Image credit: Poémia
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You know that open mind you had when it came to finding love? And that checklist of attributes you hoped for in an ‘ideal’ mate? Well, don’t toss either approach, because sourcing the perfect eco-conscious wedding gown requires a good measure of both.
Turns out there may be some age-old fashion wisdom in that traditional Western wedding day adage, too: something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. Contemporary brides-to-be can certainly recognize the logic in incorporating a second-hand or vintage element in their big day ensemble. Maybe even a borrowed accoutrement or two. (Check out our edit of the most beautiful responsible fine jewelry brands for some azure sparkle.)
It’s when it comes to navigating the “new” that things can get tricky.
Allow us to open up our little biodegradable wedding planning books to let you in on the crème de la crème of ethical and eco-friendly wedding dress designers, all of which marry chic with sustainability.
Surely a match made in heaven.
Things To Look For in an Eco and Ethical Wedding Dress
Natural fibers: You’ll want to head off into the happily-ever-after sunset wearing renewable fibers that can be traced back to nature. Look out for pieces crafted from silk, linen, hemp, traceable cotton and even cashmere, wool, or leather—we see you, Gabriela Hearst!
Man-made cellulosic fibers: Consider man-made cellulosic fibers (MMCFs), but consider them wisely, as not all are created equal. The best right now are Lenzing’s Tencel lyocell and super silky Tencel Luxe, plus Tencel-blended Refibra and EcoVero viscose. Lenzing ranks only after Mumbai producer Aditya Birla in sustainable forestry non-profit Canopy’s most recent Hot Button ranking.
Another MMCF to look out for is cupro, especially Asahi Kasei’s Bemberg variety, which takes pre-consumer cotton linter, a waste product leftover from the ginning process, and turns it into a silky, stretchy, drapable and breathable semi-synthetic.
Upcycled or recycled fabrics: It has been suggested that around $120 billion worth of surplus textile stock is either incinerated, landfilled or left to lay dormant in stores every year, so extra props to the designers making use of vintage or deadstock fabrics. Good vibes all around if your dress’s lace, beading or anything else was once part of an older, more outdated wedding dress!
If upcycling isn’t possible, look out for recycled fibers, preferably those produced from post-consumer waste (learn about upcycling versus recycling and the difference between pre- and post-consumer waste here). Before investing in that recycled polyester or rPET gown, though, make sure to read about what it really means.
Bio-based or biodegradable embellishments: Don’t let those small, plastic, petroleum-derived sequins or polyester lace trims steal your sustainability shine. The polyvinyl chloride (PVC) component to conventional sequins, for example, can be highly toxic to both humans and the environment. So much so, Swiss luxury group Richemont (the owner of brands such as Chloé, Alaïa, and Delvaux) is on track to phase it out completely by December 2022.
Instead, look out for glass beading, along with natural-fiber embroidery, and lace and trimmings that can biodegrade. Buttons made from sustainable wood, freshwater pearls, corozo, coconut shell or any other kind of responsibly sourced shell are also preferable.
Low-waste design: Lean more towards brands that prioritize bespoke designs that minimize cutting and, therefore, wastage. If you don’t go custom-made, try to give your business to brands who opt for local, small-batch production and those who make to order.
Fair labor and transparency: Supply chain mapping is hugely important, as we’ve written about before, so don’t shy away from nosing into whether the brand behind the dress you’re crushing on has made its supply base public. Better yet, if it has spotlighted its artisan-makers and detailed its level of engagement with them. If in doubt, larger labels may have provided some of this information in the form of certifications such as Fairtrade or Nest.
Reuse or resale value: Envision how the dress you buy could be taken up, in, or otherwise restyled by your favorite local tailor. Ideally, you’ll love, wear and re-wear this renewed creation for years yet! It could even be dyed a fabulous new hue—just try to keep things as low-impact and non-toxic as you possibly can. However, if you’re simply not inspired to rejig your gown for new adventures, there are plenty of places to re-sell it online or locally, especially if it’s a classic.
So, without further ado, here are the bridalwear destinations we at EcoCult would recommend to our very best friends.
Kyiv-based brand Sleeper offers multi-purpose, handmade bridalwear that can be worn again long after the big day, as a twist on its core loungewear collection. Preferred materials, which shoppers can use to filter their online searches, currently include cotton, silk, rayon (including EcoVero), and recycled polyester. Fabric off-cuts and leftover materials are typically used by its seamstresses to teach Ukrainian children the craft of cutting and sewing textiles. With the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian conflict in mind, make sure to filter by “ready to ship” when you shop, so you can be certain your order will ship from the brand’s US warehouse, not Ukraine. Go ahead and be tempted by their super bridal-appropriate loungewear, too.
Headquartered in Los Angeles, Reformation is an expressly eco-aware ready-to-wear brand that also offers some more casual white dresses for a backyard or courthouse wedding. It specializes in creating limited editions in small batches from natural and MMCF fibers such as rayon, plus upcycled deadstock materials. The brand also claims that it only ever orders larger quantities if data shows its customer demands it. Although Reformation does own and operate a factory in its home city, only some of its pieces are manufactured here. The rest are made by partners in the United States and Turkey, as well as by those located across Asia and South America. In a nod to transparency, the company has listed its Tier 1 suppliers online.
Owned by Richemont and led creatively by Uruguayan designer Gabriela Hearst since late 2020, Parisian heritage house Chloé is currently undergoing a sustainably-minded rebranding under Hearst’s aegis. Find bridal-friendly dresses in white and beige tones, made from majority-natural fibers such as wool, cashmere (both virgin and recycled), silk, rayon, cotton and linen, plus leather.
NYC-based bridalwear specialist Poémia primarily uses organic cotton and cupro to realize its romantic and bohemian creations, designed to inspire your own kind of nature-friendly fairytale. Sourcing and making its cotton dresses at a Nest-affiliated facility in India, where the fiber is grown, also helps to limit its carbon footprint. The cupro Poémia uses is sourced from Japan, known for its high-quality fabrics, and is fashioned into garments in an AAPI woman-founded and operated factory close to the brand’s headquarters. Demonstrably conscious of its impact, the direct-to-consumer (DTC) brand introduced Ever After last year, a circularity-minded (and highly practical) alterations service and botanical redyeing package. Its non-toxic palette allows newlyweds to reimagine their gowns in either indigo, rose blush, or multicolor floral tones.
Northern California studio Wear Your Love, another DTC company, assembles all gowns by hand to each bride’s measurements (18 of them!), keeping waste to a minimum. Most dresses contain 30 to 50% organic cotton, with other favored fibers including silk, as well as soft-stretch French lace and English tulle fabrics.
DTC brand Pure Magnolia, based in North Vancouver, Canada says that every pattern piece for each dress it makes is both individually cut and sewn in-house, resulting in low-waste gowns that are custom-made for brides-to-be. The company avoids synthetic fibers, opts for recycled natural textiles where possible, and takes pride in knowing exactly where and how its fabrics, which include organic cotton and silk, are made.