Weddings are exciting, emotional, beautiful—and fleeting. Yes, the love and relationship are here to stay, but almost all of the things that go into your big day are gone by the time the sun rises on your first morning as a married couple. And if you sit down and really think about it, putting so much time and money into a few wonderful hours can start to feel wasteful. The good news is, you’re not alone. There are incredible, talented, and creative women throughout the wedding industry who are making wedding day magic for all sorts of couples, but who are also driven by a higher purpose, namely a commitment to taking care of and improving the world around us. We sat down with a few of our favorites to give you a peek into what that means to them and their business, and how you can play a part, too.
What: Event Planning and Design
Where: Northeast Ohio
Melanie Tindell, founder of Oak + Honey, is an expert in sustainable event planning practices. “I was working as an interior designer and doing some non-profit event planning on the side. After doing the interiors for a hospital (read: a lot of white walls and gray floors), I realized I missed playing with color, and decided it was time to make the switch to events,” Tindell says. During her first few years as a wedding planner, she was shocked by how much waste she was seeing. “Couples were constantly buying things, from candle holders to linens, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was incredibly wasteful, not to mention harmful to the environment,” Tindell continues. So she started looking for ways to continue planning stunning celebrations but reducing the impact of each event.
Now, she starts every consultation with a checklist, helping her clients determine ways to reduce their impact—and even reduce their spending. “In addition to options like renting or re-selling decor items, we also encourage our couples to work with caterers who source their food locally and venues that recycle and compost. We also make conscious decisions about ways to cut down costs (and therefore reduce waste) by doing things like skipping the aisle runner or nixing favors,” says Tindell. “We also offer our clients ways to donate their flowers, and we’ll take them at the end of the event and repurpose them for nursing homes and hospice centers.”
Tindell and her team host a regular Recycled Wedding Boutique, where newlyweds can sell items they’ve purchased—from flatware and signage to accessories and wedding dresses!—to engaged couples, meaning the newlyweds get some of their money back, items stay out of landfills, and brides- and grooms-to-be can access gently used goods at a fraction of the price. Looking to reduce your own impact? For Tindell, the key is finding the right partners. “In addition to florists and caterers who source items locally, look for vendors who are good do-ers,” she says. “Partner with people who are giving back to their community, so the money you do spend is having a bigger and more positive impact.” If you want your vendors to partner with you in reducing their impact, do your research and present options. “It never hurts to ask if a vendor can source things locally or work with you to recycle bottles after your reception,” says Tindell. “The worst that can happen is that they say no, but if you present educated options, you might be surprised by their response.”
What: Online Registry for Charitable Donations
Where: Nation- and World-Wide
Destination event planner Beth Helmstetter had been volunteering with charitable organization for years, but it was her work as a wedding planner that really opened her eyes to the needs of people in rural and impoverished communities. “Many of my clients, who were married in places like Bali or Haiti, asked me how they could give back to the locals in those areas, which really crystallized the need for The Good Beginning, to bridge the gap between the $100 billion wedding market and organizations in need around the world,” Helmstetter explains. “My clients wanted a way to provide meaning in their new life together, and The Good Beginning was created to give couples an outlet to support a cause that is meaningful to them, and to start their marriage with the ritual of giving back.”
The Good Beginning functions like a traditional online registry platform, but instead of gifts, couples can ask their guests to make charitable contributions to organizations that support things like education, health care, human rights, and the arts. “Couples can also add organizations that provide meaning to their own lives, such as the local soup kitchen where they volunteer together or a childhood literacy program they participated in growing up,” Helmstetter continues. “We curated a list of about 100 organizations, each a registered 501(c)(3) in good standing, and rigorously vet every new addition to ensure these contributions are being used in the best possible way.”
A registry with The Good Beginning can support up to 5 charities, so once you and your partner have narrowed down the causes you love, your guests can make a donation that speaks to them, too. A month after your wedding (leaving time for any stragglers or guests who are inspired to give again), a check is mailed to each charity, and your positive impact begins. Says Helmstetter, “The prospect of building a life rooted in charity was one that I had hoped would inspire couples, and the response has been overwhelming.”
What: Floral Design
Where: Brooklyn, New York
Molly Oliver Culver, founder of Molly Oliver Flowers, has always been passionate about environmental conservation and social justice. She got involved in food justice organizing and sustainable agriculture, and ultimately built a sustainable business of her own. “Through my work and travels, I learned that environmental destruction (through deforestation, oil pipeline building, fracking, polluting waterways), was intrinsically linked to and stemmed from racism and classism in our society. Places and spaces inhabited by indigenous people or poor people (majority people of color) are being mined for profit both here in the US and abroad in South America and elsewhere. I wanted to join a movement to right these wrongs and create new systems for food growing, energy conservation, etc., and so I couldn't have developed a business without figuring out how to lessen my footprint and the collective impact we have on resources when we do events.”
Culver has worked tirelessly to build an alternative system in the event industry, encouraging New York City’s wholesalers to source more locally grown flowers (which in turn helps support smaller local farmers) and helping clients achieve their vision for their wedding day while reducing their waste. Says Culver, “Anything we can all do to reduce our use of non-renewable resources is important! If couples lead the way, asking the right questions of their vendors, vendors will hopefully find ways to become more eco-friendly. And more than that, if couples in the US lead the way—that contributes to reducing our country's footprint (the largest in the world).”
So what if you can’t work with Molly Oliver Flowers yourself? “Look for florists that prioritize local and seasonal sourcing, and research farmer-florists near your wedding venue,” she says. “You can work with a farmer to source stems for DIY florals, or might find a farmer who also offers event floral design. Either way, it’s a fantastic way to support farmers directly! When you support farmers directly, or with a florist that purchases from farms, you're helping to support the return of a local flower growing industry that can help support conservation and grow green jobs.”
But it’s not just weddings. Culver also works closely with The Youth Farm, an education-focused production farm in Brooklyn that offers New Yorkers opportunities to increase their knowledge of the food system and build high level organic growing skills to share with their communities. “We have educational programs designed for high school youth, as well as paid summer jobs. I co-facilitate the Farm Intensive Certificate program, a 7-month immersion program for adults who are thinking about becoming farmers,” Culver explains. “I also manage the farm’s flowers, where we grow 3,000 square feet of annual, biennial, and perennial flowers. We began the first NYC-grown flower CSA in 2011.” Culver believes in the transformative power of learning to grow your own food as a catalyst for personal growth and social change, going far beyond her mission to provide couples with locally grown and sustainably sourced flowers for their weddings.
What: Bridal Gowns
Where: Made in San Francisco, Available across the U.S. and Canada
Amy Kuschel is all about slow fashion, American craftsmanship, and sustainability. “Our bridal collection is designed and manufactured in-house in our San Francisco flagship. We’ve been in business for about 20 years, so we’ve earned a reputation as San Francisco’s go-to bridal design house,” says the house’s marketing specialist, Lauren Aranador. Every detail is mindfully made and sourced, giving you peace of mind as designers Amy and Rung oversee every step of the process. “Along with our passion for fashion, we work closely with the Edgewood Center for Children & Families in San Francisco. Our Gowns that Give campaign is designed to help the kids at Edgewood. We’re in awe of the program’s commitment to helping the most vulnerable children in our community, and we want our clients to be a part of it. When a bride brings in gifts or supplies for the kids, she receives $150 off her wedding gown purchase, and 1% of our profits are donated directly to the organization,” says Aranador. “To us, it's more than a pretty dress—it's ethics that match our aesthetics. And we think it's the perfect way to start a lifelong love affair: walking down the aisle in a dress that speaks to your style as well as your values. Our brides are supporting locally made design and the people making their dresses, while also giving back to those who need it most.”
What: Engagement Rings & Jewelry
Where: Brooklyn, New York
This Brooklyn-based studio is a women-run business that modern brides adore, and their mission is one that’s easy to get behind. The store’s eponymous line is hand-made in Brooklyn, using ethically sourced materials and conflict-free stones. The in-house studio employs 25 jewelers, and each full-time employee receives a 401K retirement plan with profit sharing, health benefits, and professional development stipends, all designed to support and revive local manufacturing and incredible art. “Our studio is our greatest asset. Our studio managers and bench jewelers keep everything running smoothly, so we in turn want to support them in ways that help develop their craft and create a kind, thoughtful, and collaborative culture,” says communications manager Sriya Karumanchi. “Sourcing metals and stones that adhere to high environmental and labor standards is a part of our ethos. We couldn’t call ourselves a purpose-driven brand without our jewelry and production being sound. We set these standards for ourselves, but our customer also holds us to it. We receive so much incredible feedback and curiosity from our customers about our studio and foundation. There are still challenges for our industry in traceability and sourcing but the stakeholders involved, including Catbird, are also growing more motivated to find the right solutions together.”
Speaking of the Catbird Foundation, the purpose-driven brand gives at least 1% of their annual sales to non-profit partners including Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, Citizens Climate Lobby, and Doctors Without Borders. “These organizations all support our mission of working toward greater equality,” Karumanchi explains. The brand’s Full Heart necklace is also on a mission. 20% of sales of the necklace go to Girl Up, a UN Foundation campaign helping underserved girls in hard to reach areas through education and healthcare initiatives—a donation of over $35,000 to date. Talk about women helping women! Says Karumanchi, “We launched our foundation about a year ago and have started some really meaningful partnerships through it. Last Mother’s Day, we created a necklace for The Adventure Project to raise funds for their community health promoter (CHP) program in Uganda and Kenya. The money was used to train women as CHPs so that they’re able to treat common illnesses and sell lifesaving products to their neighbors at affordable prices. Supporting other female entrepreneurs is an incredible position to be in—this was one of our favorite initiatives to date.”
In addition to setting high standards for their own designs, Catbird works closely with other fine jewelry designers who adhere to the same environmental and labor standards. “Our third party designers go through essentially the same vetting process as our suppliers. It’s a shared priority for all of us to meet the highest standards. It’s a work in progress, but we’ve just found a way to source our brilliant cut diamonds entirely from a recycled stone supply. We and our partners are constantly striving to be more sound in our sourcing,” says Karumanchi.