Germantown: One Man’s Army of Suits Gives Opportunities to Others
WAY Haberdashery, located at 1605 Rockland St., is home to the WAY Foundation. Marine veteran Stephen Fortt (above) has run the non-profit for nearly a decade and has provided professional attire for thousands of people.
Providing resources for individuals in need is the mission at Wardrobe for Adolescents and Youth.
Fortt, executive director of the WAY organization, has worked to provide clothing services for people in underserved areas. He has dressed more than 10,000 individuals within the last 10 years.
While the organization is primarily based in the Germantown community, Fortt has also worked to provide attire for men in Delaware and New Jersey. Fortt received the NAACP Humanitarian of the Year award in 2007 and has received many other recognitions for his dedication and hard work.
For eight years, the Wardrobe for Adolescents and Youth organization has provided attire and career development tools to economically challenged individuals looking to enter the workforce. WAY is a non-profit organization that focuses on improving the lives of at-risk individuals through the development of entrepreneurship and self-sufficiency.
“I got a couple shirts, pants and a suit coat,” Gregory Derix, a man living at the Germantown Life Enrichment Center, said. “At PHA (Philadelphia Housing Authority), I’m finally gonna get an interview and a voucher to get my own housing. When we dress up in a suit and we go down there, we’re showing OSH (Office of Supportive Housing) and PHA we mean business and we’re serious about getting back on our feet.”
That type of outlook is what Fortt is hoping to achieve.
“I’ve had a pretty extensive career working with people in need,” he said.
The WAY organization manages to assist several men and women each day with the help of volunteers from the Welfare To Work programs which are provided through the Earn Centers. WAY volunteers are taught different aspects of customer services and retail skills while also helping to maintain the mission of the organization.
Fortt coordinates daily assignments for the volunteers. Within the first few weeks, volunteers learn the basics of taking measurements and how to coordinate professional attire.
“We sent our interns over to him,”Angentine Rome, an Earn Center employee, said. “He’s a very good partner. He completes paperwork on time. He helps interns with their job search and everyday skills to get the job.
“We still have an ongoing partnership with him and we have one intern there with him now.”
The WAY organization has a large collection of suits and ties so men can look their best when trying to land a job. The number of suits lined across the walls at WAY Haberdashery is impressive.
“Ninety percent of my suits come from individuals who donate,” Fortt said. “I’m a recipient of the annual Men’s Wearhouse National Suit Drive.”
Fortt also works closely with the men in need at the Germantown Life Enrichment Center. GLEC case manager Frank Anderson keeps donations from WAY in a closet where his guys can go in and take what they need.
“WAY is a really big help for the guys who are looking for jobs and things of that nature,” Anderson said. “One guy wore a suit when he went to meet his kids for the very first time. Another guy got a tuxedo to wear to his daughter’s wedding.”
Fortt also donates casual clothing to GLEC because when many men arrive, they only own the clothes they’re wearing.
“I grabbed a Rocawear jacket,”said Bruce Watson, a resident at the GLEC. “It’s nice, it’s something I would normally not be able to afford myself because I have no income. It’s just nice to have something like that.”
Since becoming the executive director of the WAY organization, Fortt has realized that giving back is the most rewarding part of his job. His memories of needing things he did not have is what motivated him to give back to others in similar situations.
As a result of Fortt’s willingness to help others, he’s had past clients come back to share their success stories.
“A good friend of mine transitioned from being near homeless to becoming a student and now he’s doing great,” Fortt said. “When I see him he always reminds me that he got his first suit from me and that he needed that vote of confidence.”
WAY Haberdashery is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
— Text and images by Cherea Hatcher and Tiana Huckaby.