By Dylan Deprey
There’s just something about a new outfit that exudes confidence. Between the crispiness of a new shirt to a scuff-free pair of kicks, looking good and feeling good go hand-in-hand.
Whether it’s the first day of school or a job interview, a fresh fit can help alleviate the nerves that come with making a good first impression.
While working in local schools, Mariah Smith observed how a new outfit can completely change a child’s school experience.
“I see a lot of kids with beautiful personalities, that usually wear the same outfit more than once a week, have holes in their clothes, and they’re treated significantly different than the other kids,” Smith said.
“I see the Black and Brown kids through a lens I grew up in. I went to school in Wauwatosa, and if you didn’t have the newest Abercrombie & Fitch or Hollister, it meant you were broke, or a loser, or your parents wouldn’t buy them for you.”
While helping in a K-4 class, she was teaching the children about hygiene and cleanliness. As the class shouted out daily routines like “washing hands” and “bushing teeth,” one of the students called out another for being “smelly.”
“There was nothing that stood out. She wasn’t the best dressed, but nothing out of the ordinary. After a few weeks, she was wearing the same outfit several days out of the week, and coming in a little dirty,” Smith said.
Although the child didn’t mean to be malicious, Smith saw the little girl absolutely defeated, and it was that moment, she knew something had to be done.
“She’s four-years-old and is now known as the stinky girl who wears the same dress. So, right then and there, me and the teacher I was working with went to Target after school to get her some clothes,” Smith said.
As a child raised by a single mother, Smith said she felt her mother’s stress as the school year lingered in the distance. When it came to filling the pantry or filling her closet, the hangers stayed empty.
Smith said she wanted to keep the kids as confident as ever coming into the new school year. She is hosting the first annual First Day Fits New Outfit Drive at Sherman Park on August 13th, 2022. The event is in collaboration with Sedan Smith’s annual bookbag giveaway.
“I just thought when I have my best outfit on, I feel amazing. You could call me any name, and I’d still have the confidence,” Smith said. “I know the first day of anything can be tough, so I want the kids’ confidence to be through the roof.”
Smith has been collecting money and new clothing donations since July 12th, and has raised over $2,000 along with many purchased outfits.
While this is the first event, she said she plans on linking with local clothing companies and hosting the drive annually. Smith said she’s working towards people being able to sponsor a child for their first week of school.
“I want kids to be able to focus on the lesson, and not about what a classmate said about their shoes, or just not feeling confident in a shirt that was from a year ago,” she said. “I didn’t want this to be just a regular clothing drive, the kiddos going back to class need the newest outfits.”
Smith said the event is an extension of her private tutoring service, “The Key,” which is a free service for local youth. She said it’s just the beginning for her work with the youth in Milwaukee.
“These are just two of things that I’m working on, there’s a lot more to come,” Smith said.
Donations run through August 12, 2022. Anybody interested in donating can reach out through email, CashApp or social media.