Windfall Brides is a social enterprise operated by Windfall Basics, an award-winning registered charity. The boutique offers brides high-end dresses at wholesale prices. We also offer valuable job training for people in need. Bridal salons across the GTA donate their new surplus dresses to our boutique and we sell them to raise money for our anti-poverty programs. Windfall Brides sells a variety of items at cost-efficient prices to the public. To our knowledge, we are the only social enterprise that operates a retail wedding and prom boutique.
Founded in 1991 to assist homeless and emergency shelters meet their clients’ needs for new clothing, Windfall Basics, an award-winning charity, provides NEW donated clothing and other basic-needs items to 64,000 people in the GTA who are struggling with poverty. Over 21,000 of them are children.
Windfall Brides receives hundreds of high-end, brand-new wedding and evening gowns each year. However, our client base has little need for them, and we are not able to give them away to our partner agencies. Our donors are happy to let us sell the dresses as a fundraising initiative to support our programs. So now, we operate a fully-functional boutique for brides who wish to purchase fabulous dresses at discount prices all while helping a great cause.
The social enterprise development was a natural progression of what Windfall already did as we had experience with job placements within our warehouse. With the idea of Windfall Brides boutique, we applied and received a grant from the Toronto Enterprise Fund.
It has been an organic transition for our social enterprise manager, considering that she had taught in the job training program within our organization. She also brought in her experience in running a styling business, as well as a background in economics that has benefited the enterprise.
Over the three years of operating Windfall Brides, we went through various transitions. We are still learning and testing things to get to where we would like to be.
Our clients are individual women who come for good deals. Starting with selling bridal gowns, we have expanded into the prom market. Windfall Brides now offers cocktail, prom, and bridal dresses, as well as related items. The boutique also often earns additional revenue from alterations, but we are currently looking for staff to provide these services.
When we started we had some challenges with clashing personalities. It is important to sort through these issues and create a cohesive work environment because it affects how our employees work and interact with our customers. We no longer are faced with these challenges but now our largest focus is to bring new customers into our boutique.
A social enterprise manager needs to be very compassionate. It is not always possible to have the same performance standards and expectation as in the private sector as some clients my struggle with more challenges in their life that affects their work.
Marketing has been tied to our sales. We have put a lot of effort into creating our brand, building relationships and spreading the word about what we do. For example, we have relationships with schools that help advertise our big prom dress sale.
Running a social enterprise involves a lot of work. In addition to operating a business, we also support people through job training. It would be a good idea to have a funded position for a job developer, shared among several social enterprises, to handle more delicate personal problems clients may face. An enterprise manager may not have this level of expertise.
People are hesitant to fund a start-up social enterprise; they want to see it being sustainable first. More funding opportunities would help.
Windfall Brides boutique is a program run by Windfall Basics, a charity organization.
Windfall Brides has been supported by various corporations, agencies, and organizations. For example, some of our staff salary is funded through the Investing in Neighborhood program and Ministry of Community and Social Services. We have partnerships with ODSP agencies like March of Dimes or Toronto Employment and Social Service to help us find people to work in the boutique.
We also make an effort to build relationships with media, e.g. Breakfast Television and Global News. Windfall Brides has been lucky to be showcased more than many other social enterprises, which helps us grow our customer base and sales.
Impacts & Outcomes
Windfall Brides provides tailored, meaningful job training placements for marginalized women. These women learn how to operate a boutique and learn valuable, transferable skills in the areas of fundraising, marketing, PR, business writing, alterations, communications, sales, customer service, and life skills such as financial literacy training and resume writing. Placements are then able to take the skills they have learned to gain more employment opportunities.
Having a placement at Windfall Brides allows women to provide more for themselves (better housing and standard of living in other areas) and for their families if they have children.
Vision for the Future
As Windfall Basics is transitioning into a national charity, we expect a lot of changes. Windfall Brides will be reapplying for funding soon and hopes to attract more shoppers to our boutique.
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