Retail Foundations: Graduation Day makes dreams a reality

Three years ago New Circles’ recently-hired Executive Director Alykhan Suleman met with key volunteers and funders to brainstorm the next step in the organization’s evolution.  His vision was to use the clothing bank GLOW (Gently Loved Outfits to Wear) as a platform to offer training in retail skills, noting, “Developing employable skills is an investment we can make to provide longer term solutions for our clients.” 

On Friday June 24th, the dream became a reality when 14 participants graduated from the first Retail Foundations program.  Thirteen of the participants also passed the Retail Council of Canada’s online exam and are now certified Retail Sales Associates. 

“We are thrilled that six participants have already found employment,” said Deniz Kucukceylan, Manager, Employment Training. “It shows that the program successfully prepares people to enter the workforce which is an important step to building a bright future for themselves and their families.”

Oluwaseun Alatise, a mother of three from Nigeria who arrived in Canada two years ago, spoke on behalf of the graduating class.  As a GLOW client and volunteer, she felt the Retail Foundations program would be a stepping stone to a better life and is excited to be starting a new job as a cashier at Lowe’s.

“The program taught me about good customer service, how to work effectively, be part of a team and have a positive attitude.  Working in GLOW, I gained confidence helping customers and putting my skills to use,” she said.  “I’m so grateful to New Circles.  It is a backbone for us and a stepping stone.”

The Retail Foundations program is funded by The Counselling Foundation of Canada, a private foundation whose mission is to champion learning and career development. Bruce Lawson, President of the Foundation said, “The Foundation invests in programs that help people build their skills, so that they can find decent and meaningful work, support their families, and contribute to the fabric of Canada.  We are so proud to support the amazing work of New Circles and the Retail Foundations Program.”

Guests at the graduation ceremony heard from keynote speaker Joanna Duong Chang, Founder and CEO of Henkaa, a women’s clothing boutique.  She is a supporter of New Circles and shared tips that have contributed to her success, encouraging graduates to be “solution makers”, find something to be passionate about, and “stay hungry and be curious as these attributes will keep you connected and able to adapt to change”.

As graduates gathered for a group photo, Alykhan commented:  “Celebrating with the students and their families today gives me a great sense of hope that we are truly building stronger communities, one client at a time.    

About the Retail Foundations program

 Retail Foundations is a three month program offered by New Circles in collaboration with the Retail Council of Canada and the Labour Education Centre.  The program combines classroom learning with hands-on experience and was created to help individuals, particularly newcomer women, to access employment in the retail sector.  

In addition to teaching core retail and customer service skills, Retail Foundations helps students to develop and identify competencies relevant in the Canadian workplace, gain confidence, and learn how to conduct an effective job search.  A key component is a 36 hour placement in the GLOW clothing bank, which is designed as a retail environment, so students can practise their skills and gain experience.  Following graduation, students continue to receive support for their job search through the Labour Education Centre. 

In their own words – comments from program participants:

“The Retail Foundation Program helped me improve my confidence with helping customers and my problem solving skills.” – Claudette Meyer

“The Retail Foundations Program helped me learn about customer service, to always smile and to welcome everyone. Thank you New Circles. I learnt a lot.”  – Monesa Mahmud

“The Retail Foundations Program was flexible so I attended my English classes and learned retail sector.  My work placement at GLOW provided me with hands on experience. Thank you New Circles and all the other funders for providing this program to us.” – Naser Rahmati

“My participation in New Circles has also helped me improve my communication, analytical and people skills.  Thank you to the New Circles team, the funders and the volunteers. I am grateful for all that you taught me about the retail sector.” – Oluwaseun Alatise



New Circles' GLOW clothing service is the largest clothing bank in Toronto. We help 12,000 people of all ages annually.