Sustwainability is What Bwings Us Togethew Today…or was it mawwiage?

I didn’t sleep at all that night, maybe in protest of having to wake up at 5:00am the next morning. After my parents and I bundled up in several layers, we were off at 5:30am to pick up two more victims (my lovely friends) for our early morning excursion. With the five of us snug in my petite Scion iA, we set course for Seattle, for the 7th Annual Dress Dash hosted by Brides for a Cause. This was the day I would finally find my wedding dress! Hopefully…

Brides for a Cause is a non-profit organization that resells wedding dresses and donates roughly 90% of their proceeds to local and national non-profits. Donations are made to organizations that assist and empower women by promoting opportunities for education, assisting women with serious medical issues, and providing support for women who have been abused or have disabilities.

From the start, I knew I wanted a used wedding dress from a local vendor. Of course, I daydreamed online and entertained the idea of ordering exactly what I envisioned, but I was determined to purchase one from Brides for a Cause. While they don’t actively promote sustainability, there is no question that their efforts mean less water consumed, less CO2 emissions released to produce new textiles, and fewer wedding dresses in landfills (if not forever condemned to the darkest depth of your wardrobe). Not to mention the cost. In 2018, the average spending on a wedding dress in the US was $1,631– and that’s before you add in alterations and accessories. There was no way I was going to spend even one-fifth that amount for an article of clothing I would only wear once. For my wedding dress, just like my daily wardrobe, I wanted to embrace the principle of slow – or sustainable – fashion. More and more companies and consumers are rejecting highly wasteful fast fashion practices as well.

And so, on the day of the Dress Dash, we arrived bright and early. There was already a zigzag of umbrellas in the parking lot, snaking out onto the sidewalk and past several other businesses. Those brave souls must have been waiting, cold and wet, from the time I forced myself out of bed. After waiting in line for about two hours, we were finally in. I had been to Brides for a Cause storefronts (open year round) three times prior with no luck, so without getting my hopes up too high, we jumped in, hands deep in lace and satin.

A blush-colored garment bag hangs from a tree branch in front of a rock retaining wall with trees and grass in the background. A fence runs through the back of the photo.
This year, a total of 141 brides left with the second hand dress of their dreams, all for $150. Including me! Sure, it may not be my exact fit or the style I have displayed all over my ‘Dresses’ Pinterest board, but it’s nothing a little alteration won’t fix (courtesy of my talented father, a former fashion designer). (Photo credit: Karin Otsuka)

 

Like the commitment I made to finding a second hand wedding dress, every other aspect of wedding planning for my fiance and I has been about finding the balance between sustainability and cost, without compromising our vision or the needs of our families and friends. We aren’t the only ones considering these tradeoffs for our wedding day. In the US, the average wedding costs over $30,000. With all those purchases, transportation, and resources going into a single day, that’s an astronomical amount of waste and carbon footprint produced. ‘Sustainable vendors,’ ‘eco-friendly dresses,’ and ‘ethical jewelry,’ are all part of a growing trend in the world of wedding planning. The search term, ‘sustainable wedding ideas,’ increased by 181% on Pinterest from 2018 to 2019. And while we want to SAY “YES” to all the options that lessen our impact on the environment, the reality is, we can’t afford to do it all.

Many companies today are jumping on the eco-friendly bandwagon to produce sustainable alternatives to consumer items, but at what cost? Right now, the pressure is on consumers to ‘vote with their dollar’ and choose to buy more sustainable products. Missing from this discussion is the reality that low-income and minority communities cannot afford to make those alternative purchases. Rather, consumption of mass-produced, low-cost products that are often preserved in plastic for longevity are affordable and convenient. It’s difficult enough to keep up with other basic needs, such as paying for utilities, that whether sustainability is on our minds or not, such choices are not viable options. We need all supply chains, not just those for luxury and premium day-to-day goods, to shift towards sustainability.

A close up image of a Save the Date for the author's wedding. The card is laying on top of fabric that has a raised vertical stripe weave. The text on the card is indistinguishable due to the angle, but a blurred image of a man and woman wearing glasses and about to drink from mugs is in view.
For our Save-the-Dates, we wanted to send out momentos for family and friends to keep, so we went with Paper Culture, a certified Green Business. They operate under the following principles: all products are made of sustainable materials, carbon credits are purchased to offset their carbon footprint, and every order plants a tree. (Photo credit: Karin Otsuka)

While we can’t achieve no impact, what my fiancé and I can do, for both the wedding and in our day-to-day lives, is to make the changes that we can to reduce our consumption and waste. Here are some options we are looking into:

Invitations:
We were initially interested in Botanical PaperWorks. All products are made from post-consumer materials and mixed into the paper itself are wildflower, herb, or vegetable  seeds, so we’d be sending out plantable invitations for my fiancé’s older relatives who are all in-state (please do RSVP and take note of the time before chucking us in the dirt). While none of their seed blends are considered invasive in North America, we can still do our research to choose species specific to the Pacific Northwest, such as the Black-Eyed Susan. Though a greener option, invitations are yet another thing that’s produced. We opted to stick with electronic invitations from Greenvelope for most of our guests who we know are computer savvy and prepare plantable invitations for a few of our (older) guests who may need physical copies.

Favors:
Here is another potential area to reduce. While my Pinterest is painted with cute ideas such as potted succulents, eco-utensil kits, and custom mason jars, I’ve been inspired by The Rogue Ginger’s blog post about her ‘Zero Waste Wedding.’ Rather than preparing material favors for each guest, they chose to make a donation instead. We can calculate the cost of making fancy mugs engraved with our names and instead direct that money towards an organization.

Gifts:
Similarly, we’re planning on keeping all wedding gifts material-less and paperless by creating a honeymoon fund online. Our plan? A trip across Japan. But what about the carbon footprint of flying? Well, for the two of us roundtrip, our total flight footprint comes down to 5.944 tons of CO2 emissions. Without getting too bogged down with guilt or reconsider going, there are many carbon offsetting options to invest in. Nevertheless, flight shame remains lurking in the shadows.

Two hikers each wearing a backpack and holding hands as they walk are walking away from the photographer. The inclined trail is muddy and rocky, with ferns, shrubs, and large evergreen trees on either side. The sun is beaming through the trees obscuring some of the image.
As the months tick by, we still have many decisions to make. What are we going to eat? We’re required to have certified caterers, but are they locally sourced? How expensive are they? Should I take this opportunity to teach our family and friends about waste, climate change, and environmental justice? I like to draw, so maybe I can scribble some notes throughout our wedding schedule, menus, or signs? Is that too much? As a thousand more questions run through our minds, all we can do is continue to reflect on the impacts of our choices and the message we hope to share with our loved ones. (Photo credit: Luke Frazier, Bear Beau Photography)

 

Though planning a sustainable wedding has been a jumble of excitement and stress, it’s also been incredibly eye-opening. First of all, I am very fortunate to be in a position where I can make these decisions for my wedding and enjoy this moment of my life. While we won’t be able to check all the green boxes for a super sustainable, zero-waste wedding, we can use the resources we have available to reduce where we can, make purchases that support environmental and social causes, and take this opportunity to share our message with family and friends.

If you’re still wondering what the title is all about, check out the movie, The Princess Bride!