Stay-at-home graduations, plastic gowns and a trip into the Dragon's Den

When you think about graduation pictures the first thought that probably comes to mind is a black gown.

Along with the mortarboard, the items have become an iconic part of graduation day. But, around one million students won’t get the chance to celebrate their graduations this summer due to the Coronavirus crisis.

Oliver Adkins, owner of academic dress supplier, Churchill Gowns, has come up with a way to ensure those students still get to create well-deserved memories.


“We are offering customers the chance to do a stay-at-home graduation,” he said. “We send the gowns to their door so they can take pictures with their housemates or their families if they’ve moved home and they still get an opportunity to experience something like a graduation day.

“The graduation package includes your gown, mortarboard, a little box of chocolates, a little graduation teddy bear and balloon so you can have a little party at home.”

What’s perhaps even more interesting is the fact the gowns are made from plastic. It’s a unique characteristic about the product that gained the support of Deborah Meaden when they pitched their business last year on Dragon’s Den.

“It was a nerve-wracking experience going on,” he said. “Around six million people watched that episode, which is a huge number of people. It was a good opportunity to say yes we’re a start-up, yes we’re trying to make money but we’re trying to do it in an ethical way. It was cool to be able to go on TV and tell our story.

“We were given two offers, one from Deborah and one from Touker Suleyman, they were very similar offers but were asking for a different stake in the business. Ultimately we accepted Deborah’s offer because it was for slightly less equity and we thought that her values and business expertise would synergize a lot better with us.

“It’s a tough decision on the show to make that call, but she has a real track record with sustainable businesses and environmentally friendly businesses so we were keen to work with her.

“Every single gown we make is made from 28 plastic bottles. So, that’s 28 ordinary plastic bottles that would take up space in landfill or polluting the ocean and we’re able to take them and do something really useful and practical with them and then rent that gown out getting a whole lot more life out of that plastic.

“We also try to carbon offset everything, when we have our shipments come in we’re carbon offsetting. We try to be as environmentally sustainable and conscious as possible.”

So, what happened after the episode aired last autumn?

“The thing you don’t see on the TV show is the long due diligence process”, Oliver added. “That applies with any fundraising, we have other investors from before Dragon’s Den.

“There’s always a very long process of due diligence. We’re still going through it now, checking documentation and making sure legalese in place. It’s a long process which can be frustrating but that’s the nature of the beast.”


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