With the increasing awareness of sustainability, how is the bridalwear industry implementing this into their practices?
This industry report covers what is currently being done so far within the bridal wear industry to make it a sustainable sector, as well as exploring ways in which it can be improved. With sustainability being at the forefront of people’s minds throughout the fashion industry, there is currently minimal research for the bridal industry, where the whole idea is an outfit designed to be worn on one occasion and then never worn again. One of the key theories utilised is the use of fabric, when using a more environmentally friendly fabric the final outcome automatically becomes more sustainable, other suggestions include the wedding dress rental, but this is addressed in a way that shows that it might not be the best option. It questions whether sustainability is a growing market within the bridalwear industry like the rest of the fashion industry. Examples will feature from IndieBride London who focus entirely on creating sustainable pieces that are made to order to reduce waste and that are made from environmentally friendly fabrics and are all made in London to reduce carbon emissions (IndieBride London, 2019). Primary research was conducted through a questionnaire sent to local bridal retailers to identify whether there is a growing market, if a market at all for sustainable bridalwear. The report concludes that over recent years there has been a growing demand for sustainable bridal wear with many designers choosing this to be a key focus throughout their brands but for the moment it is still lagging behind the rest of the fashion market.
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This industry report will explore the ways in which the bridal wear market is trying to combat the sustainability crisis that has taken over the rest fashion industry, discovering whether the market is being left behind by the rest of the fashion industry or whether it is coming out on top at the moment, when it comes to sustainable fashion, and researching how some companies are trying to improve this, exploring the different materials being created, construction methods and why consumers think that buying a dress designed for one occasion is a good idea. Throughout history a women’s wedding dress has been their pride and joy, a new outfit for them on their special day, but has society reached a point where the gown itself is now contradicting everything that people are fighting for. With high streets lined in bridal shops is there enough done to encourage sustainable options, are people aware of what is available to them and how to go about purchasing a sustainable choice. With the current environmental issues that people are protesting about, are they then thinking about how their weddings are also adding to these issues. Consumers are opting for a more sustainable way of life from cutting out plastic to thinking more about where their produce is coming from, but this ideology is dismissed when it comes to bridal wear. With the increase in popularity for a vegan diet, the increase for a more sustainable way of life has also come to light Ehrenfeld states that “In defining sustainability as the possibility that humans and other life will flourish on the planet forever” (Ehrenfeld, J. 2008, CH.5) this suggests that a sustainable way of life is when humans and other species thrive together creating an ideal world, reducing the amount of waste produced and using animal friendly fabrics are some of the ways in which this can be achieved. With the interest of sustainability currently at the front of most designers minds, this should be helping to create a more environmentally friendly world, one in which man and animal can live together as one, proving Ehrenfeld’s statement to be achievable and attainable, which will continue to be discussed throughout this industry report.
Chapter 1- Solutions
Garment production has a substantial impact on the environment, but it also has a big impact on the people making them. Helbig (2018) describes “workers in developing nations often paid a pittance to labour” it’s shocking that for people to have the clothes they want when they want them, it comes at a greater cost for mankind, just for people to have access to fast fashion cheaply. The production of garments should not have a negative impact on people’s lives, but this is the way the industry is currently working. The faster the consumer wants the product the quicker the product has to be produced, which brings down the cost as not much detail is taken into account, but this shouldn’t be the case. The production of bespoke bridal doesn’t have the same effect due to the nature of making one off pieces, whereas when mass market brands that have started to sell bridal wear, which are made in the same way as most fast fashion, quickly and cheaply. This is bringing a negative light to the industry as much as it is making it more affordable and accessible is this worth the damage to the environment and the people in it.
Hand construction of garments gives a more bespoke finish, “using timeless style in hand-crafted production adds longevity in terms of its product life-cycle and its usually biodegradable too” (pg.156 Melanie Plank, 2011) this helps prove that there are more sustainable and ecologically better ways for garment production, many that prove the old techniques are the best techniques, years ago everything would have been hand sewn but with the growing demand to have everything now has stopped these techniques and saved them for some luxury goods, but not all. The time it takes does help the price tag rocket high, but it is a much more sustainable practice as no heavy machinery is used throughout the production, which is a big help the environmental crisis effecting the fashion industry today. The process of hand sewing is a more time consuming process, meaning less is made, the haute couture market features a lot of hand sewing most of the time in the finishes which helps to increase the price of the garment, due to the amount of man hours needed to complete the tasks, but also makes it more sustainable. Bespoke bridalwear is often finished by hand to make it that extra bit special for the bride’s big day, but these small details are helping to make the bridal avenue a more sustainable sector of the fashion industry.
The bridal wear industry is a very big market, with lots of different avenues for the consumer to buy their dream outfit. Figure 1 shows that consumers are more likely to go to a specialist designer rather than a high street, this suggests that people are subconsciously thinking about the environment as most specialist bridalwear designers focus on creating made to order, one off pieces, this helps to reduce waste as they aren’t creating for a market that is not there, they are just manufacturing for the market that is. This allows designers within the industry to be able to make environmentally friendly decisions throughout their work. The fact that 79% of people surveyed bought from a specialist show just how popular of an avenue this is. Knowing there is a market for this shows that there is a better chance for designers to focus on sustainable practice, most importantly minimalizing waste, the reduction in waste will help to reduce the amount that ends up in landfill, which is a win, win for the designer and the consumer, the bride gets an outfit that is sustainably produced and that is her dress, not one that has been mass produced, and the designer gets to know that they have done their bit for the environment.
Fabric productions is a massive concern to environmentalists who are analysing the industry and pushing scrutiny towards manufacturers to try and reduce emissions as “Textile Production creates an estimated 1.2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent a year, more than the emissions from international flights and marine shipping combined” (Kent, 2019) These statistics raise the issue of the quantity of fabrics actually needed, currently there is too much waste occurring which would suggest that actually the industry has enough materials at the moment and instead designers should be focused on reusing and recycling to help create more environmentally friendly designs, which will in turn make the industry much more sustainable, a sustainable practice that would be here to stay. For many the idea that the production is producing more carbon dioxide than flights and marine shipping is shocking, far too much is being produced to help the fast fashion market, which is continually growing, but when it comes to the bespoke market, the amount that is being produced is far too much especially when the statistics of emissions is extremely high like it is at this time. The current state of the fashion industry environmentally speaking is very poor, everything is produced to cater for the fast fashion markets needs, trying to keep up with brands releasing new collections every few weeks, but not all sectors need this, reducing the amount of fabrics produced for certain areas of the industry will help to bring the overall level of sustainable practice up and will also encourage designers to look for different materials elsewhere either reusing or recycling or using fabrics that are made from natural materials.
The wedding dress is often only worn once and then sits in its packaging, most wedding dresses aren’t made with the intention of it being able to be worn again like it used to be, a “popular option in the early 30s was a silk crepe or chiffon floral tea dress that could be worn any day after the wedding” (Vintage Dancer, 2019) showing that during the 1930s clothes had more than one purpose and though a new dress was bought for the wedding it was then worn a lot after, making it a dress with more than one use compared to the dresses designed today. But there are other options than just having it packed away, many choose to keep it as an heirloom to pass on to future generations or have it made into another garment for a child or grandchild’s’ christening. But if this isn’t the option chosen there are still plenty of others including donating or selling. “By donating, selling or purchasing your wedding dress from us, our customers and supporters have the ability to impact the lives of other girls in need” (Brides Do Good, 2019) shows that there is a better alternative than letting the dress catch dust, one which helps others. There initiative provides funds from each dress sold to be sent to help charities that are helping girls at risk of being married very young, to be safe and have a future worth living. Although a lot of brides are not that willing to buy a pre-loved outfit for their wedding day, the idea of it helping others should help to see an increase in sales. Buying a pre-loved second-hand outfit helps create a more sustainable practice as less garments are being made for one occasion, then either thrown away or put in a box, each small step is a step in the right direction, it is just an added bonus that Brides Do Good are helping the girls of the world with each purchase.
Nowadays there is such a wide range of fabrics and new ones are emerging all the time, people are finding new ways to create fabrics that are less harmful to the environment or are made from waste, reusing what is no longer needed to make something that is needed. Figure 2 explores how different companies interviewed by McGregor for Drapers (2019) are trying to combat the sustainability issues facing the fashion industry. It is interesting to see that 18.1% are turning their focus to sustainable fabrics and fibres, this is a vital part to fixing the sustainability problem. With so many different options available now including fabrics made from orange fibre. Qmonos is a new synthetic silk made from microbes and spider silk genes “No spiders are farmed or harmed in the manufacturing process, making Qmonos a more sustainable and ethical alternative to silk and nylon” (Rauturier, 2019) The development of materials like this is having a positive impact on the world. A lot of these new materials created are able to be used within the bridal industry, at the moment a lot of these fabrics are not readily available but with a growing demand it will not be long until they are, meaning consumers will be able to make more sustainable choices a lot easier.
Currently there is a big push for recycling and reusing in everyday life, this is the case for the fashion industry as well Figure 2 shows that 25.2% of companies are focusing on re-using and recycling, as well as having a take back scheme, a big company doing this is H&M, their recycling scheme is a good way to make sure that the items of clothes that consumers are trying to dispose of stays out of landfill. With “an estimated £140 million worth of clothes that goes into landfill each year (WRAP,2019) this is a shocking statistic as it shows just how much the united kingdom throws away, with the introduction of take-back schemes this level of waste is slowly being lowered allowing a much more sustainable practice to take place. The clothing is recycled responsibly and is used to create recycled fabric, the most common is recycled polyester fabric, this can then be used to make new clothes, helping the environment in a new way. Creating a new fabric out of old garments allows new fabric to be produced but not using new materials, instead reusing people’s aged clothes that would most likely end in landfill. Fabrics like recycled polyester can now be used and are being used in bridal wear, showing that the industry is heading in the right direction to having a more environmentally friendly practice.
Buying a wedding dress can be and usually is really expensive, nowadays its becoming more and more popular to hire the wedding outfit “At Vonlee Bridal Hire not only is the wedding dress itself for hire but an all-inclusive package which includes the hire of a wedding veil, tiara, underskirt and even jewellery if required, at no extra charge” (Vonlee Bridal Hire, 2019) Hiring a wedding dress often is the cheapest solution especially when it comes with all of the add on options included. The day is an already expensive one so it helps when small things that can come at a big cost are given as part of the hiring package. When the bride is buying her wedding outfit a lot more is needed to be bought not just the dress, the idea that Vonlee Bridal provide these things at no extra cost helps to make the process as seamless as possible. Having all extras included helps to make the process a lot more sustainable, the bride is not buying anything new, instead the options are being reused to be able to make the most out of each thing. Veils are another common traditional accessory that has been used throughout time, but it is also an item that only gets worn once and it is very rare to find another day that they can be worn, making it possible to hire these allows for them to have more use and not just be packed away after the big day.
Although wedding dress rental seems like the easiest alternative for a more sustainable option, it does come with its own draw backs, “Even if you do find a gown you like, it may not be in your size and you’re usually not able to make alterations, so it fits you like a glove” (Hoffower, Kellogg, 2019) suggests that when the consumer is shopping for her dream dress the fit is one of the most important factors, but when it comes to hiring they cannot always be that picky, it is more of a get what there is. The limitations within the rental of bridal wear can and should be a massive consideration, if the customer cannot get the dress that they desperately want altered they are then left without a dress. The consumer does not get the biggest selection when it comes to hiring it all depends what the supplier has in their size, this can make it very difficult and not the most enjoyable experience of shopping for a dress. Once the bride has found a dress it is not all easy from there, when it is their own dress that they have bought whatever happens to the dress that day happens to the dress, however when it has been rented there is a certain level of stress for the bride on the day as they “responsible for the cost of the dress if there’s any significant damage” (Hoffower, Kellogg, 2019) showing that if there is damage to the dress the bride may be required to pay for the dress which in the end can make it a lot more expensive than if they went and bought a brand new or even a second hand dress.
Chapter 2 industry efforts
Many high street chains have been struggling in recent years due to the increase in online sales and the lack of consumers, so they have tried to make their way into other sectors of the fashion market including the bridalwear market, however many have struggled and have had to stop, J.Crew Clothing have decided to “focus on what women like to wear to someone else’s wedding, versus what they would wear to their own” (Rupp,2018) going back to their old ways proving just how tough the market really is. The Bridal market is currently coming under a lot of pressure, especially as “Millennials get married in fewer numbers and later in life than previous generations” (Fromm, 2018). Making the market a lot harder with less consumers happy to buy, sadly this is having a detrimental effect to brands “David’s Bridal Inc., a chain that sells gowns and accessories, also has struggled- another sign of how perilous the market has become.” (Vasquez, 2018) with the decrease in consumers who are actually getting married, the brands are having to fight harder and harder for a reason to gain consumers. Although many companies are struggling at the moment within or outside of the wedding industry, it is looking like things are looking up, “Through the next 5-year period ending in 2023, the wedding dress industry is expected to see an average annual growth rate of 6%” (Gaille, 2018) with the industry increasing each year, this should also see an increase in the number of sustainable companies entering the scene. The industry growth shows how popular the market is becoming which would explain why so many companies are struggling under the pressures that the market brings.
Rainbow Shoes are another company who are trying to do their best efforts for the environment. The Brides wedding shoes are another fundamental component to the outfit, but once the day is over there is often no need for them as they are too special and usually white, however this doesn’t have to be the case. “Customise your wedding shoes for free with Rainbow Club” (Rainbow Shoes, 2019) they have created an initiative to stop shoes only being worn once, the shoes bought from them for the big day can be sent back to be recoloured and then sent back for free. This is giving shoes a new lease of life and helping to give them more uses, subsequently these shoes are having more than one use and are not being thrown away or put in storage, this is a more sustainable practice as nothing Is being bought for just one occasion it is having a lasting impact on the environment but also the wardrobe, helping people to save money as well. From a space point of view, the minimalist way of life is coming into practice, having a pair of wedding shoes sat around becomes a waste of space so if they can be turned into something more wearable it will help the industry to show that it is moving in the right direction.
Indiebride London is a new sustainable and ethical bridal design company in London formed of Minna and Indiebride, the joining of these two brands has brought a vintage and bohemian aesthetic together whilst being completely sustainable. “ The most important dress of your life can be made respecting the environment and people on it” (IndieBride London, 2019) this shows that there is an awareness surrounding the importance of the brides wedding gown but that they are also aware of the impact that the outfit is causing. All the dresses are hand made in London and all adjustments made are done so on site, making the brand have a much lower carbon emission. They also know where all their fabrics come from and how they are produced helping them to overcome the ethical battles that the fashion industry face daily. Indiebride London are just one bridal design company who are turning their attention to the growing issues regarding sustainability especially within the wedding industry. Figure 3 shows the IndieBride London showroom, great care and consideration has been taken to the space to make sure that it matches the aesthetic of the brand.
According to hitched magazine, who surveyed 2800 couples, found that when paying for the wedding on average £1313 is spent on the brides’ outfit (Hitched, 2019) this shows just how important the dress is to the bride and just how willing to spend they are. But does this have to come at such a cost to the environment. With brides happy to spend big for their wedding, this raises the point of why producers are not trying to find more alternatives to the fabrics and constructions methods of their garments to help the environment, as the client is still going to spend regardless as they want an outfit for their wedding day. When it comes to the bride’s outfit designers should be thinking more about how they can be producing it with the most sustainable practice, they already have their consumer, which is one less thing to worry about. People are becoming more conscious about what they are doing focusing in on their spending habits and whether they are the most environmentally friendly purchases, this doesn’t change when it comes to buying a wedding dress, in fact brides are becoming more aware of what they are buying, researching how to make more green choices.
Many people nowadays are trying their best to be as sustainable as they can, with an increase in purchases from second hand shops and websites, this isn’t just in normal every day clothes but “There has been a 93% increase in views of pre-owned wedding dresses” (Lyst,2019) as well, this suggests that as well as saving money brides are becoming more conscious of their purchasing habits in relation to the environment. This huge percentage increase shows that even though the consumer might not have gone through with each and every purchase there has been a change to the stigma, especially with the wedding dress. One that will most likely just sit in the wardrobe for years to come. With an increase in views it is becoming a popular option, taking the name of pre-loved shopping, continuing the love of the garment helps environmentally conscious people to go through with the purchase. There are lots of benefits to buying pre-loved including cost, the consumer can often find very expensive designer gowns for a fraction of the price, which is very helpful for the bride who is focusing on trying to keep her wedding as budget friendly as possible, and it comes with the added bonus of being worn again, giving the gown a new lease of life. Due to the increase in pre-loved sales the industry is able to focus in on this sustainable practice, helping to make sure that this number continues to rise, keeping old clothing out of landfill instead giving it a new loving home where it can be treasured.
Lots of bridal companies all around the world are exploring different ways to create designs that are environmentally friendly and sustainable. Figure 3 is an example of one of these companies, Lost in Paris is an Australian brand that has a unique design handle, with a clear message “It’s not about us. It’s about the lace. Unearthed from antique markets in Paris, each piece has its own story to tell” (Lost in Paris, 2019) they collect lace from Paris and then make it into a one-off design that are filled with history and travel. Although this might not seem like the most sustainable option with the flights to and from Australia to Paris, the use of antique lace becomes a more environmentally friendly solution, not producing new fabrics but instead recycling vintage fabrics allow for a more carbon neutral way of garment production. A lot of bride’s look for dresses with a vintage feel, with Lost in Paris using recycled antique lace they are getting this as well as helping the environment. Finding solutions to the sustainability crisis that also work with the consumers wants and needs help to maintain a productive practice combating these issues.
Lenka Couture is another Australian sustainable bridal design company, “I Believe in embracing individuality and creating conscious beauty that inspires positive change for people and the planet” (Lenka Couture, 2016) this shows that new designers who are entering the market are trying to make a change from the beginning of their careers, as well as helping the planet they are also trying to help the people on the planet to. Events especially weddings have such a clear focus on the brides outfit, there is lots of talk about what the bride is going to be wearing, “using recycled, vintage, sustainably sourced and only natural materials, Lenka’s mandate is sustainability and she aims for zero waste with every creation, leaving the environment as unharmed as possible” (Preston, 2018) this shows different ways in which she can make her designs sustainable, making sure that there are lots of different avenues of ways to do this helps to make it an achievable practice as there will never be an end to the amount of resources available. Working with a zero-waste goal helps to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill, each designer that is making this a goal is helping the bridalwear industry to have a more sustainable practice for garment production. Not stopping production but instead working with vintage and or recycled materials encourages the routine of having minimal waste helping the environment one garment at a time.
When interviewing Anna Hare, Owner of Pure Bridal it was clear to see that she had been doing a lot of research herself to find out how the industry can be made sustainable “We need to look at producing more gowns in the UK again and using recycled fabrics or carbon neutral processes wherever possible” (Hare, 2019) Most things are made outside of the UK which then comes with the added cost of transportation, bringing production back to the United Kingdom would make it a much more sustainable practice as well as bringing more jobs, which should help to reduce unemployment rates. UK manufacture has a good reputation for being well made and of excellent quality, bringing this to the bridal industry then allows the title of being British, something that stands the test of time. According to Hare (2019) “Brides mindsets would need to change significantly in order for it ever to be realistically viable” this suggests that at the moment the problem isn’t just with the manufacturers and the suppliers but actually with the consumers as well, making sustainable options more readily available will increase the consumers interest allowing a future of sustainable bridal wear. Currently Sustainable fabrics and eco-friendly options come at a greater cost but with more of an interest in these solutions prices will begin to fall due to an increase in demand. This shows a positive sustainable future for the bridal industry is on the horizon as long as the clientele change their mindset but with the right advice and choice this is extremely possible.
Within the Bridal Industry there are many brands who are trying to break the mould of what has come before and there are many who are trying to give a more positive impact to the environment, things are beginning to go in the right direction and hopefully it will continue to improve as time goes by. Overall plenty of consumers are beginning to understand how their purchases are affecting the environment and over time this will only improve. I hope to have raised some awareness to this topic through surveys that make consumers think. In conclusion, it was clear to see that a lot still needs to be done get where the industry needs to be if it is going to compete with the rest of the fashion industry. The first thing that needs to change is the bride and her mindset (Hare, 2019) once brides start a demand of sustainable options more will be done to accommodate this request, nothing happens without the cliental. Many Companies are beginning to think of ways to create a more environmentally conscious way of design, but it was interesting to see that a lot of these companies were based in Australia (Lost in Paris, 2019) (Lenka Couture, 2016) for this to be a viable future more will have to be done around the world, although there are a few in other countries and many more coming to the scene at the moment Australia is ahead compared to the rest of the world at the moment. In conclusion the way the industry is at the moment is showing clear signs of improvement and that it is beginning to research (Hare, 2019) new alternative solutions to help improve the sustainability rates. Researching the industry at this present time and the way that it is currently running, it is clear to see that there is a long way to go before the industry can be classed as environmentally friendly, it is definitely not the most impactful sector of the fashion industry. The bridal wear sector stands alone from the rest of the fashion industry, as a whole the idea of buying an outfit for one occasion that would not then have another function to be worn to would hint at being a very unsustainable practice, but after researching in depth it was clear to see that actually, it is further ahead than most sectors. Yes, it is an outfit for one occasion, but the garments are made in a more environmentally friendly way than fast fashion, and with the invention of many new materials the future is bright for a completely sustainable practice within the bridal wear market.
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Interview with Anna Hare, Owner of Pure Bridal Norwich
What do you think it takes to make a product sustainable? To be made with recycled materials/to rework an original garment or to reuse fabrics by dismantling a garment making something new. Do you sell any bridalwear that is made from a sustainable material? Not at the moment
If yes, does it come at a greater cost to that which is not? I am currently exploring the possibilities, but yes it does seem that additional costs are likely
And what sustainable items do you sell? None at present
If not, would you consider selling some? Absolutely Do any future brides come in requesting sustainable bridalwear? None thus far In your opinion, how can the bridalwear industry be made more sustainable? Hiring would obviously make a huge difference, but this isn’t a realistic option for most dress styles. I think we need to look at producing more gowns in the UK again and using recycled fabrics or carbon neutral processes wherever possible. Most brides are not currently receptive to the idea of previously worn gowns and want a new dress and as the cost of manufacturing is so high in the UK almost all gowns are made overseas and shipped to the UK
Do you think there is a future for sustainable bridal wear? Brides mindsets would need to change significantly in order for it ever to be realistically viable in my opinion
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Figure 1, Bridebook. (2018). Preferences on wedding dress designer among individuals in the United Kingdom (UK) as of 2018. Statista. Statista Inc... Available at: https://www.statista.com/statistics/910600/wedding-dress-designer-preferences-united-kingdom-uk/ Accessed: (October 17, 2019)
Figure 2, McGregor, 2019, available at: https://www.drapersonline.com/retail/drapers-researchhow-sustainable-is-the-fashion-industry/7035974.article (accessed: 17-10-2019)
Figure 3, Kaye, Rachel, Lost in Paris, 2015, available at: https://lostinparis.com.au/pages/our-brides (accessed 1-11-19)
Figure 4, Kaye, Rachel, Lost in Paris, 2015, available at: https://lostinparis.com.au/pages/our-brides (accessed 1-11-19)
Hello, Eleanor here, I am currently at Norwich University of the Arts studying Fashion, please join me along my adventure.