity, in God and in his life. But 2017 was a huge turnaround for him. Smith picked up his suit from UWM on a Saturday and had a job by Tuesday.
Stringham said it wasn't the suit that got him a job. He got a job because he was able to walk in with confidence and pride, two characteristics Stringham said employers look for.
By providing suits for people in need, Stringham said Suited for Good puts everyone on a level playing field.
How we look influences how we are perceived, how we act and how successful we are, he said. And some people in need miss out on opportunities they shouldn't miss out on.
After that story aired, Suited for Good received attention and responses from all over the world, but one stood out among the rest.
Stringham received a handwritten letter postmarked from San Jose, California. It read, "Thank you for helping those in need. Please use this money towards your program." Enclosed were four one-dollar bills.
"That says a lot to me about how deeply this was touching them," Stringham said, "and how far they had to reach in their pocket to find the four dollars to send."
This program isn't just about the suits — it's also about the relationship. UWM gives their program participants the same experience as someone who buys a $10,000 suit from them. Their hope is that these individuals will make the best out of this opportunity and pay it forward.
Everyone who walks out of the dressing room in a suit and sees their reflection in the mirror is counted as a success, Stringham said. Whether they get a job or just go home to blow their wife's mind, "the whole goal of this is to give people an opportunity to get the career that they want," he said. "It's already been a humongous success."
Suited for Good has suited 60 men and women in need so far, and their goal is to donate 650 suits by the end of 2017.
"When you try to help somebody, it's going to come back to you," Stringham said. "And it's going to come back to you tenfold."
You can help by purchasing a boutonniere from UWM for $25 where 100 percent of the proceeds go to Suited for Good. You can also donate to the Utah Woolen Mills Foundation or purchase a suit to help men and women trying to re-enter the workforce.