A quick introduction: I’m Holly Greenhagen of Dame Couture, purveyor of made-to-measure bridal frocks. My dresses are strongly influenced by my interest in vintage clothing, and I also reconstruct and restyle vintage wedding dresses. I’m devoted to the idea of “slow fashion” and try to leave a small footprint, both in dress manufacturing and in life. And as a repeat Indie Wed vendor, I’m pretty excited to be guest posting on the IW blog!
In mid February, I found an email in my box from Christen Schneider of Solitary Pearl, the eco-friendly bridal line she designs out of Cleveland, Ohio. She was looking for like-minded designers to form a co-op and travel around the country with dresses and accessories for sale.
Christen Schneider of Solitary Pearl
Two months (and hundreds of emails!) later, Christen has pulled it off. Wed Altered, as the group has come to call itself, is on the verge of its first pop-up shop, happening April 20 and 21 in New York. More than a dozen bridal designers (Dame Couture included) will be selling their wares. That’s right, selling: you can place an order for any of the lovely dresses you see and they’ll be shipped to your door. Or you can walk away with any of the gorgeous accessories.
Pop-up shop, eco-friendly…it all sounded like something Indie Wed brides would be interested in. So I interviewed Christen about how and why she did it all.
“Madeline” by Solitary Pearl, made with Fair Trade silk
HG: Tell us the story of how Wed Altered got started.
CS: I wanted to find a way to bring Solitary Pearl dresses directly to brides instead of selling completely online. Pop up shops are a fun and effective concept, but not something a single bridal designer could usually afford to do. I also have a soft spot for co-ops, so I thought it would be a great idea to combine the two and, once I got some fellow designers who agreed, Wed Altered began!
HG: Your web site describes Wed Altered as a “socially conscious pop-up bridal shop.” What motivated you to assemble a group of socially conscious wedding vendors?
CS: I started out just planning on designing dresses. As I studied fabric sources, I quickly began to notice two distinct price brackets. When I looked into it and learned what made the lower price bracket so much lower (worker pay, labor conditions, little to no environmental responsibility, etc.), my conscience kicked in and Solitary Pearl became a socially conscious brand. I’ve learned a lot about the issues and I love the opportunity to work with people who work for the same goals. What feel like small daily efforts seem so magnified when you realize you aren’t the only one trying.
Hand-weaving Fair Trade silk in Cambodia
HG: What makes these vendors “socially conscious”? Do they all use environmentally friendly fabrics? Or are there other factors?
CS: Everyone has their own thing. Some people are really passionate about the environment and only use organic or all natural fabrics. Some are fair-labor activists who only use materials where the artisans receive living wages and fair treatment. Some have charities they champion or local causes they support. Almost everyone has a big focus on reviving domestic production. Several designers focus on reusing vintage materials, and there is a lot of waste and energy reduction in people’s processes.
Organic cotton dress by Janay A. Handmade
HG: How did you find vendors that fit your mission?
CS: Some of these designers I’ve been following for a long time because I love their work. I looked through blogs that reached the our goal audience and found vendors they suggested. I did a lot of searches and spent time on Etsy. It was a lot of time opening every possible designer’s page and reading through their mission and about sections to see if it was a fit, and then reaching out to them if I thought it may be.
HG: How would you define “ethical” as it relates to the wedding industry?
CS: I think it’s a lot of different things, and each vendor and bride will have their own priorities. As long as you’ve decided what your main objectives are (less consumption, reuse, Fair Trade, organic, local, etc.) and do your best to make the choice when there is one available to you, I think that’s all anyone can aim for right now. The industry is changing, but slowly.
HG: How does your own wedding dress line, Solitary Pearl, practice social consciousness?
CS: We try to find as much socially and environmentally conscious fabric as possible, and we produce locally in on a small scale, so nothing gets made unless we know it’s needed. We try to keep our consumption and waste down, and we gave our fabric waste to local artists to use. We’re working on a composting system for the scraps that are too small for more projects, since almost every bit of what we use is a natural fiber.
Our biggest project is that we have a studio in the works that will train and employee single parents. We’ll be able to teach them skills that will allow them to support themselves and their family and get paid well while they do it. They’ll be in the same big room as their kids, who are working with an educator in a free day care area, learning things that will set them up for success when they start school. I’m pretty excited to see it take shape!
Headband from Mignonne Handmade, who uses vintage materials in her pieces
HG: What has been your biggest challenge in organizing this event?
CS: Timing. We decided to push ourselves and aim for April instead of waiting until the fall bridal market, and it’s been a rush! We’re going to pull it off, and well, but it meant a lot of hard work for everyone involved.
HG: What advice would you give to a bride looking for ethical vendors for her wedding?
CS: Remember that few companies or couples will be able to get all of the causes. There are really just too many good things for one person or company to tackle on their own! So if you find a combination like a dress company that does great charity work, a caterer who serves local foods, and a florist who uses organic flowers, you’re doing pretty well!
Also, try to remember that sometimes less is more. If you can’t find an item from a source you love, and you don’t really feel like you have to have it, just leave it out. Less money, less stress, and less consumption. Not a bad thing! If you have to have it, find the best source you can for right now or see if you can find one that’s been used before.
Wed Altered’s pop-up shop takes place Saturday and Sunday, April 20 and 21, from 9 AM to 8 PM both days, at Elk Studios, 164 W. 25th St., 12th floor, New York, NY. Admission is free, though it’s a good idea to book fitting room time here.