If the Dress Fits provides free prom dresses to those who can’t afford them

By the time she came to Moorhead to attend college, Duluth native Ashleigh Arntson had already launched a successful nonprofit company—If the Dress Fits—to help students who can’t afford the high cost of a prom dress. Arntson is presenting at 1 Million Cups Fargo on Wednesday, April 3.

Arntson started If the Dress Fits during her senior year of high school, and the organization has been growing since. The company takes in donated prom dresses and gives them to those who can’t afford the cost of buying one. Arntson was inspired by her own experience preparing for prom, when she realized the cost involved. She noted there aren’t a lot of inexpensive prom stores in the Duluth area.

“I bet there’s people who really struggle with this and don’t go to prom because of the cost,” Arntson thought at the time.

“We weren’t prepared for how large this has become,” Arntson said.

During If the Dress Fits’ first year they set a goal of getting fifty donated dresses. They ended up receiving more than 200.

One of the challenging aspects of the endeavor has been transporting and storing all of the donated dresses; Arntson noted many of them fill her parents’ basement.

To bring in dress donations, the organization sets up donation events at businesses in the Duluth and Superior, MN area.

“We needed to make it accessible to the community,” Arntson said.

The first business to sign on to host one of these events was Duluth’s Bella Rose Bridal, who Arntson noted continue to be a major supporter of If the Dress Fits.

“They close their business down for two days so we can have our events,” Arntson said.

The organization advertises itself through Facebook and social media, as well as flyers for events. Word-of-mouth has reached beyond Duluth in some cases: One closing shop in Colorado donated all of its prom inventory to If the Dress Fits.

As Arntson headed off to college, If the Dress Fits became an official non-profit and established a board of directors, which allows Arntson to maintain involvement with the company while still prioritizing he school work when she needs to (she’s currently a junior).

“My parents were super supportive and I give them a lot of credit,” Arntson said.

Future possibilities for If the Dress Fits include opening a store front in Duluth, which would allow more flexibility for storing donated dresses, or acquiring a bus or trailer to take the organization’s donation events on the road at some point in the future. Arntson noted a recent donation event held in Moorhead was a trial run for this kind of thing.

For more information on If the Dress Fits, visit its Facebook and Instagram pages. 1 Million Cups Fargo takes place each Wednesday from 9:15-10:15 a.m. On April 3, 1 Million Cups Fargo will be hosted at Minnesota State University Moorhead’s Gaede Stage.

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Austin Gerth