Editor's note: I'd like to give a special thanks to Laura Rankin, owner of Green With Envy Events, for her lovely post on Engaged With A Cause last week on her blog. Laura is an expert on all things green and her event planning company, Green With Envy Events plans green weddings in DC and San Diego, CA. She is also the president of the DC chapter of NEST, which I recently joined.
So, a few weeks ago I said yes to the dress, which is a big deal, but it is only the start. I still had seven bridesmaids and a couple of flower girls that needed to get outfitted. In many ways, the challenge of making so many ladies happy is the most daunting one of all. My mission to find the perfect bridesmaid dress was only complicated by the fact that I was also searching for the perfect color- some odd combination of gold and green that would hopefully not look like- well, eh something gross.
My bridesmaids politely feigned surprise at my color choice and then laughed because they said they had been planning on wearing my signature olive color for years- it was after all the color they associated me with. So the search began, for what they have dubbed “Julie’s Green.”
|Julie's "Green" (left), also known as Doro or Golden Olive|
When discussing my bridesmaid dress dilemma with fashion photographer Walter Grio from Shoot for Change he suggested that I check out his friend Elizabeth’s brand Little Flowers. He told me that she was a DC area based designer with a lot of talent, as well as a penchant for philanthropic causes and eco-friendly fabrics.
After some perusing of her website, I discovered that Liz had not one, but three brands under her belt Odyssey Apparel umbrella. Besides Little Flowers, she also has the Amore and Elizabeth St John Couture Bridal Collection lines.
So, on a cold January morning, my roommate and I drove to Elizabeth’s workshop to get a firsthand look at her designs and find out more about her mission and passion, and of course continue the search for the green of my dreams.
Upon arriving we sat down and quickly got down to business. I answered questions about how many bridesmaids I had and we discussed short vs. long, etc. Slowly, but surely however, Liz’s passion for the environment and other pet causes began to emerge as she explained the source of all her fabrics. For all her collections, the materials that are sourced are sustainable and come from natural fibers, like hand woven silks and sustainable cottons. All the fabric manufacturers that she purchases from employ fair-trade labor. In her couture collections, she even uses PET satin taffeta linings made from recycled plastic bottles.
|Elizabeth St. John Couture "Calypso" dress from the Fall 2010 collection|
She also spoke to me about her goal of achieving a "ZERO waste" factor during the manufacturing and design process. Rather than trash the cuttings and remnants that accumulate during the design phase, instead she refashions them into hand-worked flowers and accents. 100% of the dresses are hand cut and hand finished and detailed. Her "ZERO waste" philosophy extends to business operations as well, there are no printed catalogues and copying is minimized as much as possible. She hopes to be completely "off-the grid" by the end of 2012, using only solar and wind power for her offices and manufacturing facilities. She is a regularly featured designer/manufacturer on the Green Bride Guide.
I was floored by her extensive eco-policies and really admired her craftsmanship as well. I tepidly brought up my blog and my mission for my wedding, as I always do when meeting with potential vendors and partners. When telling people about giving back via a wedding they are often worried that I am really asking for pro bono or a donation, which is not the case.
Elizabeth really liked my concept and giving back would be no problem for her- because she already has it built into her business model. Five percent of the proceeds from the sales of EVERY dress in her collection support wildlife conservation efforts around the world as well as empowerment initiatives for disadvantaged women in areas of extreme poverty and conflict. I learned that a percent of the sales from my bridesmaid dresses would go to supporting the development of vocational training schools for women in Haiti & Afghanistan. If I were searching for red or orange colored dresses, 25% of the proceeds would go to IUCN Red Listed wildlife.
|"Cecelia" dress by Little Flowers|
In addition to her dress philanthropy, Elizabeth, a veteran of the State Department and the not-for-profit sector, also serves as the President for the Universal Strategic Services Foundation. The Foundation “works at the crossroads of human needs and the environment.” With projects like the Inclusive Solar Power (ISP) project, the Foundation aims to provide sustainable energy to the poorest regions of the world. Providing these people with long-term, clean energy sources is a way “to foster economic growth, improve living conditions and protect indigenous environments.”
I left my meeting with Elizabeth energized, but also nervous. While she didn’t have large swatches available in the exact green I was looking for, she assured me she did have something that would work in a lovely eco-friendly silk shantung fabric. The color was called Doro, but the swatches were not in and they would have to be mailed to me.
I awaited the arrival of the swatches rather anxiously, checking my mail every day. When they finally arrived I was thrilled- the treasure hunt was finally over- I had found it- Doro was the perfect green! It also just so happened to be environmentally “green” and support a cause that was near and dear to my heart- helping women find their way out of poverty through education. I was also excited that both the Little Flowers and the Amore lines provide customizable options. So while all the girls will be wearing the same color and fabric, each dress will be a customized creation that my girls can create themselves, making it more likely that they will wear them again- even if they are “puke” green.