As I discussed in my wedding dress post, I purchased my previously-worn wedding dress from a not-for-profit, volunteer-run shop called The Brides Project in Ann Arbor. Dresses are donated second-hand by brides or donated new by boutiques or designers that have overstock. (To manage inventory and make sure that the dresses have some market value, they typically only accept styles from the past 5 years.) All proceeds from the dress sales (which are priced at least 50% off the true retail price or more depending on the condition) benefit the Cancer Support Community of Greater Ann Arbor.
(Photo from thebridesproject.org)
A) I had so much fun working with my two bridal consultants at the shop (open by appointment only for now), B) I was impressed by the selection and range of sizes and styles available, C) I was touched that so many people had donated their dresses, and D) I loved the idea of benefiting a good cause in buying this dress, that I just had to sign up to become a bridal consultant myself!
I had my training a few weeks ago: half at the Cancer Support Community (CSC) itself and half at The Brides Project (TBP). I went in initially interested in being a bridal consultant at The Brides Project wedding boutique, which would mean helping brides try on and pick out dresses (yesssss, so fun!!!), and I did sign up to do that. But being the volunteering overachiever that I am (I just get really excited about projects, okay?) I may have checked the boxes for all sorts of other volunteer opportunities too: yoga teacher at the CSC, photographer/blogger/social media correspondent for The Brides Project, dress intake/inventory/processing assistant, special events volunteer (the CSC holds a number of annual events such as an Ann Arbor version of Amazing Race, so you know I had to sign up for that!!).
I hadn’t realized that the CSC is a national organization and this is the local chapter, which is great because it means they have national resources but local autonomy to create programming that meets their members’ needs. They offer so much, all for free, to those in all stages of cancer/remission, as well as to loved ones and care givers who are either dealing currently with the effects of cancer or have lost someone from cancer. Not only do they have support and grief groups, they also hold weekly yoga and meditation classes, kids karate, nutrition and cooking demonstrations, knitting circles and “walks with docs” where a different volunteer doctor will host a nature walk through one of Ann Arbor’s parks, where members can informally ask questions or chat with him or her. Here is a seriously touching video on the Kids Kicking Cancer karate class, which was started at Children’s Hospital of Michigan; I was trying not to cry watching this during the training! There are lots of other videos out there if you google “Kids Kicking Cancer youtube”.
At first, I will be a bridal consultant trainee, which means that I will shadow a more experienced consultant on appointments. I will do this until I feel comfortable dropping the trainee designation to become a full-fledged bridal consultant able to run appointments myself. Every bride is given a two-hour appointment, and they try to only schedule one bride at a time so that she can have the run of the store. They also typically schedule two consultants for every appointment so that one can help with the trying on and one can run/return dresses to and from the racks. They are very good about creating a true bridal boutique experience with great customer service and selection. You don’t feel like you are shopping in a second-hand store by any means.
Since the shop is run out of donated space, The Brides Project has had to move locations a fair amount since its inception, as landlords tend to want to lease out space to a paying tenant if possible. The current location isn’t quite large enough to house all the dress inventory that they’ve collected, so they decided to experiment with a weekend trunk show held at the main offices of CSC.
The trunk show was my first hands-on training experience, and it was fantastic. They opened up the CSC (a larger space than TBP) from 10-4 on Saturday and Sunday. Even given the crazy snowstorm going on all weekend, 42 brides came through the door. We helped them pick dresses that suited their styles and try on the gowns, advised them on how they could be tailored, and closed the sales. The mood was upbeat and fun, with music pumping and families swooning and clicking away with their cameras. They raised $8400 for the CSC over a goal of $5000, and sold 21 dresses, which is typically what they sell in a month! Most of the brides came to the show because they had heard about it through social media and word of mouth, and I hope that the event will have a ripple effect on TBP’s brand recognition in the community.
Already the show has created a demand for weekend appointments at the shop through February. Two other consultants and I helped a bride, who had lost her mom to cancer when she was young, find a great dress last Saturday (you know someone loves the dress when she cries seeing herself in it! So touching!), and I’m scheduled to meet with brides both days this weekend and the following weekend. I can’t say enough about how much fun it is combing through dresses, swooning at new arrivals and fancy designers, and seeing the look on brides faces when they know it’s the one (or definitely NOT the one).
I’m excited to continue helping brides and have even offered to staff some afternoon hours to keep the shop open for walk-ins…there goes that volunteer-overdrive again. So come visit me in Ann Arbor and together we’ll find the perfect dress!