Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Conscious Elegance: Obsessively Green Design

When people ask why Conscious Elegance stands out from the dozens of artisan dressmakers out there, the answer is simple: They are completely and totally, green.

All dress pictures by Scott Lefton

How green? Well, kind of obsessively green:

- Conscious Elegance (CE) uses nothing but reclaimed materials and sustainable fabrics, ethically-sourced in their dressmaking. (wait, nothing but...? What about the thread? Yes, they even use *certified organic thread*. They use it in everything they make, from the gowns to the neckties.)

- CE doesn't discard their extra fabric; the offcuts are put aside for ribbons and roses and free swatch samples. Eventually, when they can't find a use for all of the scraps (it happens when they get busy) they donate the pieces to local schools and workshops. The fabric is wonderful for kids because it's not full of chemicals. Plus, it's a great way to educate the public about eco-alternatives!

- CE re-uses all of their paper and packing supplies, even down to the tape that holds their parcels together. (Ever try to re-use packing tape? It's an adventure!)

- The company's owner and her secretary (i.e. husband) share one car between them and both walk to work. When they need to mail a package, they pay the postage for their parcels online and the mail carrier just collects them during normal rounds. Minimal gas usage!

- Yeah, the staff do bring re-usable bags for shopping and they compost and do all the usual minimal-impact-dances. They recycle or re-use everything they can. Does that matter to the dress-making? Well, yes. Because even plastic food trays can be re-purposed to hold ribbon and thread.

- CE's studio integrates recycled/reclaimed building materials: when repair work was needed last summer in their studio, CE replaced the carpet with springy deep-pile made from recycled soda bottles.

- CE won a green-business award for their efforts back in their early days, and now they are a vetted business in Green America. Because apparently there are other people out there who are just as obsessed.

But then there's the ethical side of things, which is just as (if not more) important:

- Conscious Elegance uses the highest plant content in their materials that they can find, including some vegan-friendly fabrics. Organic cotton – for the win!

- The silk in their hemp/silks is harvested from abandoned cocoons so that the silkworms are not harmed during production

- All of CE's creations are made in the USA for a Fair Living Wage. No sweatshops allowed.

- They practice Responsible Business by owning all of their equipment and stock outright; they are beholden to no one. They can take all the time needed to craft the perfect dress for their client. They have no business loans or debt to labor under. Does this mean that they stay small? Well, yes. They don't grow faster than is healthy for them. It's part of being *sustainable*.

But then there's the service they offer. Because what good is a business if it doesn't give good service?

- CE has an EXCLUSIVE perk for their brides: clients can watch their dresses being made in real time! There's no worries about 'what's going on with my dress?' and no guesswork. They invite you along on the journey through photos and regular entries of your dress in progress, updated every 1-3 business days. It's all on a private password-protected page that only you can visit, unless you decide to give your future mother-in-law your password. (which might not be the best idea. ;-/)

- Unlike many made-to-measure dressmakers, CE offers a money-back guarantee. Because you need to be completely happy with your dress.

- After your Big Day, CE can shorten your dress to make it into a party/cocktail number that you can wear again and again if you like. Or they can make a christening gown/infant garment out of your dress at no extra charge. Why do they offer this service? Because they know that some brides want to wear their dress again. If you want to preserve your dress for the Ages, that's okay too. They offer storage tips and advice as to how to keep your dress pristine.

- Conscious Elegance gives you a fair price for their creations, right up front, so that you can budget without question marks. How rare is THAT?

We've even cooked up some instructional videos to help with the little things:

How to fit a Conscious Elegance toile.

How to Lace a Conscious Elegance Bodice.

How to Bustle a Conscious Elegance gown. (This one is very popular!)

All well and good. But why would anyone want a new dress when second-hand dresses are available?

Second-hand is great if you can find something that works. But some brides want something made just for them. And face it: Conscious Elegance dresses are a helluvalot prettier and healthier than many synthetic-fibered thrift-store offerings. By wearing a Conscious Elegance eco-chic wedding dress, clients are not only supporting sustainable and alternative fabrics and creating more demand for them, they are supporting a small, independent, woman-owned business who in turn also supports other small, independent businesses as her suppliers. It's an entire Community!

Let's be real: not all decisions are logical. Some brides want a gorgeous, drop-dead jaw-on-the-floor-makes-them-look-and-feel-like-a-princess dress on the day they've been dreaming about. A dress made for them and only them. And now they can have all that, with none of the guilt and less of the price tag.

Pure and simple: we are the kind of company we wish everyone would be.

OUR BEST GREEN TIP EVER: I actually did this for my own bridal shower: my sister (MOH) wanted to have a big shower for me with piles of gifts. But my H2B and I already each had apartments full of stuff; we didn't need another blender or gravyboat. I didn't want gifts nor did I want to send my friends off with silly plastic favors. My sister was aghast; Not open a pile of gifts? What activity would we do? And people expected little trinket favors!

So we had a Yankee Swap. What's a Yankee Swap? Everyone brings a gift-wrapped something from home that they don't use but that someone else could use. And all the packages go on a table. When the time comes for gifties, people draw numbers out of a hat. Number '1' chooses a wrapped gift from the table and opens it in front of everyone. The person who has number '2' can either take that gift or open another one. If number '1's gift is taken, then they can choose a new gift. Then number '3' can take one of the opened gifts, or choose a new one to open. And so on. It was a fabulous time and everyone, including me, went home with something new to them. And I didn't have a mound of gravy-boats to deal with.

Want some other easy green eco-tips for wedding planning? Ones you can actually use?

- Re-think those decorations! Use stuff that you can use again or that can be donated to a hospital or to the venue itself. For our wedding reception, we bought potted plants and candle holders at a craft store and decorated them with local flowers. And the ones that no one took home? We returned them to the craft store so someone else could enjoy them.

- Use washable plates and cutlery instead of plastic, including for the wedding cake. Even recycling plastic takes up resources. Washing metal and china is much kinder for the environment, and looks so much more elegant. For a funky and more interesting effect, don't bother trying to match settings.

- DIY brides: get your stuff at Goodwill or a thrift store. That's right: fun dinnerware and decorations and place-settings and all sorts of things can be found in thrift stores (even wedding dresses, if you're lucky). It's the best kind of recycling: no need to buy new stuff; it's often a lot less expensive if you buy it secondhand. When you're done with it, pass it along or just bring it back and donate it again. Consider it a very cheap rental. Better yet: borrow stuff if you can.

- Let your wedding party wear clothes of their own choosing. Choose a color-theme if you want to tie things together, but everyone will be much happier and more comfortable if they wear something they already own (or acquire for the occasion). Reserve veto rights if you prefer.

Conscious Elegance gowns and wedding attire are made with a joyful purpose and a great love for what we do. We want to create a more beautiful, more ethical world and invite you to join us.

"Be the change that you wish to see in the world." - Mahatma Gandhi

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