Saturday, July 20, 2024

Just married? Donate your dress to a bride in Kenya

I recently spoke to a Sandy Hill resident who has been collecting used, modest wedding dresses to take with her on an upcoming trip to Kenya, where she’ll teach women living in slums how to create false hems, tack seams and rent out the darling dresses for $5 a day.

The idea struck me because it’s a perfect plan: poor brides get to wear a wonderful wedding dress, and the impoverished women renting them out bring in an income for themselves and the slum’s school, Project Chance, which educates about 300 children per year.
Carol Waters spent five weeks last year in Nairobi’s Mathare slum teaching women to sew, and realized that many young brides there aspire to have the kind of Western-style wedding only very rich Kenyans can afford.
She said the project should be a success for the seamstresses and the brides alike.
“It just makes it special for them,” Waters said. “These girls get married in a church, they don’t go and party all night. It’s the idea of getting married in a church ceremony and that’s the end of it really. I’m not going to take down the strapless dresses, because most of these women are quite religious.”
At the end of December, Waters had seven dresses, mostly from divorced women, but after a local television feature her collection ballooned to 20 dresses and a 20-dress waiting list.
This news warmed my heart because it proved there are clearly brides out there who want to make good use of their dress once they’re done with it.
Given that most women in the slum live on about $2 a week, a cynic might say that there are many more practical things to send to Kenyan slums – regular clothes, for example.
But Waters said this project will have a much bigger impact than a suitcase of clothing.
“Most women there buy stuff second hand, and the girls can already sew,” she said. “So with this you set people up in a business, so they can buy fabric for school uniforms and things. So it’s to support the school as well.”
What I like about this project, and similar dress donation programs, is that it fulfills all the principles I and other socially responsible brides hold dear: it helps someone less fortunate than you, it’s environmentally friendly, and it’s thrifty. It also saves space in your closets for more practical things like, say, toothpaste. Or toilet paper. Things you actually need close at hand, instead of a pristine dress trapped in a shiny box that won’t be released until your daughter announces her engagement. That’s if you have a daughter, and if she believes in marriage. Which she might not.
The other thing I like about donating your dress is that it saves the once beloved gown from the temptation of a “trash the dress” session. If you don’t know what this is, check out these photos – and try not to get sucked into the pretty pictures of bridal divas rolling in waves and jumping in puddles. Yes, those sessions make for nice photos, but why would you destroy something so beautiful when it could be used by someone else?
In Waters’ case, it could be used by potentially hundreds of other girls, who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford a wedding dress at all. If you’re not going to keep your dress forever and ever until it smells like moth balls, at least let someone else wear it.
Even if you don’t end up sending your dress to Kenya (she’s quite inundated at the moment), I urge you to look locally and donate it so someone else can enjoy it. There are lots of consignment shops around (With Love Bridal is a good start), and Goodwill and Salvation Army are always looking for quality clothes. Whatever you decide you’ll definitely be doing the world a good deed. 



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