Anna Burns swaps out the dress she wore to the Cancer Society Ball at Saturday’s Swap don’t Shop - Clothes Swap at the Tahunanui Community Centre. Photo: Brittany Spencer.

Cancer ball dress gets a second life


A “bad decision” but “beautiful” dress worn to the Nelson Cancer Society ball was one of the many items of clothing that found a new owner at the Swap don’t Shop event on Saturday.

Around 130 people crowded into the Tahunanui Community Centre on Saturday morning for the Swap don’t Shop – Clothes Swap.

As part of Fashion Revolution Week, the centre hosted an event inviting people to bring in clothes they no longer wanted and swap them out with clothes brought by other people, refreshing their wardrobes without spending a cent.

Among those hunting for a new wardrobe was local cancer survivor and single mother Anna Burns.

Anna was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015, just two weeks after her brother discovered he had widespread melanoma.

“It’s like I’m still waiting to wake up from this dream where I had cancer and my brother died,” says Anna. “My diagnosis initially wasn’t great at all and it’s been pretty rough, my eyesight is worse, my memory hasn’t come back and my teeth are falling out, but I’m here.”

Anna had her last treatment in March 2016, is waiting on a reconstruction, and received a No Evidence Discovered diagnosis, but says the process has had a big effect on her body.

“You’d be amazed how much you swell up with chemotherapy, I put on 12kg so I had no clothes left that fit me and a whole wardrobe of stuff that I wasn’t wearing.”

Anna brought in 28 items, including a whole bunch of jeans, shoes and evening dresses.

“This is amazing, it’s great to see stuff being reused and I’ve managed to completely replenish my wardrobe.”

Anna says she is a bit of an environmentalist and, after studying textile and fashion design, loves the idea of clothes being reused rather than just ending up in landfills.

“It’s a great initiative and it completely takes away the stigma of stinky, old lady, second-hand clothes, I’m amazed at the quality of the clothes here, there are designer labels with the tags still on.”

Anna says the one thing she hopes someone loves is the dress she wore to the Cancer Society Ball.

“At the time I didn’t get the memo that the rich, successful people who were there only wear black so I waltzed in wearing this powder blue sparkly dress with my pop star wig and looking a bit bigger than the dress allowed, looking like a complete idiot, like I’d gotten lost from a wedding.

“It was such a bad decision, but it is a beautiful, well-made dress and I really hope it gets taken because it will look beautiful on someone, just not me.”

Fashion Revolution volunteer and Tahunanui Community Centre worker Katie Hughes says seeing so many people leaving with arms laden with clothes was really great.

“I was blown away by how many people came, and were excited and enthused about swapping their clothes and going home with a new wardrobe.

“I have no idea how many garments came through the door, people brought in around twenty garments each but we had one lady who brought in a suitcase absolutely packed with 77 items.”

The remaining clothes have been donated to the Richmond Red Cross Shop, and SaveMart’s cotton recycling programme.

Katie says the event was such a success that they will be running another one on July 8.

“It’s what the community centre is about – helping people survive in today’s climate and, at the same time, supporting the environment.”