Karmen Masson

Top 40 Under 40 2010

Photography Constantine Tanasiuk

Age: 38

Job Title: Founder and Executive Director, Suit Yourself

Why She’s A Top 40: She has fashionably clothed and given confidence to 1,400 women in need, helping them find work by supplying suitable workplace attire at no charge.

Key To Her Success: “It’s the power of words of encouragement. Dressing for success is about the confidence factor: When you’re given that compliment or that extra boost, then you know you really do look great and you don’t need to be scared.”

Back in 2001, Karmen Masson was in a bad relationship.

A full-time lawyer for the provincial government at the time, Masson sought out charity hours to eat up her “spare time” – which, she jokes, is something of an anomaly when you’re a busy lawyer. Mostly, she needed a distraction from her personal difficulties.

“I was trying to create goodness in my own life,” she explains. “I wanted to do something that really interested me and that I would be passionate about and to give a helping hand to people who were struggling with the same types of issues that I was.”

After escaping her turbulent relationship, Masson realized that she could build her own self-esteem while helping disadvantaged women feel better about themselves. By supplying women with quality business clothing and encouraging words, Masson’s self-started charity also offered assurances that the women could take control of their lives.

“I love clothes and, as a young lawyer, I realized the power of dressing well and feeling confident because of appearance – knowing that the stronger you felt on the inside, the more you were perceived to be confident, and so you were listened to and taken seriously.”

In 2001, Masson started Suit Yourself in the basement of a 90-year-old downtown apartment building – Masson’s parents owned the space and let her use it for free. In its first year, the charity helped about 100 clients.

Suit Yourself now rents a commercial space in Little Italy and expects to outfit 600 women this year. The registered charity pays rent with money from volunteer-run fundraising events like the annual High Tea Fashion Show and Silent Auction and donations from the corporate sector.

To date, Suit Yourself has supplied 1,400 women with clothing for job interviews. It has also taken Masson almost entirely out of the legal profession.

Last fall, she left her law practice to take on the role of executive director at Suit Yourself – a position made possible largely through support from the Stollery Charitable Foundation. Since then, Masson been profiled in media across the country (the National Post called her “A Good Lawyer”). She was selected as the Global Edmonton Woman of Vision for January 2010, and received an Alberta Justice Award for her work.

Masson now instructs business law at NAIT once a week and says she still loves the challenge of seeking solutions, though she says the challenges she faces with Suit Yourself are “much more practical and primal in nature.”

With her focus on the administrative side of running the charity, Masson doesn’t “suit up” many clients now – she has a team of volunteers to do that – but she says she never forgets the feel-good nature of her organization.

“One lady said to me ‘This feels like Christmas.’ I’ve had that comment a few times over the past nine years … It’s such a great feeling to give them gifts and make them feel like they’re special and that they deserve what we’re giving them – because they do.”

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