This mother-daughter duo is doing things differently in Church Hill.
It would be her second time walking down the aisle, so she thought her dress should reflect that.
“She wanted something really conservative because she felt like it was inappropriate for her to embrace being a bride again because it was her second time,” said Christine Haines, founder of Urban Set Bride, an independent bridal boutique in Church Hill, about a recent customer. “By the end of the appointment she ended up buying the most outrageous dress that we have.” Three tiers of hot pink and ruffles.
“It was great to see her transform, from my pep talk and her friends cheering her on, going through the whole experience and allowing herself to be happy and just say, I’m going to do what I want. I deserve this.”
Helping brides get what they want, what they deserve, is the foundation of Urban Set Bride. “We want anyone who walks through this door, no matter what size they are, no matter what socio-economic background they come from, to feel like they can find something here and feel comfortable.”
The business is an extension of a chance meeting that occurred two years ago when Haines leased apartments for a living.
“There was a woman who was relocating to Chicago because her fiancee, who was living in DC at the time, had a massive heart failure and had to be put on the heart transplant list and he was in a medically induced coma [at MCV],” Haines said. “So she had to live here for six months while he was getting a new heart and going through recovery while planning her wedding and working 60 hours a week.”
When the two bumped into each other, Haines would discuss the upcoming wedding as a way to distract her tenant from her fiance’s ill health. “Eventually, she asked me to plan her wedding for her,” Haines said, despite Haines not being a wedding planner. Turns out, Haines is good at it. Since then, she’s planned 23 weddings.
“With that I’ve heard complaints from my clients…that they were surprised at how progressive and cool and hip Richmond is, but there weren’t any bridal salons in the city itself,” she said. “And certainly weren’t any that catered to anyone who has a different kind of aesthetic at all.”
If no one else was going to make that store, Haines would, but she needed dependable help. The only person she trusted was her mom.
“This has never been on my radar,” said Jennifer Haines. She assumed her daughter would one day open a business, yes, but with a friend or two. Yet it was mom who helped daughter put together a business plan in late 2013 to qualify for a $5,000 SEED grant. The two opened Urban Set Bride in March.
“I can’t imagine opening this business with anyone other than my mom,” Christine said. “I wouldn’t trust anyone enough to be reliable and honest.”
Another asset of the familial pairing is that their styles each influence the gowns they carry. “I want vintage and bedazzled and really ornate stuff, and my mom has a really classic aesthetic that balances me out,” she said. “With our styles combined, it created a nice, balanced inventory.”
While many of the chain bridal stores in the West End carry the same designers, Urban Set Bride sets itself a part by carrying lines1 like the local Aimee Lauren Atelier2 and England-based Ellis Bridals. Their Ellis Bridals collection (they’re one of few shops in the state that carries the London label) even brought a Brazilian bride-to-be to the shop while visiting her sister in DC.
In total, Urban Set Bride carries 25 “grab and go gowns” priced $250 – $1,000. There are also 30 samples3 ranging from $650 – $2,500 that customers “can try on and we would order for them,” Christine said.
Many bridal shop employees work on commission. Christine said Urban Set Bride will never work that way because it motivates employees to pressure customers into large purchases.
To minimize their competition’s influence, some stores will offer discounts if you buy a dress that day. “We’re never going to do that,” Christine Haines said. “I never want to pressure someone into a big purchase like that.”
At other bridal stores, finding a dress can be like shopping Wal-Mart on Black Friday. But Urban Set Bride’s laid-back approach, mixed with its cozy Church Hill interior, makes finding a wedding gown more like playing dress up. “If you want to try on an expensive gown, do that. If you want to try on a ‘ridiculous’ gown just for fun, do that,” Christine said. Urban Set Bride is appointment-only, with most averaging 60-90 minutes. And, if at the end, the bride-to-be decides to keep looking, Haines won’t bat an eye. “Even if they really like us, they’ll go to multiple locations, which I support,” Christine said. “They always come back.”
Since opening just three months ago, Urban Set Bride’s success–earned mainly from word-of-mouth–has impressed Christine, who is considering adding options for men.
And while not the line of work she anticipated doing, Jennifer Haines enjoys her job all the same. “It’s fun for me with having only one child, these women come in here…and we get to sit and play dress up with them,” she said. “And they’re the sweetest girls because we’re not stuffy, we’re not pushy. We want them to feel comfortable when they come in here.”
For her, the business is just another reason to be proud of her daughter. “It’s nice to be a part of her success, our success, and to do this together,” she said.
Urban Set Bride is located at 602 N. 29th Street and is by appointment only.
- Ellis Bridals, Emmaline Bridal, Sottero and Midgley, Ana Dress, Aimee Lauren Atelier, LHC Couture, and vintage dresses from Bygone’s Vintage Clothing in Carytown. ↩
- Lauren also does alterations and customizing on dresses not her own that are purchased at Urban Set Bride. “She’s a miracle worker,” Haines said. ↩
- Those dresses come in sizes 8 – 18. ↩
photo by IYQ Photography