Thriving after losing a spouse can almost feel impossible in the immediate aftermath. However, two years after her husband’s death caught their family by surprise, Denise J. Brown and her adult children have come together and launched a nonprofit organization to honor his memory.
Eugene M. Brown Sr. was a master tailor who, with Denise, founded Brown & Brown Custom Clothiers in 1973, a business now run by their sons. Denise is a former educator and was
a director of a Mentoring for Success program at Capitol High School.
Launched in December 2020, Suiting 101 beautifully blends the talents and interests of Denise and her late husband. The nonprofit’s mission is to mentor and train at-risk, underprivileged students with life skills, focusing on the importance of appearance and presentation.
“(Eugene) had a love for people, and he loved dressing his clients for success,” Denise says. “He loved outfitting them in business attire for their interviews or for church or whatever the occasion was.”
Suiting 101 aims to provide that type of image assistance for high school juniors and seniors, along with ACT prep, financial literacy and other mentoring. Upon graduation, each participating student will receive a suit and accessories.
“We want to give them a brand new suit that they can go off to college with and remember all the things that we’ve put in them,” Denise says. The nonprofit hopes the high school program can begin this school year, pending funding.
The organization is a family affair, with Denise and Eugene’s children, Eugene M. Brown II, Artie Varnado, and O’Lindsey Brown, serving as board members. Other board members
were friends of Eugene Sr. “I wanted my board members to have a heart for him and for what I’m doing,” Denise says.
Eugene Sr. would often help former prisoners after their release. “He would outfit them in a suit so they could go out and get a job,” Denise says.
A gently used suit collection drive became Suiting 101’s first community outreach project in April. It was more successful than Denise expected, especially as it took place on a very rainy day in the parking lot of the main branch of the East Baton Rouge Parish Library.
“We collected over 500 suits, and people are still calling, especially businessmen who have retired and don’t need those suits anymore.” Donors honored the organization’s request that suits be dry cleaned, on hangers and labeled with sizes.
Denise has filled two donated storage units, and the nonprofit is in the process of passing along the suits to partner organizations, including Catholic Charities Joseph Homes, HOPE Ministries, Christian Outreach Center, and Fathers on a Mission.
In addition to her work with Suiting 101, Denise continues working at Brown & Brown. “I’m there generally every day,” she says. “I love doing the colors and helping the men match their ties, suits and fabrics.” Denise stays active with daily morning walks and meditation. She enjoys cooking, baking, gardening and spending time with her five lovely
Denise attends Word of Life Christian Center in Darrow and has been a member since 1990. “I have a great church family and many of them helped me with the Suiting 101 suit drive,” she says. “I pray and seek the Lord for direction in everything I do. It’s the only way I can make it.”
Those interested in volunteering, donating or just learning more about Suiting 101 can visit suiting101.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (225) 241-2456.