Real Life

Sara Hinz helps brides find their perfect gowns on a budget!

More money-savvy, eco-friendly brides are saying ‘I do’ to the idea of pre-loved wedding gowns

Sara Hinz had begun to think she’d never find the perfect wedding dress. The budget-conscious mechanical engineer wanted something magical that didn’t cost the earth financially or in terms of carbon footprint.

Buying second-hand, however, wasn’t proving easy and as someone whose work involves focusing on sustainable initiatives for buildings, it went against the grain to buy a brand-new gown she’d only wear once.

“My job involves reducing the carbon footprint of building designs, so it’s instinctive for me to extend that thinking in everything I do outside work too – buying second hand is part of that,” says Sara, a manager with a team of 13 at an international engineering consultancy in Christchurch.

After trawling TradeMe and Facebook Marketplace, she was surprised there were very limited options. It also became time-consuming and expensive in fuel, traipsing across the city, only to find the dresses advertised for private sale didn’t fit or weren’t suitable.

“I was trying them on in people’s lounges and bedrooms, and felt robbed of the bridal shopping experience,” tells the 36-year-old, originally from Germany. “I didn’t get to have my friends alongside or alternative options when the dresses didn’t fit. Instead, I’d hear the stories behind them or why they hadn’t been worn.”

With no alternative, Sara settled for a former sample dress. “Then one night, my now-husband Ross asked if I’d had any ideas because I’d always said I’d like to start my own business. I told him I’d been thinking of opening a second-hand bridal gown shop.”

Sara on her special day with Ross.

Within days, highly organised Sara unveiled a business proposal to Ross, also an engineer, including a slide show.

She contacted brides selling their gowns to ask if she could find buyers on their behalf, and announced on social media she was opening Bride-Cycle in Christchurch.

Then, out of the blue, leading Christchurch bridal designer Louise Anderson rang. “I couldn’t believe it,” recalls Sara. “She made customised dresses and although I loved her work I’d seen online, it wasn’t an option for my own special day because I didn’t want to be paying $6000.

“Louise said she had heard about my initiative and wondered if I’d like her sample dresses to sell. When she asked what experience I had, I said, ‘I’m an engineer.’ She joked that at least I’d be able to put the racking system together.”

The pair met and Louise offered guidance regarding everything from fabrics to fittings. In another sustainability win, Sara purchased the mannequins, shelves, hangers and racks Louise no longer needed.

Sara found an affordable premises and opened the door to her first clients in August last year, just five weeks after unveiling her intention.

“Everyone said I was crazy, starting a new business while I was working full-time and planning a wedding,” she tells. “For me, though, the shop is fun. I find it relaxing and it brings me joy.”

By the time she walked down the aisle in December, Sara had matched many brides with gowns. “I want every customer to feel special, with a true bridal experience in a store filled with beautiful pre-loved dresses in a range of shapes, styles and sizes. For the sellers, I take care of everything involved, from the bride trying on the dress, to the zipping or buttoning, so they aren’t handled by lots of people.”

As well as saving money and reducing their carbon footprint, the brides who purchase from the boutique are able to leave that same day with their dress, with no waiting for delivery or wondering whether their gown will look like the sample they’d tried in the shop.

“The estimated greenhouse gas emission for an average wedding dress is 150kg of CO2,” explains Sara. “Every pre-loved dress we sell helps reduce that amount.”

Prices range from $350 to just over $2000, but usually each gown costs around half its original purchase value and Sara takes a portion, depending on the dress – there are more than 80 now in sizes from four to 22.

People bring dresses from all over the South Island. One sold the same day it was dropped off. “I’d just emailed the contract to the seller, then that afternoon someone fell in love with it and bought it. Another customer was a time-poor mum of twins who took the first one she tried, saying it was perfect and that she was keen just to get back to her babies.

“Some customers have come to me at the last minute because the dress they’d been waiting for hadn’t turned out as planned.”

Sara’s also had his-and- hers appointments and is proud to be known for being judgement-free.

“I believe everyone should feel special during this experience,” she enthuses. “One customer booked a double fitting and brought her fiancé along because he also wanted to get married in a gown. They both left here with dresses they loved.”

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