Dressing Harlem men for success in donated suits

On a frigid winter day, Kevin Livingston set up out on the corner of 125th Street and Lennox Avenue in Harlem with a rack of suits, a table of ties, and a mission: to help young men down on their luck get back on their feet.

Kavon Marshall, 26, was one of his beneficiaries. He walked away with a whole new look.

"I feel determined like I could get a job now, I could go on an interview and get it," said Marshall, who was released from prison a year ago after serving a two-year sentence. He is still struggling to get back on his feel.

"I'm still homeless," Marshall said. "It's been very hard."

Livingston's nonprofit, 100 Suits for 100 Men, aims to help people like Marshall re-enter the workplace by giving them professional business attire, a haircut, and a major confidence boost.

"Your tie will stand out, the community looks at you different, police looks at you different--and you, more important, look at yourself different," Livingston said of the benefits of giving a man a suit.

He started the group six years ago and now operates two boutiques at parole offices in Queens and Harlem, and pop-up shops in public places throughout the year.

"I simply care, I care about the people," Livingston said. "I saw people in my community ostracizing people who didn't look like they needed to be, they walk across the street from them versus engaging them."

What started as a collection box in his former office at a bank, has turned into a full-fledged nonprofit organization that has drawn support from some big names. Earlier this year, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback-turned-activist Colin Kaepernick gave the group two dozen suits plus more than $30,000. But plenty of regular New Yorkers pitch in too, like Deered Banson, who heard about the Harlem pop-up event on Facebook and came over with some suits.

"One of them is quite new, it's a tailored suit. I thought, you know it would look good on a young man trying to progress in life," Banson said.

Perhaps a young man like 34-year-old Kegan Ambrose, who happened upon the pop-up event and walked away with a new attitude to go with his new sharp outfit.

"I'm unemployed at the moment," Ambrose said. "I'm always looking for a job and to have a nice suit to look presentable is God's blessing."

100 Suits also provides job counseling and follow-up services to its clients.

The organization is getting ready to open another boutique in Downtown Brooklyn.

Follow updates on the group's Facebook page.