Dressed for success

Boots to Suits program gives vets an advantage

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Sue Farrell started her first clothing drive in her own home. Photo by Caroline Martin

In 2014, Sue Farrell decided that service members leaving the military needed well-made clothes for their job interviews.

Farrell, a longtime Richmond-area real estate agent, began her first clothing drive close to home. “I started with Joe’s closet,” she says.

Joe was her late husband, Joseph Farrell, former CEO and chairman of what was then called The Pittston Co., now known as the Brink’s Co. He passed away in 2013.

Farrell says her husband’s closet was filled with corporate attire — upscale suits, trousers and accessories.

And, so was born an effort to honor her husband, a Navy veteran, that has blossomed into a mission for Farrell.

The clothing program, called Boots to Suits, is available to transitioning veterans, both men and women.

After Farrell emptied her late husband’s closet, she enlisted close friends and acquaintances to search their closets for minimally worn clothing.

Besides gathering clothing for veterans, Farrell is a constant fund­raiser, utilizing everything from a Dominion Energy golf tournament to gifts from anyone sympathetic to veterans’ causes.

The money goes for new shirts and other clothing that fill in the gaps from donated apparel. Funds also are needed to pay employees who work with Farrell and for rent on a building that provides storage and dressing rooms.

“On average, it costs about $300 a vet,” Farrell says of the total cost of preparing a veteran for job interviews, not including general operational costs.

She has a goal of outfitting about 500 veterans a year, including wounded warriors and, in some instances, the spouses of injured veterans who have become the family breadwinners.

Farrell says veterans come from military installations throughout the state to select clothing and have fittings.

Some tailors in the Richmond area donate their time to measure the veterans and ensure that their clothing has a perfect fit.

One of them is Franco Ambrogi, co-founder of Franco’s Fine Clothier. He is an Army veteran, and his son was a Navy pilot who lost his life in service to his country.

For his part, Ambrogi says serving veterans is a gift for him, as well as a patriotic service.

“I’ve always believed in America,” Ambrogi says. “And the people who put their lives on the line for America deserve something better than just a slap on the back and ‘thank you.’”

Farrell also works with the Virginia Department of Veterans Services and other groups as part of the Boots to Suits program.

“This fall we will celebrate our fifth year, and it’s been magic,” Farrell says. “I’m not a veteran, but I fell in love with one, and that was Joe.”

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