Brides have been left heartbroken and in tears after a wedding dress shop closed down.
The owner says before the business went into liquidation last month, she contacted customers with outstanding orders but many have been left worrying if they had lost their deposit and would ever get the dresses they ordered.
One bride feared she was more than £1,000 out of pocket and says others have faced the same stress and panic.
Hannah Gowan ordered her dress in April and paid a 50% deposit of £1,185.
She got a phone call from Elmira owner, Sarah Fuller, on October 7, to say the shop was closing and her order had been passed on to suppliers Dom Bridals who would contact her.
Mrs Fuller assured her she would still get her dress.
'She has upset a lot of people. I've had brides in tears. One bride was just sobbing, she was really heartbroken.'
But when Hannah didn't hear anything she started to worry. She sent several emails to Elmira and made phone calls without any reply.
Getting desperate for news, she sent husband-to-be Tony to the shop and he put a note through the door. He returned the next day and found the premises in Gun Lane had been cleared out.
Hannah was then advised to contact the suppliers direct, which she did and was told her order had been placed but she would need to pay the full amount for the gown – £2,387 – before it would be released.
She was horrified and posted online to see if any other brides were in the same situation.
About 20 women responded, who were either awaiting outstanding orders or who said they had experienced problems with the store.
The 27-year-old, who has moved from Strood to Gillingham, said: "I just don't know how she could do this to brides. It is supposed to be the best day of your life, and one of the most important things for a bride is the dress and it can be one of the most expensive things.
"She has upset a lot of people. I've had brides in tears. One bride was just sobbing, she was really heartbroken."
Dom Bridals has been taken over by bridal house Romantica of Devon. Romantica is now working with another shop – Alta Costura Bride in Maidstone – so all 15 brides with outstanding orders will get their dresses.
But customers will have to pay the full amount to get their gowns and claim back their deposits from their credit or debit card companies.
Romantica says brides' details should have been passed on to them so they could contact the customers directly, which is normal practice when a bridal shop is closing, but say this was not something Mrs Fuller wanted to do.
'Unfortunately the company will be going into liquidation.'
Hannah has since been able to claim back the money she paid to Elmira though her bank. And a spokesman for Romantica urged other brides to do the same.
He offered assurance that no bride would be left without a dress and advised them to get in touch with Romantica directly.
A statement was added to the Elmira Bridal Services website on Friday last week, saying brides will have to pay the remaining balance to a new bridal shop – but it does not make it clear they have to pay in full.
It reads: "I feel a post is necessary to clear up a few things being spread around currently.
"It would be much easier for everyone to believe that 'we closed down quickly and stole everyone's money, done a runner and not ordered dresses'. None of this is true.
"Communication has lacked due to my personal circumstances currently. However, each bride was contacted before we announced closure. All social media has been deleted. Email and website are due to shut down in three weeks time.
"Unfortunately the company will be going into liquidation.
"Not only has it been a hell of a tough year for all businesses due to Covid but on top of that, we had a robbery and no pay out from our insurance providers.
"With all of this along with a very tough year personally.... I was left with no other alternative but to leave the premises quickly.
"We worked with a fab company called Dom Bridals who were the suppliers of Sophia Tolli and Martin Thornburg.
'I can only apologise for the distress to you all that this has caused in us closing down..... there was no other option.'
"Just before we closed, Dom Bridals closed down and handed over to Romantica. This was a big change over.
"In the bridal industry, wedding dress shops ask for 50% of the total balance. This balance is the shop's money. The dress is ordered the same or next day to Dom Bridals/Romantica who then order the dress from their factories.
"The gown is then shipped to Dom Bridals/Romantica within six months of the order date. The gown is shipped out to the bridal store. The store then calls the bride who then pays the remainder 50% balance.
"The bridal store then pays Dom Bridals/Romantica.
"As soon as we told Romantica we were ceasing trading, they would rightly so, not deliver any more dresses.
"Usually when a bridal store closes down, the brides' dresses would get sent to another willing bridal store and the bride would pay the remainder balance to the new bridal store.
"This was the agreement set in place with Romantica. This didn't happen."
It said every dress had been ordered, with proof the order had been made available to those who needed it.
Brides were advised to ask for dresses to be sent to their "nearest bridal store" and then to pay them the remaining balance.
It added: "I can only apologise for the distress to you all that this has caused in us closing down..... there was no other option."
A spokesman for Romantica said Elmira's statement was "misleading".
One bride who contacted Hannah is taking legal action through the county court over problems with alterations to her dress.
Another woman who had left her dress at the shop for cleaning after her wedding fears she will never get it back.