Mumbai: In the last five years, members of Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Orlem, Malad, have collected nearly 30 wedding gowns and have donated them to brides who want to save on wedding expenses.
The ‘Gown Town’ project, as church members call it, is part of ECO (Environment Cell of Orlem) which, among other things, run a waste recycling project, helping church members salvage materials like paper, metal, glass, electronics, and plastic that otherwise would end up in the dumping grounds. The gown donation project, which has social and environmental significance, is part of the programme.
For a dress that is usually used only once, wedding gowns can be environmentally unsustainable, both for reasons of the hours of labour spent in creating it, and also for the cost of materials. The dresses are also expensive: a basic gown can cost ₹20,000 and specimens sewn with lace and crystals can be priced upwards of ₹1 lakh. Accessories like veils, gloves, and purses cost extra, said Pauline Fernandes, Malad resident and a team member of ECO.
The problem with wedding gowns
Aware of the strain that a wedding ensemble can put on a limited budget, Fernandes spoke to the parish priest about the idea of donating gowns.
“Wedding gowns are so expensive. Some people cannot afford it and others do not want to spend so much just for one day,” said Fernandes, a teacher in the pre-primary section of a school. Fernandes is a designated ‘eco-ambassador’ in Mumbai’s Roman Catholic Church, having done a certificate course in the environment offered by the Archdiocesan Office for Environment.
Once the project had the nod of the priests, church members created flyers to inform fellow parishioners about the project. Word also went around to other parishes in the area. The response to the appeal was encouraging. In 2019, the first year of the project, ten gowns were donated. Last year, the group collected six gowns. In addition, church members have donated 16 communion dresses.
Donated dresses are laundered by church members and packed for viewing by prospective brides. Sometimes the donors clean the gowns before donating them. Some of the donated gowns were impressive. “One gown was amazing. It was studded with crystals and had a peacock trail. It was donated to a woman who was probably not a Christian. It was probably an inter-community marriage, but she was thrilled with the dress. She was in seventh heaven,” said Fernandes.
Sweedal D’Souza, a Thane resident who had her wedding in November 2013, is another beneficiary of the project. “There were financial issues and I did not want to buy a new dress just for a day. I was shown several dresses and I could pick up one which was right for my size,” said D’Souza, a former bakery employee who is now a homemaker.
Wedding Gown |
2 aspects to the gown donation project
Father Arun Simon, a priest at the Our Lady of Lourdes Church, who is the ‘spiritual director’ of the ECO project said that there were two aspects to the gown donation project.
“The first point is that there are people who cannot afford the gowns. So, donating it to them is a social cause and not related to the environment. When it comes to a marriage people will go for first-hand dress. But in case of those who cannot afford it we are happy to help them reduce their wedding expenses,” said the priest. “The ecological conservation aspect is the other point.”
He added that most of those who get a donated gown may not look at it as an act of environmental consciousness. “The gown donation programme is a small initiative, but I am a supporter of Pope Francis’s statement that social and ecological concerns are related because the poor are most affected by ecological problems,” said Father Simon.