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An Instagram fan recently asked me if I knew where to buy ethically-made dresses that she could wear to weddings this summer. What a great question! Shockingly, I hadn’t written about this before. Maybe because the choices were so limited.
But there is good news, fashion lovers: Once I poked around amongst my stable of favorite sustainable and ethical designers, I found hundreds of beautiful dresses. I narrowed it down by only including boutiques or brand websites that have at least three pretty cocktail or formal dresses for you to choose from.
And in a happy side note, I also found some plus sizes, and lots of models of color! So we’re getting much more diversity than when I started doing editorial roundups just a few years ago.
So pour yourself a glass of champagne. We’re going shopping.
Founded by an Argentinian woman, Amur’s name comes from the acronym, A Mindful Use of Resources. They use sustainable materials with vivid prints and sharp tailoring and everything is created in NYC.
I love the direction that Mara Hoffman has gone in the past couple of years. Not only are her pieces now sustainably made, they are oh so chic, while still retaining fun, bright colors. Absolutely perfect for both a city and barn summer wedding. (Bonus for my plus size readers: Mara Has extended sizes in some of these dresses!)
After working with the former ethical wedding dress brand, Celia Grace, on a sustainable and Fair Trade collection, designer Colleen Bankovich and her longterm business partner, Alex Perry, decided to build upon the success of the collection by launching their own: Bohyne. They use exclusively locally-crafted, plant-based, and deadstock fabrics, with every item being made-to-order and handcrafted through their partnership with a Fair Trade Certified co-op based in Cambodia. Many of their elegant dresses, separates, and accessories are actually designed to be reworn and repurposed, depending on whether you’re getting married yourself or attending a wedding or other fancy event. Plus, Bohyne will donate 25 kilos of rice for every item sold from their Deadstock Collection.
This brand’s name (apéro) comes from the French evening ritual that combines drinks, food, and friends at a bistro terrace or at home. La Femme Apéro creates beautifully elegant yet simple pieces exclusively made of silk and silk/cotton blends. Designed and produced in small quantities in NYC, these pieces would be perfect for a special occasion or a statement piece in your capsule wardrobe.
This New Zealand-based designer creates upscale and fresh designs with all sustainable materials in New Zealand (Don’t stress, North Americans! You can get her pieces shipped to you in North America from the upscale retailers she wholesales to.)
St. Roche works directly with carefully selected manufacturing partners in India and Peru, who are committed to honest and ethical labor practices. They choose the eco-friendly option wherever possible, incorporating GOTS-certified, organically grown, and locally woven cotton, biodegradable Tencel, and sustainably produced Alpaca knitwear in their collections.
On the super high end of the sustainable fashion scene lies Stella McCartney. She goes beyond fur-free to include organic cotton, certified responsible viscose, and regenerated cashmere.
Symbology partners with marginalized artisans in developing countries to create handcrafted pieces using traditional fabric techniques like block printing, tie-dye and embroidery. Most of their dresses are made from sustainable viscose, Modal, and cotton.
This luxury sustainable and ethical online boutique should be your go-to for gala dresses if you’re looking to impress.
Christie Brown was founded in March 2008 by Aisha Obuobi who was inspired by her grandmother, the brand’s namesake and a seamstress who created rich and vibrant garments. As a little girl, Obuobi played with shreds of African material and designed mini collections for her favorite dolls. Today, Christie Brown the brand creates pieces ranging from beautiful bespoke gowns to practical yet statement ready-to-wear pieces and innovative accessories primarily inspired by African culture and art.
Studio One Eighty Nine, co-founded by Rosario Dawson and Abrima Erwiah, is a BIPOC-owned and run fashion lifestyle brand and social enterprise. Headquartered in Ghana, West Africa and the U.S., with a store in NYC and Accra, Ghana, they work with artisanal communities that specialize in various traditional craftsmanship techniques including natural plant-based dye indigo, hand-batik, kente weaving and more.
Made in Barcelona of natural fabrics, this brand knows how to bring out just enough sexy.
AGAATI’s zesty dresses are made by fairly paid Indian women.
Iconic fashion designer Tracy Reese founded Hope For Flowers in 2019 to create sustainable, feminine, and minimal designs. Her clothes are made of sustainable textiles, such as organic cotton, linen, Tencel, and cupro. Tracy Reese’s conventional designs have been worn by Sarah Jessica Parker, Meghan Markle, Oprah, and even the former First Lady Michelle Obama.
Based in London, Laura Theiss creates contemporary and timeless knitwear collections for women. The bold, yet feminine aesthetic at the core of the brand gives it a modern edge. Many of Laura Theiss’ dresses are made from 100% cotton.
Roopa’s pieces are designed in the US and ethically made by hand in Nepal. They use fabrics and colors that are inspired by culture and use traditional artisan handwork like patching, layering, and beading.
This online luxury boutique features fashion that has been made consciously, with traceable origins.
This is for my readers down under. Discover beautiful fashion by ethical and sustainable designers at this Australia-based store.
The emphasis at Accompany is on artisan fashion. But pack away your assumptions about what artisan fashion looks like, because the elegance in these dresses is stunning.
This respected designer has almost all of her collection manufactured in NYC with eco-friendly fabrics.
Irwin Garden is made by hand in New York using all natural and biodegradable materials supporting small businesses and like-minded manufacturers focused on keeping the spirit of American craftsmanship alive.
The sustainable section of Yoox, Yooxygen brings together upscale designer fashion with an eco-friendly element.
Titania designs seriously sexy and sustainable fashion with a dark twist. Perfect for a black tie wedding or gala.
This upscale boutique based out of the UK curates a selection of ladylike eco-fashion.
Buying secondhand is one of the most sustainable fashion decisions you can make. And this secondhand fashion site let’s you check boxes for the occasion, including “wedding guest” and “cocktail.” Perfect!
Renting your cocktail dress is also super sustainable, budget-friendly, and fun. I love this website more than Rent the Runway because you borrow from real women’s closets, so the options are really interesting and fashion-forward, instead of being cookie cutter and basic. And you can also sort by occasion.
I feel like this is enough to get you started. But if I’m missing any of your personal favorite places to get cute cocktail dresses, please let me know in the comments!