In light of recent events, more and more Australians are wanting to make changes to lessen their environmental impact. Certainly in fashion sustainability and ethical production have been buzzwords over the last few years. But what really does it mean? And how can you make better choices when it comes to purchasing your wedding outfit or in general?
Let's be frank, the best way to be environmentally friendly in terms of your wedding outfit - or your wardrobe in general- is to wear something you already own, to purchase something vintage or second hand. Still White or The Barefaced Bride are great avenues to look into if this is something you wish to do. Alternatively you may consider hiring a dress for your wedding, or at least doing so for your engagement party or hen's night, if you are having one.
Of course many brides and grooms want to wear something new on their wedding day, which is completely understandable. After all, it is a pretty significant day and it's ok to want something new.
However, what can you do if you do wish to wear something that is a little better for the environment or is more ethical?
The first thing to consider when selecting your gown (from a sustainability stand point) is the fabric. Natural fibres such as organic hemp and organic linen are the best options. Organic or recycled cotton is also better than others, however cotton does require a lot of water to produce. Peace Silk or Soy Silk/Cashmere are better options than traditional silk. There are now also some manufactured eco friendly fabrics, such as Tencel, that are replacing the plastics such as polyester, nylon, acrylic and polyamide that we are all so familiar with. Viscose/Rayon, although made from wood pulp, requires a huge amount of chemicals to manufacture, thus making it a poor choice in terms of environmental impact. Nylon and polyester, as well as the other plastics are known to leak microplastics into waterways which are destroying marine life - and are best to be avoided all together. These two materials have the worst environmental impact of all. Unfortunately bamboo, whilst it has the reputation for being environmentally friendly requires harsh chemical processes to turn into fabric - so is very rarely a more eco-friendly option.
Of course while fabrics themselves may be sustainable, manufacturing may not be ethical - so it is important to buy from designers and brands that are transparent about where and how their pieces are made. Therefore, you may need to ask questions if wanting to purchase something genuinely sustainable and ethical. According to the ACCC , “For a practice to be sustainable, it must be able to be sustained indefinitely”. Therefore the environmental impact of all stages of the product’s lifecycle from raw materials and emissions and/or pollution caused during production to disposal and recyclability have to be assessed. In light of this, it is fair to say most clothing lines are not 100% percent sustainable.
Of course this doesn't mean that you should give up all together. Every small change is still a change - so whilst you may not opt for a linen wedding gown, you may chose to purchase something that you will continue to wear and love beyond your wedding day and that has been ethically produced in Australia. If you don't wish to wear your outfit again, there is always the option to sell it to a bride who would love to wear it again, alter it into something you will wear again, or to donate it to a charity such as Angel Gowns Australia.
Some brands that are pioneers in sustainable fashion are Kitx, The Social Outfit and Good Studios - as well Arnsdorf and Ginger & Smart. They sell affordable anti-bride friendly gown options or are certainly worth a visit if you are choosing to purchase new gowns for your bridesmaids.
Many Bridal designers are certainly also doing their part to improve practises and of course there are many labels that are ethically made in Australia. If you are unsure where your gown is made, or what material it is made from, make sure to ask the designer or boutique owner. Most designers are transparent about their fabrics and practises and are more than happy to answer questions about manufacturing. We will also be putting together a list of ethically made designers shortly.
Whilst there is is certainly some confusion in the fashion and bridal industry around what sustainability actually means - to quote Kit Willow - We’re better off if millions of people and businesses do “sustainability” imperfectly, than if only a handful do it perfectly. (Read her whole interview with Vogue here.)