Whether in the world of bridal fashion or elsewhere, sustainability is a vast concept with many definitions of what it represents. With so many different meanings, it's sometimes up to the brand and consumer to decide what the word means for themselves.
What Is Sustainable Fashion?
Sustainable fashion refers to clothing and accessories that are designed, produced, and sold in an environmentally friendly, and eco-conscious way.
“In an environmental sense, [sustainability] means this earth can provide fresh air, water, and resources—and continuously do so forever, ” says Breanna Simmons, founder and creative director of Nordeen, an eco-conscious bridalwear brand. "It means society has fair and clean access to renewable resources in order to sustain life. Therefore, sustainable fashion would be clothing that is produced in a responsible way, that supports the earth to sustain itself, rather than harm it.”
To dig deeper into the topic, we spoke to several experts and designers and asked them to help shed light on sustainable bridalwear; they also offer advice on how to make eco-friendly fashion choices when it's time to say "I do."
Why Sustainable Fashion Is Important
Being eco-friendly is an important concept in every sector of life, including fashion. Sustainable fine jewelry designer Sandy Leong reveals that being environmentally-conscious is now more important than ever before. “The purchase decisions we make affect not only the lives of the people who create our beloved items, but also the future generations who inhabit our planet,” Leong says. “Future generations will be affected by our choices to buy into industries that promote mass production, so buying into the concept of slow fashion is so pertinent.”
Apart from the long-term environmental impact, there’s also a humanitarian value in shopping sustainably. Simmons believes that what you choose to wear (both at your wedding and in your everyday life) is holistically important. She explains, "I, personally, would want to ensure that what I wear on the most important and special day of my life, did not come at the expense of the environment or the people who made it."
What Sustainability Looks Like Today
Couples today are more interested in sustainability than ever before, and environmentally-conscious brands are constantly popping up. While sustainable fashion used to be focused on ready-to-wear, the wedding space has made it known that they are striving to be more eco-friendly, too; in turn, this has created new ways to attract couples into thinking "green" on their wedding days.
According to the Sustainable Wedding Alliance, “More designers than ever are choosing to work with sustainable fabrics and are advocating [for] slow fashion." They also reveal that companies are now offering eco-conscious options to help complete an entire bridal look, like creating vegan bridal shoes.
Transitional bridalwear has also become a trend, with brides opting for pieces that can be worn after the wedding, a stark contrast to the days when bridal gowns were only worn for one day. Daniela Karnuts, founder and creative director of Safiyaa (and designer to Meghan Markle, Michelle Obama, and Priyanka Chopra), realized the importance of sustainable fashion early in her career. “We create a lot of pieces for our bridal clients that can be re-worn," says Karnuts. "Especially separates like trousers, cocktail dresses, coats, and layering items such as boleros, which can be easily added and removed to change the look.”
Bridal and luxury womenswear designer Carmen Llaguno echoes the sentiment of the importance of investing in long-lasting, re-wearable pieces. “For brides, I would suggest planning beyond the celebration,” she shares. “It was truly important for us at the studio to create a dress that would live beyond that one special night—something classic and timeless that I could dress up or down accordingly, and I could keep in my closet for years to come.”
For Leong, sustainability means responsibly sourcing her pieces and running her company as a "humanitarian-centric business." She tells Brides, "I construct my pieces solely from 18k recycled gold. I source stones from responsible and purpose-driven companies like Gemfields. I use only conflict-free diamonds where the origins can be traced. I work with skilled artisans on the construction of my pieces, and I give back to the global community." Her eponymous label prides itself on being transparent with their consumers, and she believes "that is what brides should look for when they are sourcing items for their big day and beyond.”
It can be hard to track down the origins of an engagement ring after it's been purchased, though. Renna Brown-Taher, founder and creative director of Renna Jewels, has seen another sustainable practice brides are adopting when that's the case: repurposed bridal jewels. “Recently, we’ve had a number of commissions to repurpose jewels that have been passed down into more modern and wearable engagement ring designs," Brown-Taher says. "We are able to re-use the stones and recycle the gold for the new design. Not only is this a great sustainable practice, but it’s also a really thoughtful way to keep our loved ones close, while wearing jewels that represent our own personal style.”
How to Make Sustainable Bridal Fashion Choices
With all this information, you may be asking yourself "Where do I even start?" According to the Sustainable Wedding Alliance, there are two initial steps brides can take when searching for their wedding looks. First, look at the label. “There are many ethical certification [groups] that can help you to choose the right dress. Some of the most well-known include Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), Fair Wear Foundation (FWF), and the FAIRTRADE Cotton Program mark," says a representative from the Sustainable Wedding Alliance. Next, they recommend avoiding synthetic fabrics, fur, and leather and shopping for cleaner fabrics or those that are organic or recycled.
As for fine jewelry, Brown-Taher emphasizes the importance of investing in "pieces that utilize recycled gold and platinum." Buying pre-owned (vintage!), or having a bespoke piece repurposed are also great methods to keep in mind. Whatever route a bride decides to take, these small actions can environmentally help the world one step at a time.