Dresses for free: Meet the man behind a wedding-wear bank in Kerala

Nasar Thootha’s most precious memory, in his years of helping dress up brides, is of a blind man named M Abdullah who travelled to his store in Thootha village, Malappuram, Kerala, lugging two large bags of clothes, having hopped buses and spent hours on the road.

He wanted to make a donation, he said. And he wanted to meet the man who runs the wedding-wear bank.

Thootha, 44, and his unusual bank have helped dress more than 250 brides over two years. He collects wedding wear from donors, makes small repairs where needed, dry-cleans each set, stacks them securely in well-lit cases, and offers what is essentially a unique boutique where everything is free, for the bride who needs it.

In this bank are saris, lehengas, wedding gowns and the traditional Kerala wedding outfit of gold-and-white sari. “Most bridal clothes are worn once, that too for a few hours. Instead of keeping them in cupboards, my message is, why not use them for a better cause,” Thootha says.

Word of his initiative spread quickly, particularly after he began to post on social media, and the stacks of donated outfits that he kept in his home grew so tall he had to rent the small shop where the outfits now sit in stacks. There are more than 800 ensembles here, some covered in gold embroidery, others glinting with sequins. Some are worth 50,000, some worth 1,000. Anything in good condition is welcome.

“I never thought it would be such a hit,” Thootha says. “After my first few posts on social media, I got 100 dresses in one month. Some were couriered, others were brought to my shop, and on several occasions I made arrangements to collect the donations.” Some people have donated new outfits too, bought especially for the bank. “If your intention is clear there are many people around to help,” Thootha says.

His donors and customers now come from as far away as Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu and Bengaluru in Karnataka, and regularly from across Kerala. Abdullah, for instance, conducted a small collection drive of his own, inviting friends and relatives to donate wedding attire they weren’t realistically going to wear again.

It was a neighbourhood family’s struggle to pay for their daughter’s wedding that gave Thootha the idea for the wedding-wear bank. “Social work has always been in my blood,” he says. After running a small supermarket in Saudi Arabia, he returned home eight years ago and began driving a taxi. When he came across mentally challenged people, seniors or street children who needed his help, he would take them home in his taxi, give them a bath, some new clothes, sometimes find them a care home to live in. His wife and four children are very supportive of all his efforts, he says.

When he heard about the neighbourhood family’s predicament, he decided to try and help the young woman and others in such situations. (He focuses on outfits for brides, he says, because a request for a groom’s outfit has never come his way).

The first donations to the wedding-wear bank came from his friends and relatives. The first customers heard of his bank through word-of-mouth and visited his home to select from the options. Thootha says he conducts discreet enquiries to ensure that those taking the outfits really do need them; he is also careful to keep the identities of all his customers confidential. “Some brides insist that they will return the outfit after their day is done, but I always advise them to keep it. They can pass it on. It helps inspire a good message of giving in them too”, he says.

“I took a heavy lehenga with embellishment and brocade work. I could never have imagined buying it on my own. This was a real blessing,” a new bride from Thrissur told Wknd.

“I have connected five brides with Nasar Thootha, who is a true father figure and gave them all befitting attire,” says local social worker Shareena Hakkim.