Supplier case studies

Oxfam Bridal - pre-loved, new & nearly-new wedding dresses

Oxfam Bridal - pre-loved, new & nearly-new wedding dresses

Your name: Barbara Walmsley.
Business name: Oxfam Bridal Departments

Location: Bracknell, Bradford, Brighton, Cambridge, Chippenham, Coventry, Heswall, Leatherhead, Leicester, Poole, Southampton.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your business
I opened the first Oxfam Bridal Outlet in 1985 from a converted bedroom in our house!

Over the next 11 years Oxfam Bridal made a profit of over £65,000 and by 1996, when I ceased trading from home, several Oxfam shops had converted 1st floor rooms into Bridal Shops.

Oxfam Bridal wedding dress

Oxfam now has 11 bridal departments in the UK and 2 in Ireland.

Some dresses are sourced pre-loved from big hearted former brides who donate their dresses; but over 95% of our stock is new and comes from designers and bridal shops when they change their stock over at the end of the season.

We work hard to make our décor of a high standard and are often complimented on the quality of our stock and on our helpful friendly service.

I now co-ordinate the bridal departments and am constantly on the lookout for new stock and finding ways to publicise Oxfam Bridal.

What or who inspires you?

Oxfam Bridal wedding dress

The fact that we know our profits have a real impact on Oxfam's overseas work and that we are contributing, in a small way, to preventing waste.

Joe Mitty, the Manager of the first Oxfam shop in Oxford's Broad Street won a Pride of Britain award 2 years ago. He was an inspiration to all who met him and was as enthusiastic when in his 80s as he had been as a young man. He said you had two kinds of days in Oxfam shops - good and very good!

What do you enjoy most about running your business?

I am still as excited by the way the business is growing as I was in 1985 when I accepted a cheque from my first customer.

I love going to the shops and seeing the efforts and satisfaction of the bridal teams and, if a box of wedding dresses is delivered directly to our house, my husband says I'm like, "a bloodhound after aniseed."

What is the most challenging aspect?

Oxfam Bridal wedding dress

Still smiling when a bride might spend 3 hours trying on dresses and then go away empty handed. We want our brides to be happy and would never do the hard sell but it is difficult!

What do you feel you bring to an ethical wedding?
We hope our brides will be aware of the wonderful contribution they are making to people in desperate poverty and, at the same time, looking as beautiful as they would if they had bought their dress from an ordinary bridal shop.

How do you see the wedding industry changing over the next five years (if at all)?
The awareness of green issues is growing fast and the previous stigma of wearing a second hand dress, or a dress from a charity shop, is fading; many girls are proud of the fact that they are supporting a charity.

This being so one would hope our corner of the market would expand in the years ahead, especially as spending will be more restricted.

Find out more about Oxfam Bridal's pre-loved, new and nearly-new wedding dresses