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The Big Launch!

On Thursday 21st April we officially launched The Dorcas Dress Project in Leicester!  The manager and personal styling team at the John Lewis Leicester store were the hosts for our event where local factory and business owners, charity and council representatives and participating volunteers came together to mark the occasion. 

We began the event at the personal styling station on the ground floor in womenswear. With a refreshing glass of bubbles in hand, the guests listened to a short introduction about the project from myself (Maria) and the store manager, followed by some great ideas from the personal styling team on how to wear the dress. 

We later headed up to the second floor where students from the Fashion Styling and Communications course at De Montfort University had done a superb job of styling and photographing the dress to make an eye-catching visual display next to the lifts. 

Find out more about John Lewis ethics and sustainability here.

Recognised by Leicester City Council

We were delighted to welcome Clr Clarke from Leicester City Council at the event who praised all partners involved, saying:

“This work is a perfect example of an organisation that believes in Leicester, bringing their amazing charitable initiative to our city. And we’re really delighted to welcome them here. 

Teaming up with Denovo Apparel is something that has developed innovation, along with DMU. And John Lewis and Partners has been here to harness that ingenuity and creativity with integrity, which is really important. 

So the new recycled polyester jersey dresses are a fantastic example, a metaphor that enables us to understand what we need to do to overcome big social and environmental challenges that we face. 

That’s why I really wanted to be here today to welcome that. We’re not just celebrating a garment – I think it’s so much more than that. It actually helps to define the city we want to see in terms of our ethical and sustainability credentials.”

A city comes together

One of the most inspiring things about the event was seeing these different partners in Leicester engaged and united in their desire for a better city. 

We hosted factory owners who want to do the best for employees and business owners who want to take their responsibility seriously. We welcomed students who have lent their talents, volunteers who are facilitating the project, charity representatives who see the wider problem and of course, John Lewis and Partners, as a leading retailer and household name. 

Seeing people come together like this really does show that it’s often not the appetite for change that’s lacking, just the means to make it happen. We’re so hopeful and grateful that The Dorcas Dress Project can continue to be an inspiring catalyst for positive change. 

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Asking the right questions

Getting Ready for Production to Begin 

During the last few weeks, we’ve been working closely with our partner factory in Leicester to get ready for production to start. At this point, it’s really important to think ahead and make sure that we’ve thought through everything in advance. 

We need to make sure that labels are ready, that we can produce as planned to the right timescale and that we have a robust system for checking quality. To make sure that the dresses are consistent across production we work to a ‘sealed sample’. This is like a benchmark of quality for the entire production run and we’re currently waiting to see and sign our final sample off with the factory. Once we do, it will be all systems go!

A key meeting in Leicester

Another significant milestone for us this past month was being invited to an industry meeting to discuss textile production in Leicester.  There were lots of key players present including high street brands Very, Asos and MissGuided who all manufacture in the city. These brands are all involved in the Fast Forward campaign, an initiative designed to build sustainable supply chains and make sure that garment workers are fairly treated. 

The city council, trade unions, Labour Behind the Label and Hope for Justice were also represented.  It was really interesting to hear how the brands wanted to work with these organisations for a better supply chain and we discussed some great ideas and strategies.  

Find out more about the Fast Forward initiative here. 

Asking the right questions

One thing that did surprise me was that there were no factory owners present at the meeting. Getting different parties together to talk through the challenges and opportunities of UK clothing manufacturing definitely feels like the right way forward. I raised this openly when the right moment came because factory owners are crucial in raising standards for everyone. 

I also questioned whether buyers were really aware of how much the products sketched up by their designers truly cost to manufacture. Pricing products correctly and fairly is a simple process, not a dark art, as long as you understand the manufacturing process properly. Again, better knowledge and co-operation will help to improve the situation going forwards. 

And in other news…

We’ve just met as a board of trustees having recently welcomed a few new members and restructured how we work. With our growth since the Crowdfunder project, it feels more important than ever to move into this new chapter with a strong structure of governance in place for the future. 

We’ve also had meetings in Uganda and the ladies there are getting themselves set up on our training platform.  We’ve been arranging for a new batch of dresses to be made in Nigeria too – please do watch out for these coming soon in the shop!

Explore the shop here.

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The nail biting bit.

The Dorcas Dress Project Launches in Leicester

A century ago, Leicester was an international hub for textiles and “clothed the world” but more recently the city has been plagued by accusations of terrible working conditions and modern-day slavery at the hands of fast fashion. 

I felt that the Dorcas Dress Project might be able to get involved in Leicester, coming alongside garment workers to provide English lessons and share God’s love with those too often neglected in the fashion supply chain. We want to become a self-sustaining charity that uses the sales of its dresses to lift people out of poverty around the world.  To make this a reality we needed to think beyond our current bespoke small scale production, so we started to explore a large batch production in a factory in Leicester.  The project has organically grown as we listened to local needs and aspirations to prove there was a core of factories that valued everyone in their workforce.  Our aim is to model gentle, kind business practices in an aggressive industry, where we can bring joy to others through our charitable actions, discipleship and prayer: much like Dorcas did in the early church.

After much thinking, prayer and conversation, I launched a crowdfunding campaign and began to put the word out. 

Do you have the vision to be like Dorcas in your local area? If you’d like to explore setting up your own hub please contact maria@dorcasdressproject.org

A nail-biting time 

Despite the crowdfunding being up and running, I felt incredibly vulnerable. By the start of February, we had barely reached £4000 of the £6000 target but even so, others were encouraging me to move forwards and meet with church leaders in Leicester, the Head of Styling at DMU, a factory owner and the visual team at John Lewis, Leicester. 

Deep down, I battled with fear, imagining what it might be like to have to go back and tell all these people we hadn’t raised the money. Astonishingly, as time passed, the funds came in – and how! By the 14th of February, the target had been nearly doubled. I was blown away. 

The power of prayer is incredible. If you’d like to be linked into our prayer group please email maria@dorcasdressproject.org, introducing yourself and pass on your mobile number so that I can add you to the WhatsApp group. 

A team comes together

With the crowdfunding complete, the project became a whirlwind of hitting social media. I’m so thankful for all the people who were willing to model and try on the only dress sample we had from the factory. They certainly came up with a lot of different looks!

As the news went out that we were pushing forwards, a group of wonderful people from churches across Leicester came together on Zoom. Together we talked about how, and who could support an English teacher with lessons for the garment workers or organise and help run social activities for them to practise their newfound language skills. This is all in the works and I’m looking forwards to bringing you more on that soon. 

We’ve also had a couple of meetings with people who might become new trustees. We’re eager to grow that too so from every angle, a team is coming together. 

John Lewis, Leicester, gets behind the project

One of the most exciting parts of this project in Leicester is to have the support of a major retailer. Gavin, Emma, Tina and Rachel make up the Community Liaison and Visual Merchandising Team at John Lewis in the city centre and have given us a great spot near the lifts to show off our dresses. 

The team have plans to paint the display area then let students from DMU, who are studying in this area, to come in and style the mannequins. We hope that will be a great experience for all involved. 

Things are certainly moving quickly yet this is far from fast fashion. We still need to schedule in the manufacturing but are determined to show gentleness rather than pressure and aggression when we set this into motion with the factory owner, Abz. 

And in other news…

We’re also starting work with a charity called Guideposts which runs workshops across Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire. I met with leaders and volunteers last week and they are going to be making one of our jewellery pieces, designed by a student from Abingdon and Witney College. This promises to be a great opportunity for people in the local community to access support, friendship and creativity as we seek to create equal chances for everyone. 

The Dorcas Dress Project also continues in Nigeria. Joy, who runs the project there, introduced me to a new dressmaker called Osho. Both live in Akure where our links are fragile and we’re praying for better communication by text and Zoom which is often challenged by poor internet connections. 

We’ve sold half of our Nigeria stock and it would be great if we could sell what remains – do please check back to the shop to see what’s there!

Explore the shop here.

Help spread the word

I want to thank you so much for your interest in the Dorcas Dress Project and I’ll keep you posted as things progress in Leicester – watch this space!

If you know someone else who’d be interested in the project then do please forward this email on or get in touch any time at maria@dorcasdressproject.org.