“Sustainability, students and charity”: ReDress Durham

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This week, with the exam season finally coming to an end, I found myself sitting in a student house in the Viaduct with my laptop, Jessica Ward, and 200 dresses. They adorned two clothing rails along one side of the room and they varied in size, style and colour but they all had something in common: they were gorgeous.

To be clear, this wasn’t a funky interior design choice (although it did look immensely cool), and it also wasn’t evidence of a Durham student with intense shopping habits. Jess Ward, founder of ReDress Durham, operates Durham’s first “shared wardrobe” from her bedroom. 

Jess believes that a “massive part of what attracts people to Durham are these big black tie events” that come with being such a traditional university, and “a massive part of that is what you wear.” At ReDress they “want everyone to get involved in every part of Durham and what they’re wearing should never be something to hold them back.”

What started as the “swapping” of dresses between friends, then became a fundraiser for Collingwood Charity Fashion show last year and has since taken off as a dress rental platform, spreading from Durham to both Edinburgh and Exeter universities. At first, the process involved Jess bringing Ikea bags to lectures every week to collect dresses and personally reaching out to people on Instagram. Although people initially told her she was “going to really struggle” to collect dresses, Jess found that people were really keen to be involved.

Part of this she attributed to the interest in supporting charity. Even as the platform has grown from its initial charity fashion show fundraiser, 50% of profits still go to Moving On Durham. This is important to Jess, who said “especially when you go to uni in a city it’s really important to recognise you need to give back in some sort of way.” Jess was keen to donate to a smaller, local charity where they could “see the impact on the local community.”

They “want everyone to get involved in every part of Durham and what they’re wearing should never be something to hold them back”

The other factor Jess owed to the engagement from students was the format of ReDress in that it is “based on a temporary lend.” Dresses are donated and they can be collected at any time once returned to Redress. That way if you know you are not going to wear a dress for a term, for example, rather than it sitting in your wardrobe, you can lend it to ReDress and then collect it when you need it. Therefore “people will lend dresses they still like”, which is important because Jess says “we want stuff that people actually want to wear.”

In this way, this makes sustainable fashion more accessible in Durham. Jess highlights the privilege involved with having the leisure time to scour charity shops and second hand sites for clothes. ReDress cuts through this by curating their collection of stunning dresses. That way if you come along to one of their weekly drop-ins (6-9 every Sunday) you know you will be met with quality dresses. 

Jess shared how the drop-ins are ‘very relaxed’ and have a “really nice atmosphere”. She said “I do appreciate it’s a slightly strange concept to go round someone’s house who you’ve never met before and try on dresses so we try and make it as fun …as possible.” With delight she laughed about the “carnage” of Sunday nights which see her student house transformed into ReDress HQ, where every room becomes a dressing room and there are sometimes 30-40 girls in at a time trying dresses. It is truly “friendly” and “informal”, encompassing a service “for students, by students.”

It is better for planet and pocket

Ultimately, for Jess she wants “girls to feel good about themselves.” Part of this also is in the inclusivity of ReDress Durham. They cater for sizes 4-20, which is something they are “really proud of.” Jess spoke about the early stages of Redress where they simply did not have the donations from a wider range of sizes and so she curated them herself from charity shops and second hand sites to get the ball rolling. Once again, at Redress they felt “very strongly that the dresses should all be equally nice whatever size they are.” As such, “from size 4 -20, it’s not just size inclusive but nice all the way through.”

“Sustainability, students, and charity are the three pillars” that underpin everything they do at ReDress. With every dress being £15 to rent for the week, it is better for planet and pocket. This comes at a time when, as Jess argues, “student life has never been as difficult money-wise.” 

I think ReDress holds an important space in the student culture at Durham and I hope it continues to flourish. If you are interested in getting involved, either through lending dresses, renting them, or modelling for the platform, ReDress encourages you to contact their Instagram, which is linked here.

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