Grace Lightner ’13 was cleaning out her grandmother’s house in Ohio with her mother, Lorraine Stewart ’80, ’81 MS, when she stumbled upon a box of preserved wedding dresses belonging to Stewart and her sister. Stewart immediately teared up, reminiscing about how beautiful her own mother, Shirley, was on her wedding day. In that moment, inspiration struck.
In 2018 Lightner and Stewart launched Unbox the Dress, a startup that transforms customers’ wedding gowns into new, wearable designs such as bridal robes, purses or wraps. Sustainability, Lightner says, is central to their business.
“We’re creating a digitally empowered way for people to upcycle garments that they care about,” she says. “And in doing so, we’re keeping those textiles out of landfills.”
Since its launch, Unbox the Dress has redesigned more than 4,000 wedding dresses. Now working with a team of 23 employees, the mother-daughter duo has shifted to reusable shipping containers and offers customers the option to redesign their wedding dresses into luxe christening gowns and garments for other cultural traditions.
Lightner says her mother has not only been the best business partner but also a lifelong role model. “Watching her as I grew up, I knew it was possible for me, as a female leader, to build something from scratch.”
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