Whether in bridal or elsewhere, sustainability is a vast concept with many definitions for what it represents. With so many approaches, it's sometimes up to the brand and consumer to understand 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.”
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.
We spoke to several experts and designers to help shed light on sustainable bridalwear—and offer advice on how to make eco-friendly fashion choices for 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, but it’s definitely significant when it comes to fashion. Sustainable fine jewelry designer, Sandy Leong, reveals that being environmentally conscious is more important now 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 (at your wedding or every day) 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
Thankfully, bides today are more interested in sustainability than ever before, and environmentally conscious brands are increasingly popping up. While sustainable fashion used to be focused on ready-to-wear, the bridal space has made it known that they are striving to be more eco-friendly too—creating new ways to attract brides into thinking "green."
According to the Sustainable Wedding Alliance, “More designers than ever are choosing to work with sustainable fabrics, and are advocating 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 (which falls into the sustainable category), with brides opting for bridal pieces that can be worn after the wedding—compared 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 investing in long-lasting, re-wearable pieces. “For brides, I would suggest planning beyond the celebration,” she says. “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 in her area of expertise means responsibility 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 believe "that is what brides should look for when they are sourcing items for their big day, and beyond.”
But, for some brides, it may be hard to track down the origins of an engagement ring if already engaged. Renna Brown-Taher, founder and creative director of Renna Jewels, has seen another sustainable practice brides are adopting if that's the case. The trend being 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: 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, and fabrics 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.