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Friday, Sept. 18, 2009

NPO's used suits give young job seekers hope

Staff writer

A decent suit is one thing you'll definitely need if you intend to find a job, but many people are discovering they can't even afford this basic tool.

News photo
Wardrobe king: Kei Kudo, 32, chairman of the NPO Sodateage Net, shows one of the many suits donated from individuals at his office on Sept. 8 in Tachikawa, western Tokyo. NATSUKO FUKUE PHOTO

"Many young people cannot afford a whole suit for a job interview," said Kei Kudo, the 32-year-old founder of Sodateage Net, a nonprofit organization in Tachikawa, western Tokyo, that provides job training for youths.

To help, the NPO began collecting used suits in July to lend to job hunters aged 15 to 39 because the whole outfit "would cost at least ¥40,000 for men and ¥60,000 for women (including shoes and a bag)," he said.

To his surprise, 10,314 items needed for job hunting — including 2,977 suits for men and 442 suits for women — had been donated as of Sept. 7.

"Actually, it was beyond surprise," he said, adding that the project proves Japanese have a sense of social contribution. "I didn't think Japanese are keen on donating, so I didn't imagine that they are actually so philanthropic."

Kudo came up with the idea for the Recycled Suits for Youth Project when one of his staff members asked him to donate his own suit to someone who couldn't afford to buy one.

"We occasionally offered a workshop where participants had to wear a suit. But the number of participants in this workshop declined. It turned out they couldn't afford a suit," he said.

Kudo sent out e-mail messages to people with whom he had exchanged name cards, asking them to donate suits more as a social investment. His efforts began to gain the attention of the media, including NHK, and was soon circulated via blogs and e-mail.

Thanks to the wide media coverage, some 2,000 boxes of suits arrived at the NPO's office within two weeks.

So many suits came in from across Japan that a postal truck once had to drop off the boxes three times a day, Kudo said. Each night, the NPO members would open the boxes and tally the suits and other items that came in.

"I couldn't move after counting suits for three hours," he laughed, noting that one person donated 200 neck ties.

According to the NPO, some women donated suits because their husbands had retired or their sons had left their old job-hunting suits at home. Even people in their late 20s and early 30s sent suits, noting they also had difficulty finding jobs when the economy was bad. Some people came directly to the office to donate, Kudo said.

Most of the suits were sent from the Kanto area, but several boxes came in from rural areas as well.

"We received donations from prefectures facing tough employment situations," he said.

Companies have also gotten into the act.

For its next project, the NPO is considering a proposal by U.S. bank JP Morgan to have employees donate suits to those who have gotten a job but cannot to buy a suit until they receive their first paycheck.

The suits donated by individuals are sent to NPOs in Tokyo and Saitama, Tochigi, Nagano, Mie, Osaka, Okayama, Saga, Kanagawa and Toyama prefectures that have partnerships with Sodateage Net. They will soon be delivered to other cities as well.

The NPO has finished collecting used suits but is still trying to raise funds to cover the cleaning and delivery costs.

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