'Dream Dresses' Connects Communities, One Traditional Outfit at a Time

“Millions of kids in India cannot afford their dream of wearing beautiful traditional clothes for the country’s many festivals, including Diwali and Navratri, which hold a lot of significance and call for families to dress up in their traditional attire,” says Avani Bansal. “Yet many Indian families in the US do not know what to do with the traditional clothes that they have outgrown or no longer wear.”  To bridge this gap, Avani founded ‘Dream Dresses’ in 2021, as a 501(c)3 nonprofit that provides a platform for donating traditional Indian clothing to underprivileged kids in India. 
Avani is 16 years old and an 11th grader at The Overlake School in Redmond. She describes herself as an aspiring tech entrepreneur, saying, “I enjoy talking to people, solving problems, and public speaking. I'm in my school’s speech and debate club and DECA. I'm also a passionate swimmer and run the 5K on my school's cross-country team." She founded Dream Dresses based on her own experience. "In March 2021, my family was getting ready to move and I was clearing out my closet and had a lot of traditional Indian dresses that were already too small for me,” she explains. “I wanted to donate my dresses, but there was nowhere in Washington state where I could do so.” 
To date, Dream Dresses has shipped over 10,000 pieces of traditional Indian clothing to be distributed in seven Indian states. The 30 volunteers across the United States are all middle and high school students. Avani describes how the team grew. “After I created the website, I started hearing from people across the country, starting with Virginia, before opening more collection centers. It's a wonderful way to help kids in India and give back to the community. In the future, we hope to continue expanding in India, and perhaps one day we can serve other countries where kids lack access to other types of traditional clothes.” 
Arushi Sinha, 17, an 11th grader at Bellevue Big Picture School, is a long-term volunteer at Dream Dresses. She is on her school’s track team and is planning a career in Obstetrics and Gynecology. Her initial involvement with Dream Dresses was as a short-term volunteer, as she needed to fulfil her school’s volunteering requirement. “I packed the dresses, took pictures, and sent them on to India,” she says, “but I grew to love the program and now work with the news media, fundraising, and other teams.” 

Arushi finds volunteering has broadened her perspective on the world. “Traditional clothing truly impacts so many cultures and identities, yet we don’t really think about it,” she explains, “and the experience has helped me understand how a nonprofit works, skills which I hope to apply to future causes.” She is involved with all the diverse aspects of fundraising: building a community on social media, managing emails, writing applications for grants, and supporting interns along with long-term volunteers. “For me it's been a great opportunity to learn more about marketing and fundraising for nonprofits,” she continues. 

“Our partners in India include the Aarna Foundation in Mumbai; the Catalyst for Social Action in Mumbai, Hyderabad, and New Delhi; and Goonj, which covers all parts of India,” Avani says. “Our partnership team conducts research, checks out a nonprofit’s mission and legitimacy, and establishes if we are a good fit.” 
Avani’s parents helped with the legal and tax aspects of setting up Dream Dresses, but the teams of teenagers drive all the planning, marketing, and fundraising. “For example, a volunteer conceived our ‘Carry a Bag’ program, through which families take clothes with them when traveling to India,” Avani explains. Dream Dresses sends the travelers a box of clothing, and the family packs an extra bag or suitcase for their flight. “We cover the additional cost,” Avani says, “and once the family arrives in India, Dream Dresses arranges for one of our partners to pick up from wherever they are staying. It involves no cost and makes an enormous impact because it helps get these clothes to the kids in India.” 

There are many ways to support Dream Dresses and its work. As well as joining one of the teams, clothes can be donated locally at one of the collection centers in Bellevue, Sammamish, Bothell, and Redmond - arrangements for drop-off or collection can be made through the website. Families or individuals can take part in the ‘Carry a Bag’ program, and the organization has a Go Fund Me page for those wishing to offer financial support. You can also spread the word using our social media and website links (see below) so more people know about the cause. “And we are always looking for more volunteers,” Avani concludes. 
Website: dreamdresses.org 
GoFundMe Link: https://gofund.me/d625057c 
Instagram: @dreamdressesnonprofit 
Facebook: Dream Dresses