The Interview: Ally Elouise, Founder, Prom Ally

Prom Ally is a fashion initiative offering free loans of prom dresses and suits to school children, sixth form students and college students who otherwise couldn’t afford one. All outfits are used and either purchased from charity shops or donated directly. The loan of an outfit is free of charge however £10.00 is requested to cover the cost of delivery and return postage and packaging.

Prom Ally is linked with schools, social services, food banks and charities around the UK and runs mostly on a referral basis. The company has helped hundreds of girls since it began and has recently opened up to boys too offering suits in addition. Founder Ally Elouise tells us more:

Could you tell us a little bit about your background?

My name is Ally Elouise, I am a 25 year old law graduate from North Wales. I’ve always had a passion for thrift shopping and scouring charity shops. I also love volunteering and think that everyone should volunteer at least once in their life. I put these two passions together to make Prom Ally.

When did you launch and what was the initial response?

I launched Prom Ally back in 2015 during my second year of University. I expected the response to be small and only thought I would help a handful of local girls but the response was huge! It turns out that thousands of women have their old prom dresses still stored in the back of their wardrobes. I went on some local news shows, radio stations and newspapers.

The next thing I knew, donations of dresses were coming in from all over. Since the original purchase of those dresses, I’ve never had to buy any again. I now have around 3000 dresses and 100 suits. The need for my service was evident too, I was receiving message after message from parents, young people, school teachers and before long had to control this by making it a referral-based service. I had to get a web designer to make the website more professional and even had to find a storage unit to hold my stock.

Can you summarise your brand identity?

The branding for Prom Ally is very girly, pink and young to appeal to the correct age range. We do however now stock suits for the boys too so are starting to move towards having some more unisex colours like navy’s and whites too.

Is there anything in particular that inspired you to start Prom Ally?

In between revision and writing essays I used to walk around charity shops on my breaks and one day noticed a section of prom dresses in one. I then saw a documentary about poverty through the children’s eyes on TV and there was a young girl in the programme who’s mum couldn’t afford to take her prom dress shopping. She was really upset and felt left out, she ended up going to a charity shop and choosing a dress from the small selection in stock. This made me think that surely there must be something out there to help people like her. The idea then came about, I went back to the shop that had sparked this thought and bought all of the prom dresses in there using my 21st birthday money. I set up a rough website, visited a voluntary services council for advice about setting up a small charity and took it from there.

How can students/school children be referred to Prom Ally?

To be referred to Prom Ally, a member of staff from school, a social worker or someone from other Local Authorities must fill in my short referral form online. From there, I will enter an email conversation with them about the young person and what they need. I do offer parents the chance to speak to me directly if they’re struggling to get a referral.

In what way is Prom Ally supporting sustainable fashion?

Prom Ally is a huge advocate for sustainable fashion. We encourage the re-use and recycling of old prom dresses and gowns. Instead of leaving your old prom dress in your attic or wardrobe never to be worn again, you can donate it and let someone less fortunate have the opportunity to wear it. As well as this side of Prom Ally I have also launched the Eco-Wardrobe.

This is where dresses can be hired out for a small fee to people who may not be struggling financially but don’t want to buy new and input into the fast fashion industry. They can hire a beautiful pre-loved dress for their event, wedding, cruise or prom. These dresses are either ones that are donated to Prom Ally but aren’t suitable, have been in stock longer than two years or have already been out a number of times to a young person for their prom.

Ally with John Paul Gaultier

What are your business achievements to date?

To date, I have appeared on multiple radio shows, TV shows, magazines and newspapers. Some of these include Heart and Capital FM, Sky News, BBC Breakfast, BBC News, The Metro Newspaper, The I Newspaper and last year I even spoke about Prom Ally sat alongside Jean Paul Gaultier on The One Show. This January I was awarded with both a Points of Light award from Boris Johnson and a British Citizen Award in the Palace of Westminster.

Last year I hosted a fundraising fashion show where I had models walk the catwalk in some of my gorgeous gowns to show off how nice the dresses we offer out are. I even had winner of Britain’s Next Top Model Season 10 Chloe Keenan model for us. The year before this, we walked up Snowdon in prom dresses to raise money and awareness.

What is the future for Prom Ally?

In the future, I am hoping for Prom Ally to get even bigger and in turn help even more people. I often visit local schools and do talks to the children and would like to do a lot more of this around the UK. I want to make the Eco-Wardrobe even more popular and encourage a circular economy to help towards promoting sustainability within the fashion industry. The main aim however is to help ensure that eventually no one has to miss their school prom due to financial hardship.

What advice would you give to some starting up a fashion business?

The only advice I can offer is to never give up. Over the last 5 years, I have sacrificed a lot for Prom Ally including my full time job, I have moved back in with my parents to save money so I can put more money and time into Prom Ally. I have said no to plans and missed out on many events etc. But it has all been worth it to see the young girls I’ve helped go to prom. Their parents send me thank you notes, they send me photographs of the girls smiling and looking like princesses.

I have also been fortunate to have had some amazing opportunities such as attending London Fashion Week and of course meeting Jean Paul Gaultier himself because of Prom Ally. This is all because even though it’s been tough and it’s been emotionally and physically draining, I have never given up on my passion and neither should you!