When was the last time you wore your wedding dress? Chances are this piece of clothing, which you probably spent a huge amount of money on, is sitting in your wardrobe safely tucked away.
Sabitha Nasar, a boutique owner based in Kannur had the same thought when she saw several of her customers struggling financially to afford an outfit for their wedding. But instead of a passing thought, this idea has grown into a full initiative – to provide pre-owned wedding dresses for free to brides who were finding it difficult to afford it.
Over the span of 3 years, Sabitha and the Agora team have been able to help almost 100 brides pick out their dream wedding outfits and have even helped several other brides meet other financial needs for their wedding.
With the help of the ‘Agora’ WhatsApp group which consisted of 22 other women from across Kerala, now Sabitha receives wedding gowns and lehengas from across Kerala and brings them over to her boutique so that brides can have their pick.
Saying Yes To The Dress
“I started my shop, Rainbow Women’s Boutique almost eight years back. It has always been my passion to design clothes and to be able to see others wear what I’ve designed. Over the course of time, I would display my work at several expos that were held around the Kozhikode and Kannur as well. It was during these expos that I had the opportunity to meet several other women entrepreneurs like myself who shared the same passion as me,” says Sabitha.
“We got talking and that’s when I told them about my plan to create a pre-owned wedding dress donation drive. The others loved the idea and told me that they would love to be a part of it. That was the beginning of the Agora WhatsApp group,” she adds.
Although Sabitha had started giving wedding dresses to underprivileged brides when she started the boutique, the brides never had the option of picking out the dress they wanted.
“I have been donating dresses for eight years now but I wanted the bride to have their own selection and didn’t want them to feel as though they had to say yes to something they weren’t happy with. The dresses we got through the Agora group opened up this possibility,” says Sabitha.
Every dress that arrives at the boutique as part of the pre-owned collection is dry cleaned, sometimes re-designed and made to look good as new.
“We also provide the brides with alteration facilities to make sure it fits perfectly. Just because we’re giving it out for free doesn’t mean we should compromise on the quality of the service we’re delivering. It’s the bride’s big day and we make sure that she feels like a queen,” says Sabitha.
Women Supporting Women
“The Agora group consists of women from across Kerala aged between 20 and 50 and we all come from completely different backgrounds, we have a chartered accountant, IT professionals and even engineers amongst us,” says Femidha Shaheen, a member of the group for the past three years.
“I had a homemade chocolate business a while back and it was during an exhibition at Kannur that I met this group of women there. When I heard about the initiative I didn’t have to think twice because I myself have seen how my parents have struggled to arrange the finances for my wedding,” she explains.
Over the three years, Agora has organised several drives to raise money for underprivileged and collect these pre-owned dresses. Besides arranging the wedding dress, the team also helps with free bridal make-up and Mehendi depending on the need of the client.
“Most of the time, the brides themselves find it difficult to tell us what the level of financial struggle they are going through so we enquire with their close friends and relatives on how we can help them out, “ Femidha adds.
As a result of their efforts, the group has collected hundreds of dresses including pre-owned Sabyasachi designer sarees, making several brides happy.
“Sometimes my regular customers end up liking the pre-owned dresses we have set aside and ask if they can purchase them. In such cases, we make arrangements for them to donate the price of the dress to one of the underprivileged brides. This way, we get to make two brides happy at the same time,” says Sabitha.
“Several people have approached me asking why I don’t just rent out these second-hand clothes. But to me, that defeats the purpose of the whole initiative. We provide every bride with three dresses for the different functions during the wedding week, including the wedding dress and we don’t expect them to give us anything in return,” Sabitha explains.
“I make a good amount of income with my other dresses and I firmly believe that as an entrepreneur, I have to do something that impacts the society as well,” she adds.
The Agora team has expanded their work all over Kerala and now have their dress collections in Kasargod, Kannur, Calicut, Kollam, Pattambi and Payyar and will soon launch two new centres in Kochi and Mangalore.
If you wish to donate your pre-owned dresses or even your new dresses to the team, you can reach them on their Facebook page.
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)