Wednesday, October 20

‘Brides Feel Like Cinderella’: The Free Wedding Shop Helping India’s Poor | Global development

A section of a boutique in the town of Pappinisseri in the Kannur district of Kerala is brimming with colorful lehengas, sarees, robes and shiny salwar suits.

An exuberance of fabrics adorns the mannequins that are placed next to the tables with gleaming beaded sandals, shoes, bracelets and bags. Crockery, bedding and sundries are scattered in other spaces.

This is a “cave for Cinderellas,” says Sabitha (who is only known by her first name), who founded this wedding shop where almost everything a woman needs for her own large traditional Indian wedding is provided under one go. roof, free of charge.

The clothes are donated by designers and the wealthy to the store, called Rainbow: The Women’s Outfit, which in turn distributes it to underprivileged people who cannot afford to buy their own finery in a country where extravagant weddings place great importance.

Sabitha with some of the donated dresses.
Sabitha with some of the donated dresses. Photograph: Sivaram V / The Guardian

The 41-year-old fashion designer launched her idea during the coronavirus lockdown. “I’ve been running wedding dress donation drives for poor brides for years,” says Sabitha, “but while doing that work, I realized that these girls never had the option of choosing the garment they wanted to wear. They had to stick to an inheritance even during the most important day of their life. I decided to fill this void by offering them a choice. “

In July, a 23-year-old woman called Sabitha in tears and asked for her help because she was getting married in a few days but could no longer afford her dress. Moved by her story, Sabitha sent the woman a sequined saree for free.

“So I thought there must be a lot more women in need who needed my help but didn’t have access to me. So I reached out to my friends and family via social media to ask if they would like to donate their wedding attire to these brides. Anyway, those clothes are unused and dust-free in our closets. “

The response was phenomenal. His YouTube video went viral and garnered over a million views. People contacted Sabitha from remote locations (Mumbai, Delhi, Dubai, even the UK) and filled her home with clothes, shoes, handbags, jewelry, sheets, and even makeup sets.

The store also provides shoes, as well as makeup and jewelry.
The store also provides shoes, as well as makeup and jewelry.
Photograph: Sivaram V / The Guardian

“I pick up all these dresses, dry clean them and then let them out. I am also part of a WhatsApp group called Agora run by 22 entrepreneurs in Kannur. We look for donors, we evaluate the quality of the clothes received, we recycle those that are below average, ”says Sabitha.

In addition to the store in Kannur, the businessman now has five other collection centers in Kerala where second-hand dresses and saris are stored and displayed.

Word has spread quickly and now poor brides are contacting Sabitha directly through social media. Widows, single mothers and remarried mothers are also part of the mix. “We also host free makeup, henna, and hair sessions for some brides upon request,” she says, “but it is a rule to keep the brides private. None of his photos are published on social media. “

So far 900 brides have found the perfect outfit for their big day thanks to Sabitha, some of which were made by top Indian designers. “Most Indian weddings involve a multitude of ceremonies for which the bride requires different dresses. So I give the future bride three dresses, ”he says.

Sabitha gives each bride three dresses, as most Indian weddings involve multiple ceremonies that require different outfits.
Sabitha gives each bride three dresses, as most Indian weddings involve multiple ceremonies that require different outfits. Photograph: Sivaram V / The Guardian

A 32-year-old widow from India’s poorest state, Bihar, once got in touch with Sabitha through her Facebook page. He wanted to get married, but his elderly parents were retired and could barely support themselves.

“Sabitha gave me a virtual tour of the clothes on offer and I chose a green sequin lehenga-choli with a gold dupatta for my wedding day. It arrived in a week, at no cost. I couldn’t hold back the tears when I put it on! My mother started crying too and we hugged each other with joy! ”Says Sakshi Kumar.

To avoid fraud, any prospective bride requesting attire must provide a certificate from a religious body in the community showing that she is actually getting married. Those who visit the store in person can wear as many dresses as they want, with no obligation to return them.

“If they want to return it after using it, that’s fine. If they don’t, that’s fine too. I want brides to have a sense of ownership over the dress, ”says Sabitha. “There is nothing more satisfying than watching a beaming bride walk out of my shop feeling like a Cinderella.

“Many also send us videos of our dresses without being able to contain the tears of joy. It’s a very moving experience. “

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