What started a year ago with a request has evolved into a business venture that local entrepreneur Bridget O'Brien hopes will provide a second act for some previously considered one-hit wonders.
"A friend of mine asked me to help her find a store that would buy her already-worn wedding dress," said O'Brien, owner of Return Engagement, an upscale bridal consignment boutique located in Elm Grove's Village Court. "I did some research and, to my surprise, couldn't locate any such place in greater Milwaukee."
After digging deeper, O'Brien, a wedding planner for over 20 years, concluded that there's likely a surplus of out-of-circulation, gently worn bridal gowns and wedding party dresses in southeastern Wisconsin; enough, perhaps, to support a niche consignment business.
In March, Bridget opened Return Engagement, employing her wedding-dress-selling friend, Judy Jakubek-Butz, and seamstress Sherry Christie, who works out of the shop as an independent contractor.
With consigned inventory that pays the donating party half of what the item sells for, the shop features secondhand, as well as new gowns from such name-brand designers as Vera Wang, Casablanca and Mori Lee, in sizes from 0 to 26.
"We currently have about 100 wedding dresses and 500 'better' dresses in stock that can be worn by bridesmaids, flower girls, mothers, as well as anyone attending any type of special occasion, be it a school function, party or cruise," said O'Brien, who also sells accessories, such as veils and jewelry. "Our dress prices range from $120 to nearly $5,500. Clients typically spend about 50 percent what they would have had they shopped at a traditional wedding gown boutique."
Educating potential customers on the cost-effectiveness of buying used gowns is a challenge, O'Brien admits, although one she believes can be overcome.
"Historically, there was a stigma attached to wearing used clothes, but I reassure our clients that it's okay to be thrifty shoppers," she said. "A bride-to-be can still look beautiful in one of our dresses and save some money at the same time."
For more information, visit www.returnengagementbridal.com.
JUST THE FACTS
Business name: Return Engagement
Address: 890 Elm Grove Road, Suite 107, Elm Grove, WI 53122
Owner: Bridget O'Brien
Type of business: Bridal and better dress consignment
Pearls of wisdom: Find someone to listen to
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