Though delicate folds of Chantilly lace and dainty pleats of cream-colored tulle may seem out of place at Middle Earth — the eclectic gift shop located at 1209 S. University Ave. — a window display in the store exhibits a number of elegant wedding gowns to advocate for The Brides Project, a fundraising effort of the Cancer Support Community of Greater Ann Arbor.
The organization, which originated in Toronto, Ontario in 2004, has expanded to the United States and currently operates in Ann Arbor at a boutique located at 208 W. Liberty St. The shop offers a wide variety of secondhand bridal gowns that are sold for considerably less than retail price.
Ashley Edwards, marketing chair for The Brides Project, said all the proceeds from the gowns are donated to the Cancer Support Community. The Ann Arbor boutique opened in September and since its opening, numerous brides have aided the fight against cancer by purchasing a gown from the program or donating a dress after their wedding.
“Really, it’s making your wedding more than just about the day; it’s about giving back,” Edwards said. “I think a lot of brides really value that. It’s more than just buying just a dress.”
She added that brides choose to shop at the boutique because of its altruistic efforts, low prices and varied selection, as “no two dresses are alike.”
“A lot of people get caught up in the hype of spending … money on their wedding, and everything is about them. This is just a good way to give back,” she added.
While women at the organization’s Toronto location have developed friendships through sharing a bridal gown, Edwards said the Ann Arbor branch of the charity is too new for women to have developed that connection. However, Edwards said she has witnessed instances of emotional connection between brides.
“Some of the dresses that are donated actually come with letters,” she said. “Sometimes, the bride will write a letter to the next bride who wears her dress … it’s a really sweet idea.”
Other stores in the community have collaborated with The Brides Project to advocate for the Cancer Support Community of Greater Ann Arbor — including Middle Earth and the Selo/Shevel Gallery on Main Street — through offering their window displays to promote the effort.
Richard Wedel, manager of Middle Earth, said he was happy to lend the window space to assist the organization.
“It’s a good, local organization that’s doing good work,” Wedel said. “(Brides can) save some money and do good at the same time.”
In addition to the window space, Middle Earth distributes information about the charity, which Wedel said has received “a lot of attention.”
Barb Hiltz, executive director for the Cancer Support Community, said she is enthusiastic about the project and the financial assistance it provides.
“It is one of the things we are looking to do to kind of think creatively about sustaining the free cancer support services that we provide,” Hiltz said.
She said donations are used for a variety of different programs at the Cancer Support Community, including grief counseling, support groups, educational classes and recreational activities.
“It’s exciting to have a project that … has to do with such a happy time in people’s lives, whereas cancer is often the opposite of that,” Hiltz said.