Last week we heard from Melinda Tually from Fashion Revolution who shared many of the social and environmental issues of the fashion industry with us…as well as some tips for how you can make a difference by asking your favourite fashion brands “who made my clothes?”
I wanted to continue the conversation this week, in Fashion Revolution Week, by bringing the founder of an exciting new local eco-bridal label onto the show.
Lenka Couture’s founder, Lenka Harvey, is on a mission to revolutionise the bridal fashion industry and give conscious brides more sustainable options, particularly when it comes to the most important day of their lives.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 113,595 couples said “I do” in 2015. Lenka Harvey, sees this as 113,595 opportunities to create a gown for the bride who is interested in making a lasting positive impact in the world, through her considered choices. Lenka Couture’s designs are intended to enhance the beauty of the woman in the dress, showcasing the individual wherever possible, and always striking an exciting balance between honouring and breaking traditions.
Regardless of whether or not you’ve already tied the knot, you’re going to love hearing Lenka’s story and what the future holds for Lenka Couture.
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When did you first decide you wanted to be a bridal designer?
I was interested in fashion throughout high school, and my mother and grandmother both sewed, so I was around it from a young age. I was especially interested in evening wear and traditional corsetry.
After high school I completed a fashion design course, and I had a similar focus for the collection that I did for my graduation. I didn’t know anything about the bridal market at this point because I was still quite young and weddings was something I hadn’t thought about at all! But I was interested in creating couture gowns and the quality and workmanship that went with it.
It was upon graduating that I really discovered the bridal market in Australia which was the only place that I could do that kind of work, and I’ve been in the industry ever since.
What’s disappointed (or even angered) you the most about the industry?
It’s really the blatant disregard for the people and the planet which has angered me the most. A big turning point for me was when I found out the shocking fact about Uzbekistan cotton and how it’s production was responsible for completing drying up the Aral Sea, and the health and environmental consequences of this, plus the forced labour.
There have been many initiatives for brands to boycott Uzbekistan cotton but I’m not sure where it’s at now. It all came to light around 2014 and there was a lot of publicity around the issue then. It was growing awareness about what is happening to the people and the planet in the production of conventional fashion.
Is the bridal industry just as polluting and wasteful as the general fashion industry?
Well I’m not 100% sure about this because there is not any real research in this area that I’m aware of. I could make a guess based on my knowledge and experience, which would be that generally speaking yes, it is.
At different levels in the industry, you have your mass-produced items which are made with materials of lesser quality or non-sustainable polyester. In this way, it is the same as the mainstream fashion industry. It is all about supply chain transparency and without knowing how people are doing things, then there must be the same thing happening in the bridal industry. A lot of production happens off-shore in countries that are not well regulated.
On the higher end of the scale, they’re using silk fabrics which is positive because it is a sustainable fibre. This is the most predominant fabric used. But there is no thought going into the waste produced or the way the clothing is made in terms of energy efficiency.
Given that you’re the first Australian bridal label to be accredited with Ethical Clothing Australia, how did you go about this? What sets your label apart from a regular bridal label?
The process to be certified with Ethical Clothing Australia was not difficult for me because I had a new business and not any massive supply chains. All I had to do was contact them and going through their procedures. An outside party came and did an audit on the business and the work space.
It must be updated every year to continue to make sure that you’re doing things the right way. It sets me up to do things properly moving forward as my business grows. If I need to find extra help either in-house or out-sourcing to other local people, Ethical Clothing Australia help me in doing that to make sure that it’s done the right way.
What have been some of the obstacles you’ve overcome?
I had to spend a lot of time researching things. It’s hard finding information and access to materials.
Also, asking questions of suppliers was difficult. This industry is set up so differently to the way that I’m trying to work. People tend to get uncomfortable around this line of questioning because they either don’t know the answer or they do know but it’s not a good answer.
So, finding suppliers and access to materials has been the most challenging for me.
What are some of the fabrics that you’re using to make your sustainable bridal gowns?
The feature fabric for my collection is linen. This is not a commonly used fabric in the bridal industry. It’s quite a luxury material. The particular linen that I’ve been able to source is carbon neutral; it’s produced in wind powered mills by a family-owned business and everything that they has a real sustainability focus. Their linen also has circular economy certification and it can even be composted! It’s been exciting to use this linen.
I’ve complemented the linen with certified organic silk. There’s not as much choice in certified organic silk as there is in conventional silk, but it is growing and I’m working with a supplier to create more options for myself and be able to expand the use of this material. Silk is a sustainable fibre on its own, but I’m always looking for the better option. Linen is the same; an organic linen would be better but the standard linen is still quite sustainable on its own.
There is not any sustainable lace options out there in terms of the fibres produced to make the material, and this is something that I’ve had to accept. So, I have used some lace for two gowns in my collection but I have employed a completely zero-waste pattern cutting method. There are absolutely no off-cuts when producing these dresses.
For all the dresses in the collection, I have employed the same kind of technique of pattern cutting but I haven’t been able to achieve 100% zero-waste on the linens and silks just yet. It’s definitely something I’m working towards, and I have greatly reduced the quantity of fabric that I use to produce the garment plus create much less waste.
Can you tell us about your debut collection and what’s in store in the future for Lenka Couture?
I can’t give away too much as the official launch date is Thursday 27th April 2017. But there’s some beautiful feminine silhouettes happening, there’s also elements of drama and modern lines. There are different options for different kinds of brides. It’s a small collection to start; just 5 gowns, and each one is celebrating different design elements. I chose to start with 5 gowns because it was something I could create, produce, and get out there rather than waiting to make a big collection. I plan to build on the collection throughout the year and launch the rest of the gowns as they are made.
I also work with brides who want something completely unique as well. I do a lot of custom design gowns where I sit down with the bride and we go over the elements that she’s looking for in a gown so I can create something just for her.
Looking towards the future, I’m wanting to create sustainable lingerie from the leftover pieces of a bridal gown. They are amazing quality fabrics and I keep it all because I can’t bear to throw it away. Lingerie seems to be the perfect use for these off-cuts that are too small to use in a bridal gown. Plus, it goes back to my original love of corsetry and lingerie. This is the next step for my business.
I’ve also collected off-cuts from other designers plus vintage lace pieces that I’ve come across on holidays etc. These are the ultimate in sustainable lace at the moment, it is using a resource that is already available rather than creating the demand for more.
For those who are yet to marry, what tips do you suggest for them to eco-fy their wedding day?
These days there are more and more options for an eco-wedding. Different people value different things when it comes to sustainability. The first step is to think about your own values and align your choices with those.
Smaller, simple, and more minimalist makes it easier to have a wedding that is more eco-friendly. Borrowing or hiring is a better option than purchasing items that will only be used once. You could also reuse or repurpose items. For my own wedding we used a lot of glass jars for decorating with flowers and when I sent out my invitations I also asked all the guests to collect their glass jars for me. Then I went around and picked them up from everyone.
You can recycle items after the wedding including composting flowers. Source local and in-season flowers as a lot of them can be imported from overseas. People are also using electronic invites more and more which is a great.
Look for fair-trade and ethically sourced diamonds and gemstones for your rings. Anything vintage is great; rings, clothing, accessories, anything like that. Check out the ethical wedding blog Less Stuff – More Meaning which has some great tips such as mindful consumerism, and having an appreciation for the beauty in simplicity.
Where do you see the bridal industry heading in future? What needs to change for it to become truly sustainable?
People need to acknowledge that there is an issue and to take notice and start doing something. There are many ways to approach sustainability in your business. I like to approach it wherever I possibly can because it’s something I am passionate about. Any little choice that a business can make, is a step forward in the right direction.
It’s about making this the norm rather than the ‘different’ thing. There is a growing awareness already within the general community that is natural spilling over into the bridal industry. It’s a natural progression that is slowly happening which is great because we can’t continue the way that we are.
Where can we find out more about Lenka Couture?
The best place at the moment is my Instagram although I’m also on Facebook and I have a website www.lenkacouture.com. My next step after launching my collection is working with a web designer to update my website so stay tuned for that! But for now, there is information on there and you can contact me through the website, plus sign up for emails from me to be emailed the collection when it comes out.
I have a special sneak peek of the collection in Instagram so be sure to check that out.