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This Australian bridal gown designer developed the first sustainable wedding gown, made from recycled fabrics

January 19, 2022, 7:00 PM UTC

Would you wear a wedding dress designed with 96% recycled fabrics made from discarded plastic bottles and industrial waste?

As bridal gown company Grace Loves Lace has learned, plenty of brides will.

The U.S. wedding industry, worth some $80 billion, is not often associated with sustainability. Weddings produce flower, food, paper, and packaging waste and involve shipping equipment and rental items across distances. It’s a one-time event where not much can be reused or repurposed. Add to that the carbon emissions as guests hop flights or take long drives to attend. Engaged couples may even hire vendors who need to travel to far-flung destinations for the celebration.

But for all the industry’s shortcomings, there is slow movement toward more eco-friendly affairs, whether that’s with paperless invitations from brands like Minted or donating flowers to local nursing homes and hospitals after the big day through organizations like Petals for Hope. Some wedding professionals offset their carbon emissions, and couples look to rent, not buy, decor pieces like vases, linens, and chargers.

Now, there is also a sustainable wedding dress, dubbed the Lumi, along with a matching veil. The items have earned Global Recycled Standard (GRS) certification, and they are a hit with brides.

“The wedding dress industry is not as transparent as the fashion industry,” explains Megan Ziems, founder and creative director of Grace Loves Lace. “Women really need to be aware of what they’re buying when they’re buying their wedding dress. They need to be proud of it.”

Grace Loves Lace founder and creative director Megan Ziems.
Libby Willis

Ziems owns and runs Grace Loves Lace, a trendy bridal gown company based in Australia. Her styles have shot to prominence in recent years for their nontraditional looks combined with high-quality materials—so much so that one of her gowns was pinned more than 2.5 million times on Pinterest, making it the most pinned wedding dress in 2016.

The dresses touch on the fit and style that catch the eye of many millennial brides, who are looking for something more modern than their mothers yet still tasteful. The gowns also occupy an underserved price point: the $2,000 to $5,000 market, which is often the sweet spot for a bride who wants something more than the ready-to-wear dresses of David’s Bridal, but is not prepared for the prices of a Vera Wang or an Oscar de la Renta gown.

But Ziems didn’t get into the business to simply design pretty dresses. From the start in 2010, she’s been an innovator in the bridal attire industry, defying the standards from all angles. She launched as a digital-first brand, selling via her own e-commerce sites and shipping the made-to-measure dresses in Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)–certified recycled cardboard packaging and compostable mailer bags. Nearly everything is made to order, reducing the overhead of the ready-to-wear business model, and she has always shied away from the use of virgin materials. She handles all manufacturing in Australia, an anomaly in the industry when the vast majority of gowns are produced in China. And she prefers to work with suppliers that use conscious manufacturing processes to benefit the environment.

The next natural move was to develop sustainable fabrics.

“It’s just exceptional what technology can do these days, that you can turn plastic bottles into a really luxurious fabric that can be such a prized possession as a wedding dress,” Ziems says.

Ziems and her team collaborated with their current manufacturing partners to develop recycled versions of lace, tulle, polyester lining, and trim for her Lumi dress and coordinating veil, a capsule collection that launched in July 2021. The process to design and produce the dress took two years, but it took much less time to see the success of the gown. Since its debut, it’s been the No. 2 seller among the company’s current offerings.

She relied on her manufacturing partner to offer the technical assistance—and pricey equipment—to develop the different fabrics. The process starts with a combination of postconsumer and industrial waste, items like plastic bottles, fishing nets, and pulp collected during production. That’s broken down into fibers that are woven into a knit fabric. The team uses nontoxic dyes.

It was important to Ziems that the integrity of the fabric, its fit and functionality, be on par with normal standards. To that end, she sent samples back again and again. She admits the team had fabric samples a year earlier than the launch that they could have taken to market, but they waited to perfect them. “We wanted to be 100% happy with how it looks,” she adds.

That final look includes lace, soft tulle, and eyelash trim from 100% recycled materials and a lining with 80%, totaling 96% for the full dress. The veil is 100% recycled soft tulle.

The fact that the dress and veil have been such a success is immensely meaningful for the bridal gown industry, where sustainability is essentially never top of mind. For most brides, the wedding dress is the most important line item during wedding planning. But the process of finding “the one,” is often riddled with challenges, from fit and cut to fabrics and price. Julie Sabatino, a bridal stylist in New York City, explained that most brides are primarily focused on just picking the dress amid the difficulty of the search. Adding a variable like sustainability would complicate it all, so they don’t even think about it. She admits that she’s never been asked by a client for a sustainable dress.

The Lumi wedding gown by Grace Loves Lace.
Courtesy of Grace Loves Lace

But that doesn’t mean consumers wouldn’t want it. What’s exciting about the Lumi gown for Sabatino is that it’s starting the conversation within bridal fashion that’s already happening in the broader fashion industry. “It will bring awareness to an industry that isn’t very focused on sustainability,” Sabatino says. “The bridal industry tends to move slowly, so it will take time.”

The ability of recycled fabrics to compete with pure fabrics will be an additional hurdle, one echoed by Ziems when she kept sending samples back again and again until they met her high bar. Sabatino reiterated that the quality and appearance of the fabric in a recycled gown need to be as good as those of existing options—like the soft tulle and stretch lace of the Lumi.

“As more resources become available that are comparable, the more likely brides will choose them,” Sabatino adds. “As the fashion industry as a whole incorporates sustainability, there will be more demand for sustainable wedding dresses.”

For Ziems and Grace Loves Lace, the goal is to continue to push to be the most eco-friendly they can be. The company is moving toward incorporating recycled fabric lining into all its dresses as well as recycling the waste fabric from the manufacture of its gowns. For its occasion-wear line, Grace Loves Lace is transitioning to satin made from 97% recycled materials. The team is also looking at ways to further reduce their carbon emissions while making materials and to implement learnings from the Lumi gown production to save water and energy during manufacturing.

It seems that brides understand what Grace Loves Lace stands for, and with their wallets, too. Even amid the coronavirus pandemic, Ziems has opened 11 showrooms around the world, including in San Francisco, Denver, and Boston, with more to come in 2022.

“The wedding dress is so representative of you as a bride, but it’s also a one-off purchase,” Ziems says. “Women really connected with what we were talking about with the Lumi—what their contribution can be to the world when buying their wedding dress.”

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