Your feet are throbbing, your back hurts a little, and you have been walking for hours. Although this may describe the way you feel after a long hike at camp, it could also describe the way you feel after shopping for a modest dress.
Finding a cute dress that is not too short, too tight, or too revealing that you can wear to a school dance, a music recital, or church is a difficult task. The lack of modest formal and informal dresses is a problem—a problem the young women of the Red Bridge Ward, Olathe Kansas Stake, decided to do something about.
It all began in December 2000 when Young Women President Cynthia Cockriel and her daughter Amanda went shopping for modest clothing. The trip was typical; they found a lot of dresses on the racks but few that were modest. Frustrated with the situation, Sister Cockriel expressed her concerns to a manager of a local department store. To her surprise, the manager listened with interest and even offered to meet with Sister Cockriel and her young women if they put together a presentation with sketches, fabric swatches, and other descriptions of what they would like to see in the store.
With the leadership of Sister Cockriel and others, the young women of the Red Bridge Ward went to work. The girls were excited to help, and they worked very hard for more than four months. The final product was not just a few sketches and fabric swatches. Instead, the girls and their leaders created a sample company, complete with name, logo, and vendor book.
The company’s name is Evaluate, with the emphasis placed on the “valu” part of the word. “When it comes to deciding what to wear, every young woman must evaluate her life, her values, and her style,” says Laurel Alisa Christensen.
As Laurel president, Liz Christensen acted as CEO of Evaluate. The rest of the Laurels were given jobs such as fashion coordinator, journalist, photographer, and so on. The Laurels then shared the work of their assignments with the Beehives and Mia Maids.
The young women and their leaders realized an increase of modest dresses is not something a store can do without the help of designers. Department stores can only sell what the designers create. The young women in Kansas also know it is not easy to design a modest dress because they each tried to design a dress in keeping with the dress standards of BYU and other Church-affiliated schools. Heidi Jarvis, a Laurel in the Red Bridge Ward, commented, “We now have an appreciation for dress designers. It is a difficult task to make a modest dress exciting and even dazzling.”
Although designing such a dress is difficult, the Red Bridge Young Women think that Ashley Braithwaite of Allen, Texas, did just that. When Ashley heard about Evaluate’s project she sent the girls some dress designs that became an important part of their presentation. They depicted the type of dresses the young women are looking for.
Ashley was not the only young woman outside of the Red Bridge Ward to add to the Evaluate project. Hundreds of other girls voiced their support through e-mails, letters, and phone calls. Response to Evaluate’s letter-writing campaign came from all over. Adrienne from Brazil responded, “Not every item needs to be skimpy or revealing. It is possible to be modest and stylish at the same time.” Others responded from Australia, Africa, Austria, and throughout the United States.
When the day of the presentation finally arrived, the young women were able to confidently present their opinions to one of the largest upscale department stores in their area. The girls gathered their sample dresses, posters, vendor books, dress designs, and letters. With more than four months of hard work behind them, they put on their biggest smiles and told the retail world that modesty should not be overlooked.
The presentation went even better than most of the girls thought it would. The buyer and the managers listened attentively to Evaluate’s message: “Modesty is not a trend. Modesty is a style.” The girls also presented their objective of letting the store know about the market it is missing by not selling more modest clothing.
In the presentation Liz Christensen explained, “There is a strong customer base you currently miss at your store. It may not be a majority, but we hope to have shown you that it is big enough to make a difference in your business.”
The presentation went so well that the influence of these 17 girls and their leaders extended beyond the store’s conference room. The young women were interviewed by The Kansas City Star, and featured in The Wall Street Journal. The British Broadcasting Corporation also interviewed Alisa and Liz.
So where does it go from here? Now that the presentation is over, the girls and their leaders are not about to abandon the project, not when they are beginning to see the fruits of their labor. Because of the young women’s presentation, their local store’s managers are increasing the number of modest dresses on the racks. Different stores within the chain, such as one in Seattle, have also expressed interest in Evaluate. The young women now plan to contact designers to encourage more modest dresses everywhere.
Thanks to the Red Bridge Young Women, next time you go shopping for a modest dress it may be a little easier to find one. You may not even have to hike for hours through the mall with sore feet and an aching back. Instead, with enough support from people around the world, these girls may help us save all the hiking for camp.