*This is a paid post from an APW Sponsor*
For people who do their best to practice sustainable living in everyday life, wedding planning often feels like an uphill battle. At its core, a wedding is an exercise in consumption, and it takes a lot of effort and dedication to carry one off while still maintaining your values. Today I’m thrilled to tell you that there is one place you don’t have to compromise your values for convenience: your wedding dress. Blue Sky Bridal in Seattle is a sustainable wedding dress shop that specializes in consignment wedding gowns with a focus on eco-friendliness. With dresses ranging in prices from $75 to $4,000 (with the average settling in somewhere around $750), not only can you can have your eco-friendly cake and eat it too, you can even afford it.
But Blue Sky Bridal isn’t your average consignment shop. Since the central purpose behind Blue Sky Bridal is the betterment of mother earth, the store runs more like a nonprofit (it would actually be a nonprofit if not for the high cost of legal fees and cumbersome nature of nonprofit filing, etc.). Says Blue Sky Bridal’s founder Jen West, “Blue Sky Bridal is a labor of love. We’re tiny, we’re real, and we’re not focused on money. We are probably the only dress shop that will happily help you figure out that maybe you don’t want a wedding dress at all, or talk you out of buying a second dress.” In fact, Seattle’s Blue Sky Bridal was born out of Jen’s own frustration with dress shopping while planning her own wedding:
I started Blue Sky Bridal completely by accident. Up until the time of my own engagement in my early thirties, my professional focus had been international and nonprofit. I have an undergrad degree in Chinese language, had lived in China for a while, and eventually finished a grad degree in nonprofit management (public administration—MPA).
For several years I was working for a small nonprofit that protects wildlife in remote Asian areas through fair-trade arrangements with local communities for handicrafts, especially textiles. (If you’d ever like a presentation on yak wool versus camel hair and the processing of either, you just let me know.) A lot of my friends were getting married at that same time, and they were all complaining about what a racket the wedding industry is. One close friend had had a lot of problems with her wedding dress, and we were joking that it would be so awesome if there were a nonprofit wedding shop for eco-geeks like ourselves. We try not to buy new clothes or clothes that aren’t fair trade/eco/etc., but here we are shelling out more money on a dress than our entire wardrobe combined, and it was made out of polyester in a Chinese factory.
Then I got engaged, and I found myself in the same boat as my friends. That got me researching eco-friendly dress options for real, and I found that options for eco-friendly new dresses were quite limited (especially in 2006–2007), often less-than-stylish, and all out of my $500 budget. There were, however, a lot of fabulous used dresses available. Since they’d already been made and the damage was done, the practical thing was to at least get them as many uses as possible before they headed to the landfill.* Craigslist was too time/energy consuming, and it felt too dangerous to be showing up to strangers’ houses with cash. I wanted to try the dresses on, and didn’t know exactly what I wanted, so online sites were out. I couldn’t find anything in local thrift stores, and the one consignment shop in the region that had some gowns was unimpressive and still out of my budget.
Refusing to give in and go to David’s Bridal, that only left traveling to another city that might have better odds (like San Francisco) or starting my own temporary business. I remembered the jokes about the nonprofit dress shop, and decided it’d be a great experience to give it a try. I’d do it for six months to a year, find my dress, do some good by helping other people find dresses, and have a good story when I was done.
I got a business license, rented a glorified storage locker, and started writing people on Craigslist to see their dresses. The deal was, if they brought it to me, I’d see about buying it. If it wasn’t the dress for me, they could fill out a consignment contract and I’d try to keep selling it for them for the next few months. To my amazement, people actually went for it. I about fell over and died from shock when I sold the first one.
It became addicting. Evenings and weekends, I was all about wedding dresses. Pretty soon, I was half at my “real” job and half at the wedding shop. I eventually found my dress, got married, resold my dress, and took the leap to full time. I love it. I love the dresses, and I really love helping the women who are in trying to sort out their dresses. I feel like I’m still helping people, and the environment, but without the doom and gloom.
* Sadly, there aren’t any recycling options for wedding dresses. The mix of synthetic fibers and various trims in commercially made gowns makes them too complicated for textile recyclers to process. Some get sold off in lots with other thrift store items to other countries, which pushes the problem overseas, but most end up in the trash.
What Blue Sky Bridal isn’t about, however, is guilt or judgment. Rather, they’re about the positive impact you can have when you shop sustainable goods. Jen says:
We don’t push very hard on the environmental messages, because we really do believe that weddings should be joyous, not times for extra helpings of guilt. The most eco-friendly wedding would be the one that didn’t happen. We just want it to be easy for brides to get a dress they really want and that they can afford, that isn’t adding awful to the world.
And for a store that calls itself relatively small, Blue Sky Bridal’s inventory is… kind of impressive. When I went consignment shopping for my own wedding dress, the choices were less than stellar and the shopping experience left a whole lot to be desired (trying on too-small dresses inside a closet is not my idea of a good time). Blue Sky Bridal, on the other hand, has options in sizes 0–18, with prices averaging in at less than $1,000 for most gowns. And I’m not talking about the kind of dresses you find smushed at the bottom of the wedding dress section at Goodwill. I’m talking a size 8 Claire Pettibone with your name on it for just $1,400. And a gorgeous frothy pink concoction that costs $1200 that you can’t have because it’s mine.
If there’s a chance you might find yourself in Seattle during your wedding planning adventures, go ahead and schedule an appointment with Blue Sky Bridal right now. The inventory is amazing, the prices can’t be beat, and you can still rock a killer frock, without worrying about creating more waste in the world. If that’s not the most satisfying way to cross “buy wedding dress” off of your to-do list, I don’t know what is.