People generally get a lot of mileage out of high ticket items, such as big screen TVs, cars or Rolexes. Not so with wedding gowns, however. After using the dress once, brides tend to put them carefully away in a closet or attic and rarely, if ever, take the dress out of storage—and even then, it’s only during a moment of nostalgia or to see if it still fits.
Enter Brides for a Cause, a bridal store with a mission.
Brides for a Cause pays it forward in two ways. One, they offer gorgeous gowns at affordable prices. And two, Brides for a Cause partners with charities to donate dresses and cash.
One example is Brides for a Cause’s partnership with Wish Upon A Wedding, a nonprofit organization that grants wedding and vow renewal wishes for couples facing difficult circumstances, such as serious illness.
Erin Scharf, founder and executive director of Brides for a Cause, oversees both Brides locations, one in Tacoma and the other in Portland, Oregon. She says she simply saw a need and decided to fill it. “Wedding dresses are worn only once,” she says. “So I saw the opportunity to collect them and sell them and raise money for charity. Why not get use out of them and support a worthy cause?”
Originally started as a for-profit business in 2012, Brides for a Cause became a nonprofit organization in 2016 and has collected over 6,000 wedding dress donations and raised over $415,000 for Wish Upon A Wedding.
Brides for a Cause helps a variety of other charities, mostly women-focused, such as Brides Across America, which donates dresses to military and first responder brides; and Abby’s Closet, an Oregon-based nonprofit that provides prom dresses to students who may not be able to afford them. With its new Tacoma location on 6th Avenue, which opened in January 2017, Brides for a Cause plans to partner with more Washington-based charities.
Dress donations come in from brides, designers and stores, which often have overstocked or discontinued items and can use the donation as a tax write-off.
Wedding dresses at Brides for a Cause range in price from $150-$1,500, and $400 on average. Dress pricing depends on condition, designer and age of the dress, but they are usually “about half off, if not more” of their regular price.
The Tacoma location is a hit. Scharf says that there has been a great response from locals. “There are not many competitors who also donate to charity,” she says. “And people really appreciate our level of customer service and the quality of our dresses. We have a great staff and they are easily meeting sales goals.”
Scharf took special care to ensure that Brides for a Cause isn’t your typical wedding dress store. For one thing, walk-ins are encouraged and there’s no need to make an appointment. “People like that,” says Scharf. “It’s very a casual, boutique environment; not like a used dress store.”
She does suggest that people “come during the week to avoid the crowds” and adds that there is “new inventory all the time.”
Another benefit of shopping at Brides for a Cause, is that the store is more likely to carry your size than the average bridal store would be. “Our dresses run from size zero to size 24,” says Scharf. “Most shops just carry sample sizes, which run from 10 to 12. Plus-size brides have no trouble finding a dress at our store.”
Brides for a Cause has a robust online presence, which helps gets the word out about the need and process for donations. “We are always accepting donations dropped off, 2012 or newer,” says Scharff. “Doesn’t matter if they’re dirty; we have them cleaned.”
Scharf decided to open a location in Tacoma after realizing how successful her road trips to Seattle and Tacoma were. “We do road show events and go to other cities,” she explains. “We would travel to Tacoma and Seattle for road show events and developed a big following and got good feedback, so we decided to expand and bring a storefront to Washington.”
She adds, “We just held an event in Seattle and sold 60 dresses in two days.”
It all comes down to helping women find that perfect dress for a price they can afford.
“This girl came in recently, and thought she couldn’t afford a dress. Her budget was fifty dollars. That day we had gotten a dress with a big, pink bow that we thought no one would want, so we priced it at fifty dollars. She saw it and fell in love with it and realized that she could actually have the dress of her dreams on her fifty dollar budget.”
Brides for a Cause is located at 2711 6th Avenue, Tacoma. For more information, visit the Brides for a Cause website or call 253-272-5000.