Image credit: Silviyana
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When I set out to find myself the perfect, sustainable and ethically made wedding dress, I thought it was just about finding an eco-friendly wedding dress designer I liked and picking out a favorite.
It was not that simple. Yes, there are several designers proudly proclaiming their eco-friendly bonafides. But there aren’t quite enough to fulfill the various styles and dreams of every conscious bride. In other words, just because I have the heart of a flower child—with my love of local, organic food and natural fibers—doesn’t necessarily mean I want to look like a flower child on my wedding day.
I’m not alone, here. I recently got an email from a reader who says she’s also a little frustrated with her options. She’s looking for something affordable, sustainable, and pretty.
Well, you just have to get a little creative! And I’m not talking about DIYing your dress out of used plastic bags. I’m saying that you just need to define what sustainability means to you, and search for a dress that fits within those parameters.
I myself went through this entire process. I held my nose and walked around a wedding dress trade show, asking bewildered designers nitpicky questions about their lace sourcing. I visited three different bridal boutiques with my mother, sister, and bridesmaid, asking a lot of nitpicky questions about how those gold sequins got there. I went into the belly of the beast, an uptown bridal salon with a dressing room the size of my bedroom and free champagne (I barely made it out of there alive).
In the end, I settled on a bespoke hemp/silk dress from a sustainable Venezuelan designer, a nod to the fact that my husband is Venezuelan. She had several white dresses in her latest collection, but she’s not expressly a wedding dress designer. Once I thought out of the box, my options opened up wide.
So let me walk you through all your options and avenues for finding the perfect eco-friendly dress that fits both your personal style and values.
1. Define what you want.
There’s a saying: You can have it two of three ways—fast, cheap, good. But when it comes to wedding dresses, you can have it three of four ways—sustainable, traditional, new, affordable—but not all four. That’s because real silk sewn and embellished by fairly paid workers is more expensive than polyester and beading done by child labor. Traditional dresses, with their layers upon layers and embellishment, are more expensive than simple, modern gowns. (And require a visit to the salon to try them on, rather than just buying one online!) And of course, new dresses are more expensive than used ones. So if you want a new, traditional, sustainable dress, be prepared to pay. However, if you are open to a modern gown, or a vintage or used gown, then you’ve got more to work with. For more on this, I suggest you read my story at Refinery29 on why wedding dresses cost what they do. One more thing: if you’re vegan, you might want to think about getting a cotton voile gown, because many vegan gowns are polyester. Things to think about!
2. Buy direct from a sustainable bridal designer.
The most obvious choice, so let’s start here and see if you can find a dress that speaks to you that is sustainable through and through. The laws of direct-to-consumer apply in the wedding field, too. So if you can find a bridal gown company that does not wholesale to boutiques, you’re likely getting a great deal. The drawback is that if they don’t sell to boutiques, you might have to visit their store in whatever city it’s in or ask to have them ship samples to you to try on. In other words, the process won’t be quite as Say Yes to the Dress. You could also look through Etsy for handmade and vintage dresses, though that can be a bit of a Wild West.
Here are some eco-friendly designers that I recommend:
Each Pure Magnolia dress, top, or skirt is made of European lace, Indian silk, organic cotton, vintage or recycled fabrics.
All of WearYourLove‘s gowns are created by hand from start to finish in its Northern California studio.
Silviyana is a collective of independent designers from Canada, the United States, and the Philippines creating masterpieces in sustainable bridalwear. It prides itself on telling stories through its wedding dresses, with each piece aiming to preserve heritage. The brand incorporates pineapple leaves in its designs and each strand of fiber used for the collection is scraped and knotted by hand, washed in nearby rivers, and hung to dry in the sun. Silviyana ensures the beading artisans and embroiderers are given an ethical wage. It also works directly with sister company, Grovea Networks which employs pineapple farmers, scrapers, knotters, weavers, ensuring there is accountability and transparency along the supply chain. In many cases, the bridal collections help sustain an embroidery technique that is on the brink of extinction. Silviyana has a selection of ready-to-wear styles for brides and can also create fully customizable gowns.
Leila Hafzi‘s mission is to empower women and establish environmentally friendly production in a developing country.
Rita Colson is a London-based fashion designer of contemporary dresses using vintage lace and silk.
The dresses from Odylyne the Ceremony are made to order in California using lace, silk, and cotton.
Katherine Feiel collects vintage fabrics, such as beaded silks and wools, tapestries, handmade laces, and vintage wedding gowns to create bespoke new pieces.
Indiebride London makes all of its dresses in-house from the first cut to the last finishings.
Tara Lynn Bridal custom makes one-of-a-kind wedding gowns from natural, organic, and re-purposed fibers.
Anita Dongre seeks to preserve the rich craft heritage of India while also empowering rural artisans, especially women.
3. Go to a conventional salon and request eco-friendly gowns.
I checked out a few salons in New York City like Schone Bride and there were plenty of options for me! Just don’t expect them to know what you are talking about when you say, “eco-friendly.” Tell them specifically what you want. I was clear with the sales associate that I only wanted to see gowns with no polyester, that were made either in the U.S., Canada, Europe, or Australia – countries with strong labor protections. Some gowns had a polyester lining, which I briefly considered letting through, before deciding against it. It’s really up to you what you’re comfortable with! I also tried on a gorgeous gown that was real silk, and had a sort of gold sequin ombré skirt. But they couldn’t tell me where the sequins had been sewn on – the fabric had been bought like that by the designer, so I turned it down. Ask where the lace and silk were made, too.
Here are some ethical wedding gown designers that are sold in wedding boutiques:
Loulette Bride – Made New York City from natural materials such as silk and antique lace and netting.
Rembo Styling – Made of silk and French Chantilly lace in a Portugal facility with lots of natural light and a garden to work in.
Paloma Blanca – Made in Canada of Japanese crepe, ribbons, tulle, plus French Lace and Indian silk.
Lea Ann Belter – Made in Toronto with vegetable-dyed silks from a family-owned mill in India. Also donates scraps rather than trashing them.
Edith Élan – Made in Chicago of Californian and European textiles. The brand is size-inclusive with bridalwear ranging from sizes 2-30.
Jesus Peiro – Made in Italy of French and Italian fabric — some are made from recovered or recycled yarn.
4. Buy a white dress from a sustainable designer or label.
Who says it has to have the word “wedding” in front of it? High-end designers offer white gowns that (for wedding dresses), are reasonably priced.
VOZ uses sustainable fibers and processes to create its elegantly cut and free-spirited apparel and accessories collections. The company collaborates with politically and economically marginalized women to create fashion collections and provide design leadership, training, and opportunity for indigenous women in the rural regions where they reside.
Cleobella manufactures in Bali and India, maintaining over a decade of personal relationships with factory owners, artisans, and supply chains.
Symbology partners with marginalized artisans in developing countries to create handcrafted pieces using traditional fabric techniques like block printing, tie-dye, and embroidery.
5. Rent a dress and accessories.
Renting or buying used is always a great fallback eco-friendly option because instead of new resources being used for your dress, you’re basically recycling it, even if the dress itself isn’t sustainably made. Rent the Runway has white lace party dresses, plus modern, full-length gowns for rental prices ranging from $30 to $295 – perfect for the courthouse or party celebrating your elopement. Heck, some of the gowns would be great in a full-on wedding, too! You can also rent your accessories from Adorn.
I think that about covers it! Let me know how your wedding dress shopping experience has been in the comments.