Wedding dresses are an expensive, luxury item. They are analysed and examined by brides-to-be as if their entire marriage depends on the fabric and cut of their fancy frock. They are worn, admired, photographed at every angle – and then – that’s it, they are boxed up, put away never to be worn again.
Just two months ago, Fiona Kirk brought the idea of recycling wedding gowns into Angel Gowns from the US to Australia – inspired by the premature death of a baby called Isabelle Rose.
"I had been following Isabelle's story online, and I felt so moved by her death that I wanted to do something to show how special her life had been," Fiona says.
"I discovered NICU Helping Hands in the US, an organisation who turned old wedding dresses into Angel Gowns for babies who have died."
In just a few weeks, Fiona amassed a small army of volunteers across the country - a network of women creating beautiful clothes for tiny babies who have left this world too soon.
"Each wedding dress makes 12-18 Angel Gowns," Fiona explains.
The gowns are handmade and stitched by volunteer seamstresses, many with a personal story of infant death in their lives.
"Wherever possible our gowns are hand delivered to the parents who have lost their baby, so they can see their baby beautifully dressed for the last time before they say goodbye," Fiona says. "The last image of their baby is in an Angel Gown – that's a powerful image to have."
Nyssa Edwards lost her baby suddenly and unexpectedly to SIDS less than a month ago, and says having her daughter beautifully dressed helped her cope with the overwhelming grief.
"My angel Clara passed away at three weeks old. In my grief and sorrow I reached out for someone to help me dress her in something beautiful and personal to her," she says.
"Within minutes I had been contacted by Angel Gowns Australia who not only gave me the comfort that they would like to help, but a stunning handcrafted gown made that night... with so much love that Clara was there with every stitch."
Fiona Kirk says giving comfort to mothers like Nyssa is what drives her to lead the organisation. "I couldn’t have children, but I have always loved them – I was a nanny for 19 years and my stepchildren call me ‘Love Love’ – I feel like I am meant to do this," she says.
"There's a lot of effort that goes into the gowns – they're handmade, they're checked for quality control, we make sure they smell beautiful and are carefully packed – but it’s no effort. It's nothing when you see the impact it has on people’s lives."
Nyssa Edwards wants brides who have worn their dresses to consider another use for their beautiful gowns.
"To lose this love is an unimaginable pain nobody should have to experience. Angel Gowns helped us in words that could never be told. Upon opening the parcel it bought a rare smile to my face and immediate tears on how little and perfect it was, just like her," she says.
"This wondrous, completely volunteer organisation, as much as we wish didn't have to exist, is a lifeline for mothers like myself who want their precious angels to feel special on the outside as they were on the inside."