When Mykal Radney got home from work the afternoon of Garden City High School’s prom on March 24, her house was already buzzing. Radney’s mom, Sarah, and a small army of coworkers and family friends were attending to 13 girls, helping them with hair, makeup and nails before the big night.

It was busy, Radney said, and the air was full of hairspray. Two little girls roamed the room asking if anyone wanted pop. It was an exciting, if hectic scene, she and her classmate, Sky Decker, said, but it was more than just girls getting ready for prom. Every girl in the house may not have been able to afford the night without Radney’s help. When the girls left later that day, everything from their dresses to their prom tickets had been covered by Kal’s Glamorous Gowns, a discount formal dress shop Radney started last year.

“If it wasn’t for Mykal, I wouldn’t have been able to go to prom at all because I simply can’t afford it,” Decker said.”The fact that I was able to get a dress and shoes and my hair and makeup done … I was so happy that I could actually get this opportunity.”

Radney, a GCHS junior graduating early this year, originally created the store to complete her senior Buff Project, but said the idea has quickly grown past any optional school assignment. The racks of dresses stuffed in and around the lobby of Garden City’s Stroh Cleaners and Shirt Laundry, 2501 N. Fleming St. in Garden City, has fast become a go-to stop for girls looking for affordable formal gowns.

Radney said that throughout its nearly four months of operation, the shop has sold and donated more than 200 dresses to girls locally, in southwest Kansas and even some from out of state, and seen over 400 dresses enter its doors.

For the past few months, girls have found their dream dress without breaking the bank, and community members have found an opportunity to help others by giving their old dresses away.

 

Mind behind the gowns

Radney has always loved thrift shops. She grew up visiting them and garage sales with her mom, digging through deals and seeing what she could find. She likes that the products aren’t new, and that they’re affordable.

“I was looking for (a blazer) at T.J.Maxx and different places around town, and they were all like $40, and I was just like 'No thank you.' So I went up to Wichita, and I found this for $3,” she said, gesturing to her bright green blazer. “I was so happy. This is the first time I'm wearing it, and I am overjoyed at the moment.”

Radney has always seen herself as a businesswoman and a self-described over-achiever. She spent six of her eight years in Girl Scouts as Kansas’ top cookie-seller, and her friend’s mom tells her she could sell ice to an eskimo. When she found out she would barely be able to afford the price of Garden City’s prom tickets, she didn’t hesitate to talk to the school about other options. What about sponsors? What about fundraising? She said the prom committee basically told her prom was a privilege.

Kal’s Glamorous Gowns was born of similar ambition. Just like the tickets, Radney knew she wasn’t the only girl who couldn’t afford a $500 dress to be worn one night.

“I’ve never been one of those people (who say) ‘Oh, I’m just going to build a shed.’ Or, ‘I’m just going to build a bicycle by myself.’” Radney said on why she chose the Buff Project she did. “…I started Kal’s Glamorous Gowns because I knew other girls probably wouldn’t be able to go (to prom).”

 

Dresses in, dresses out

The store opened in December 2017, but Radney began collecting dresses mid-August. Her mom originally beat her to the punch, posting a call for dresses on Facebook. Within the day, Radney had two dresses. The next day, she got seven.

When Radney had asked Sheri Green, the then fairly new owner of Stroh Cleaners, about running the shop out of Stroh, Radney estimated she’d have around 60 or 70 dresses. By the time she came to set up for opening day, she had 320.

“(I was) amazed that actually that many people donated,” Green said about the first time she saw all of Radney’s dresses. “It’s been unbelievable.”

Most of the dresses came from people in the community, Radney said, but she also partnered with several businesses to get bulk donations. Goodwill donated 98 dresses, and Families Together donated 112. Dodge City’s Second Time Around consignment store offered both dresses and advice.

Individuals helped, too. Former Mrs. Kansas International, Tami Long Allen, gave the shop her old dresses, and teachers from out of state brought back donated items from Missouri, Louisiana and Michigan.

As for what kind of dresses, Radney said she’s not picky.

“We just take in everything,” she said.

Though Kal’s is mostly made of modern dresses, it’s no stranger to the retro. Radney said she had seen '80s styles pass through. A neon green dress with a bright pink bow still hangs on the rack. Radney’s mom loves it. Radney thinks it’s scary.

Anything that doesn’t make it to the racks in Stroh Cleaners still gets use. Most of the less formal or truly beaten up items are donated to Garden City’s drama department, Radney said.

The donations that are sold have in some cases gone far. Radney said customers have come from not just Garden City, but also Liberal, Lakin, Ingalls, Cimarron and Deerfield. The shop’s Facebook page has also shown its power, bringing in some girls from Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas.

Customers don’t just come for prom dresses, Radney said. Women of all ages have come to buy dresses for cruises, weddings, galas and other formal events. Once, a woman brought her overjoyed 4-year-old niece to buy a dress they had seen hanging in the front window for days.

Most of the dresses are sold for $30 or less, Radney said. Others are donated to charities like Dodge City’s Night to Shine, a prom for special needs teenagers, or to girls who couldn’t afford prom. Radney followed Kansas’ poverty level guidelines to decide which girls to help, she said, eventually landing on 14 girls — the 13 from Garden City and one from Ingalls.

Any profits or cash donations go back into the cause, Radney said, buying hair supplies, dresses, tickets and other items to help those 14 girls get ready for prom. She said she’s using any extra money to keep the organization going and growing.

 

Bigger plans

Radney will go to college at Wichita State University Tech next fall, but she plans on staying involved at Kal’s. After getting lots of questions at the shop about renting tuxes, she hopes to expand to more formal wear, including tuxes, sport coats and business casual attire. She’s made prom a little more affordable, and she wants to do the same for job interviews.

She’s also looking at other locations, hoping to find a deal on a bigger space. The logistics are still in limbo, but she already has volunteer employees — some of the girls for whom she made prom possible this year.

As the Garden City girls got ready that Saturday afternoon, Radney’s mom said she saw a visible transformation. Shoulders rolled back, faces lit up, quiet uncertainty melted into energized exuberance. It was the reason Radney had started the shop in the first place.

“It’s important because you never know if they’re going to ever have anything like this again,” she said. “Prom is a once in a lifetime experience for some people.”

If you want to donate a dress to Kal’s Glamorous Gowns, call Mykal Radney at (620) 640-0751, or drop them off at Stroh Cleaners. They also accept cash donations for expenses and upcoming projects. For more information, visit their Facebook page, “Kal’s Glamorous Gowns.”

 

Contact Amber Friend at afriend@gctelegram.com.