“Most of the people we help are leaving a relationship or have no use for a wedding dress so what can we do with all of these dresses?”
Windfall faced this problem in 2004 when they began receiving donated wedding dresses from designers and bridal boutiques. The Toronto-based charity donates new clothing and other basic items to more than 64,000 people in the GTA who are struggling with poverty. Windfall decided to sell the dresses to the public as a fundraiser, which they held at the Distillery Historic District, and at wedding shows. However, transporting the dresses to these shows took a great deal of time and effort so the idea developed for Windfall to create its own wedding boutique, which is located on Judson Street in Toronto.
Cindy Roemer is a stylist that was hired two and a half years ago as the business development manager for Windfall Brides. She explains that one of the most successful aspects of the enterprise is their employment training placement program. Placements can range from six weeks to three months, depending on how much training the individual can gain from participating in the program. Many of the people involved don’t have Canadian work experience so the program teaches them transferable skills. They learn what is involved in the daily operation of a retail store, how to do inventory, accounting, complete sales reports, and fundraise.
Recently, Windfall was awarded a grant from the Toronto Enterprise Fund and plans to use the money to help more people gain valuable skills by increasing the number of placement spots they can offer. They also plan to hire a job developer who will reach out to different employment agencies in the city to promote their skills placement program.
Promoting themselves without a large advertising budget has led to some other creative solutions. For example, in October, Windfall Brides broke a world record for the largest group of people dressed as brides. City TV/OMNI Television sponsored the event and people volunteered to wear the dresses by signing up on Windfall’s website. They have also advertised in Today’s Bride and have been featured in local newspapers prior to their sales, which happen three times a year in January, June, and October. Interested brides-to-be can also find out when Windfall will hold their next appointment date by checking out the posting on their website at www.windfallbrides.com.
It hasn’t been easy, as Cindy explains, “There’s a lot of competition in the wedding industry so people come to us through referrals. This year we hope to do some cross-promoting with wedding vendors. If I bride hasn’t found her dress but talks to her photographer then maybe we can have our information in their studio.”
She believes that the most challenging part of operating a social enterprise is finding the balance between fulfilling your mandate and running a successful business. Sales have been steady since Windfall Brides opened its doors and she notes that business always picks up around the holidays when many couples get engaged. The average bride will spend $1,200 on a wedding dress and Windfall Brides can offer dresses at prices ranging from $400 to $800. And new dresses are always being donated so their stock is constantly changing. Many boutiques donate 100 dresses annually when they clear out their stock, and boutiques going out of business can donate up to 400 dresses at a time.
Windfall Brides has received dresses from various well known names in the industry, such as Vera Wang, Blumarine and Impression. Dresses are sold 30 to 70 percent off their retail price and all the proceeds go to support Windfall. The majority of their buyers are between 25 to 45 and many are often surprised to learn that Windfall Brides is a social enterprise. Cindy says the feedback has been really positive. “People love what we do. We’re the only bridal boutique that is a social enterprise, which really makes us unique.”
Melissa Shaw is a recent graduate from York University and Seneca College. She is interested in any form of news and enjoys one on one interviews with interesting people. In the past she has covered events for CHRY 105.5FM and contributed articles to student publications such as Excalibur and the Ryerson Free Press. Currently, she is involved with The Green Majority program on CIUT 89.5 FM. She hopes to develop her writing skills with the help of the lovely ladies at SEE Change, while continuing to report on interesting people and events!