Image credit: Roopa Pemmaraju
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It seems that all the weddings that were canceled over the past year are back on, albeit maybe a little smaller and with vaccination requirements. And what a wonderful way to get back into dressing up nicely! If you’re searching for a pretty dress to wear to an event this spring or summer, I have good news for you. Once upon a time, there were only cotton shifts available in the sustainable version. But now, you can find cocktail dresses from a dozen sustainable and artisan designers.
And in a happy side note, I also found some pretty dresses in extended sizing, and lots of models of color! We’re getting much more diversity than when I started doing editorial roundups just a few years ago. Things are looking up in more ways than one!
Pour yourself a glass of champagne. We’re going shopping.
Having had the opportunity and honor to visit the Bangalore atelier of New York-based Roopa Pemmaraju, I can say that you can’t get more ethical and gorgeous than this Indian-Western fusion designer. Her patterned pieces are made from sustainable materials like silk and recycled cotton, which are cultivated from traditional and natural farming techniques local farmers have been using for centuries. Roopa purposely avoids all synthetic materials, and she supports her artisans with long-term job security while preserving artisanal techniques like hand-weaving, block-printing, and hand embroidery. Along with eco-friendly techniques like digital printing, Roopa Pemmaraju’s collections meld the craftsmanship of India with timeless silhouettes and feminine details. You can also request bespoke tailoring for sizes above the ones listed on her site, and send back your dress for overdyeing or repair if you get any stains or tears. These are absolutely lifetime pieces that nobody else will be wearing.
Founded by an Argentinian woman, Amur’s name comes from the acronym, A Mindful Use of Resources. AMUR is a cruelty-free and fur-free brand that uses sustainable materials with vivid prints and sharp tailoring. In addition, the brand is on track to have its bad be 100% biodegradable by 2022. All of AMUR’s designs are created in NYC.
Started in 2000, Mara Hoffman didn’t start out as a sustainable brand but has since become a staple in the conscious consumer’s wardrobe. The brand prioritizes natural, recycled, and organic materials, including organic cotton and alpaca for their sweaters. Its garment workers are treated and paid fairly and it aims to minimize waste and energy usage throughout the entire supply chain.
Responsibly made in New Zealand, Maggie Marilyn creates feminine, luxury ready-to-wear and accessories. The brand publishes a Bi-annual sustainability report aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in which outlines the multiple sustainability strategies the brand has achieved or plans on improving. A recent report states that 100% of Maggie Marilyn’s “synthetic fibers are now from post-consumer waste” and that “100% of its virgin sourced fabrics are Oeko-Tex certified,” meaning they are free from harmful chemicals. Maggie Marilyn prides itself on being transparent and shares on its website details of all its makers, suppliers, and where possible, farmers.
St. Roche works directly with carefully selected manufacturing partners in India and Peru, who are committed to honest and ethical labor practices. It chooses 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.
Stella McCartney’s eponymous label designs ethical and high-end clothing, shoes, and accessories with a responsible, honest, and modern ethos. Its sustainable and cruelty-free designs lead the brand to pioneer new alternative materials, pushing towards circularity and sustainability. Stella McCartney measures and reports its direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions with an approved science-based target to reduce them. The brand offers dresses for all occasions, including everyday elegance to embellished evening dresses.
While on a research trip to India to understand how fair trade empowers craftswomen, Marissa Heyl was inspired to found Symbology. The brand partners with marginalized artisans in developing countries to create handcrafted pieces using traditional fabric techniques like block printing, tie-dye, and embroidery. It merges artisanal fabric techniques with fashion-forward designs, giving its customers a one-of-a-kind item. Most of its dresses are made from sustainable viscose, Modal, and cotton.
Designed in New York and made in Barcelona, Datura is a slow fashion brand designing timeless, effortless, and feminine styles out of natural fabrics. The brand was founded in 2012 with exclusive online-only distribution to not sacrifice quality over price point.
Christy Dawn’s designs are known for being made out of deadstock fabric that’s leftover from major fashion houses and would otherwise end up in a landfill. In partnership with Oshadi Collective, it recently introduced its Organic Cotton Collection. Each piece is made with organic cotton and colored using natural or organic dyes. In 2019, Christy Dawn also worked with Oshadi Collective to plant cotton seeds on a regenerative farm in Southern India, and starting May 11th, customers can check out how those seeds grew into a collection of dresses. All of Christy Dawn’s designs are ethically made in Los Angeles by a team of talented seamstresses who are paid a living wage and health benefits.
Gabriela Hearst launched her eponymous label, a luxury women’s and men’s ready-to-wear and accessories collection, in 2015. Each garment is constructed with conscientious materials, including silk, cashmere, linen, and wool from her family’s Uruguayan ranch. The brand uses biodegradable TIPA packaging and is committed to being plastic-free and investing in zero-waste stores.
UK-based, Guardi is a sustainable womenswear brand. All of its garments are made from either sustainable and recycled materials or rescued deadstock fabrics. The brand runs its own factory in Europe where all its employees are fairly paid and offered flexible hours. Guardi sources its materials exclusively from the UK and Europe and uses blends of silk, recycled polyester, and organic cotton. Each design is wrapped in organic tissue paper and all care labels are made from organic printed silk.
YOOXYGEN is a division within YOOX that is dedicated to featuring a curation of responsible fashion. It chooses its selection based on the brand’s transparency, and if its products are created while being mindful of the planet, people, and animals.
Titania Inglis designs sexy and sustainable fashion with a dark twist, making it perfect for a black-tie wedding or gala. Each garment is sewn in a small, family-owned factory in New York using high-quality, low-impact fabrics, including Japanese organic cotton, Italian vegetable-tanned leather, and dead stock wool from the local garment industry.
This respected designer has almost all of her collections manufactured in NYC with eco-friendly fabrics. Her designs are characterized by their timelessness, ease, and modern take on luxury. The company is owned and run by women, which the team continuously looks to develop special collaborations with women artisans around the world.
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.
After watching her Nigerian mother sew her clothes growing up and working for illustrious names like Betsy Johnson and stylist Andrea Lieberman of A.L.C., Autumn Adeigbo created her namesake label of joyful, vibrant styles. The made-to-order, global brand ethically sources its materials from all over the world, including Indian fabrics and West African beading, and has it sewn into its tailored silhouettes in New York City.
AGAATI creates one-of-a-kind, timeless, sustainable designer wear made from natural fiber like organic cotton, silk, wool, and hand weaved textiles. The brand approaches sustainability through many different areas, including the usage of deadstock fabric from bigger companies and zero toxic chemicals. AGAATI’s zesty dresses are made by artisans and a fair-waged, highly skilled tailoring team. And to celebrate handmade and elevate artisans’ visibility in the fashion ecosystem, the brand launched the Global Eco Artisan Awards, a global competition that promotes the best in eco-artisanal handcrafted textiles and accessories.
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.
Founded in 2013, Rêve En Vert is an online luxury boutique that focuses on high-end sustainable products. The site carries womenswear, accessories, and jewelry, along with organic homeware and beauty products. Rêve En Vert offers dresses for every occasion, and all have been made ethically and sustainably.
Founded in 2009, Rent The Runway is an online service that provides designer dress and accessory rentals for work, weekends, and events. It provides the flexibility of a one-time rental for four to eight days. Or, customers can access thousands of styles by paying a flat-fee membership. Rent The Runway’s monthly membership can be paused or canceled at any time.
Vestiaire Collective is an online marketplace where you can find pre-owned luxury and fashion items. Here, you will find more vintage luxury pieces, which are curated based on brand.
thredUP is the largest online consignment store. It checks its clothing for quality and functionality before shipping them to you. The site lets you check boxes for the occasion, including “wedding guest” and “cocktail.”