Page last updated at 12:03 GMT, Friday, 12 February 2010

Zambian brides get their white wedding dream

By Katie Dawson
BBC News

Zambian women in wedding dresses
The wedding dresses will be rented out to brides in Zambia

A charity in Berkshire is appealing for second-hand wedding dresses to send to Zambia in Africa.

BBC News investigates how the bridal hire scheme will help Zambian communities.

It is the most important and expensive dress that most women will ever buy.

But once the band has packed up and the confetti has blown away, most wedding dresses spend their years packed in a box in a dusty attic.

Now a Berkshire charity is offering a new lease of life for these beloved items - helping rural communities in the African country of Zambia.

'African woman's dream'

Abi Parker, 46, runs the Aids Support Awareness Project (ASAP) from her home in Windsor and is in need of wedding dresses to take to brides in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia.

Ms Parker plans to rent out the dresses for a small fee, which will help fund her Aids awareness project, along with a local training scheme which teaches former prostitutes skills to allow them to earn an alternative income.

Abi Parker and Sue Lovell with donated wedding dresses
Abi Parker (right) collects donated dresses from Sue Lovell (left)

"It's an African woman's dream to get married in a white wedding dress," said Ms Parker, who lived in Zimbabwe for 10 years.

"It's a sign of stature, like a sort of keeping up with the Joneses thing and it's usually only the very, very wealthy African families who can afford it.

"By doing this we are giving people, who could not usually afford it, the opportunity to get married in a white dress."

So far, more than 60 dresses, donated from across the UK, have been taken over there.

Some are from brides desperate to get rid of their dresses following a marriage breakdown and others are from women keen to pass on an item of clothing that brought them so much joy.

Sue Lovell, who runs Savvy Cinderella, a bridal shop, near March, in Cambridgeshire, has been collecting dresses for Ms Parker.

Everyone wants to feel like a princess whether you live in Zambia or Cambridgeshire
Sue Lovell, Savvy Cinderella

The 44-year-old said: "Everyone wants to feel like a princess whether you live in Zambia or Cambridgeshire.

"It's just something that every bride needs and I think this is a perfect charity."

After putting an appeal on her website, Ms Lovell received dresses from women all over the UK, as well as Russia, Canada and Norway.

Some are modern dresses, while others date back to the 1950s and 1960s. The oldest dress donated was made in 1937, and came with its original pattern.

'Absolutely gorgeous'

Ms Lovell said the most expensive dress given cost £2,000 when bought new.

"We have had such a huge range of donations," she said.

"We have had some absolutely gorgeous ones from ladies who have been married for 40 or 50 years.

Zambian women in wedding dresses with community
The money made from the bridal hire will go back into the community

"We have had the other end of the scale where people have been married for two or three years and the marriage has ended and they are passing the dress on because part of their life is over.

"It's quite a cathartic thing to get rid of a wedding dress if the marriage has not actually had a happy ending. It's much better than putting it in the attic and never looking at it."

Ms Parker is also in need of sewing machines to take to Chirundu, near the Zimbabwe border, for a local project which teaches prostitutes how to make goods to sell, providing them with an income and keeping them off the streets.

"Employment and skills training is critical," she said. "It will help greatly if they have another form of income which means they do not have to turn to prostitution."

Ms Parker flies to Zambia on Friday with another load of dresses.

ASAP hopes to start hiring them out in the next couple of weeks, once their new shop is completed.

Print Sponsor

Bride's wedding dress drama
27 Jun 08 |  England
Wedding dress washed up in floods
02 Aug 07 |  Hereford/Worcs

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific