It’s hard to believe, yet it’s true. Australia has only a handful of ethically accredited bridal designers, including Lenka Couture. We are very exited to share her story here as well as showcasing her work at the upcoming Ethical Wedding Fair. Let’s get to know Lenka!
What is the philosophy behind your business?
Ethical, Sustainable and Local, these are the foremost values that drive my business. Doing things the right way, minimising our impact on the environment and supporting local people and industry. Followed up by Integrity, in Design, business and construction. And finally around celebrating our individuality and empowering and supporting women.
My bridal label is about going deeper than the surface it’s not just about the “pretty things” it’s about style with substance – creating conscious beauty.
Conscious beauty to me is very simple, it just about making conscious informed decisions about what we wear, what we put on or in our hair, skin, face and body. Being aware of ourselves and the impact we can have on the people and plant around us.
The Lenka bride is confident, fun, stands up for what she believes in, knows herself and is ready to tackle the world. I believe real beauty is alive in flaws, differences and distortions, and comes from a confidence in self.
With sustainability being so new to bridal fashion, in what ways are you approaching things differently?
With the exception of vintage gowns and fabrics, sustainable bridal design in Australia is fairly non-existent. Sustainable fashion options are growing with more and more brands emerging globally, and bridal will eventually follow. There are also growing initiatives encouraging designers to embrace ethical and sustainable fashion on the red carpet with celebrity champions like Livia Firth and Suzi Amis Cameron among others. What all this really means is that ethical and sustainable bridal fashion is essentially a blank canvas. I find this state of things equally exciting and challenging. It’s hard because it means that access to resources is limited and that’s frustrating, but I’m also in a constant state of learning and exploring, expanding my knowledge and searching. It’s exciting because there’s so much room for growth and innovation and I am helping create it and give it a presence among the current sea of bridal gowns out there.
A sustainable fashion business is simple in idea but complex in reality. It is not an easy thing to create especially when all the people and things immediately around us are set up in a completely different way. I’ve spent copious amounts of time researching fibres and the many other things that go into creating a gown, finding better options where I can. I have big dreams and goals for the way I want to run my business, ultimately I’m looking to be carbon neutral business, using 100% sustainable and ethical fibres, creating minimal to zero waste, supporting the people and environment around us and killing it on the runway and down aisles of course!! 😉
Can a wedding dress be environmentally friendly if we only wear it once?
We need to fall back in love with our clothes. Our clothes need to be quality pieces that are loved, cherished, looked after properly and worn many times.
Now I know a bridal gown is the ultimate item of clothing being only worn once, how unsustainable! But this is where we can reconnect with loving our clothes. Most brides will tell you how much they love their gown and it will be looked after and treasured. Though only worn once it doesn’t become part of the massive amount of clothing going to landfill. If we can feel something similar about all the clothing we purchase imagine how much less waste there would be…if all our clothes were built to last and last, get repaired, and last some more, because we were consciously purchasing only quality items that we loved and looked after, just like a bridal gown.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in designing eco-friendly wedding dresses?
One of the biggest challenges would have to be searching out and finding more sustainable resources such as fabrics, materials, lace etc for creating a gown, and then if and when you find them gaining access to these resources as a startup business needing smaller quantities. Additionally there are many misconceptions around certain fabrics. For example peace silk is often thought of as vegan friendly but it truly isn’t when you look deeper into how it is made. Bamboo if often touted as an eco-friendly fibre but when you look beyond the growing of bamboo, it is most definitely not eco-friendly due to the chemical and energy dense processes used to turn the bamboo stem into fabrics. Lace is also a whole other ball game as currently there are no laces out there that are made from any kind of sustainable fibres unfortunately. I know someone trying to develop lace made from recycled materials but it’s still a way off before it’s ready. It’s quite a process and there is a lot of development that needs to happen to get to a point of producing a commercially viable product.
As a designer that’s passionate about the impact my gowns have on the environment and people, a big hurdle for me has been accepting that what I do won’t be perfect. Sustainability is a journey you go on and you improve as you head forward but if you are constantly seeking the best approach, the perfect product or solution and delaying action you’ll never move forward.
What most people don’t realise is the fashion industry is the second most polluting industry after oil, this means that we don’t have the luxury of choosing the best approach, all approaches to a more sustainable fashion industry are important, any and all efforts are essential. We can’t wait for ideal or perfect solutions, we need to take action now and go for progress not perfection. This especially applies to a startup company like mine, I am doing all I can in my current capacity to make the best possible choices I can and that will grow and change and develop as the sustainable fashion industry and my business does.
Choosing to produce only in Australia makes it fairly easy to ensure ethical construction of the gowns as I am in charge of making sure things are done the right way and following the right procedures to maintain my ECA accreditation. But on the other hand it can be hard sometimes to find out more about ethical treatment of workers further down the supply chain when it comes to fabrics, materials and other bits and pieces that are needed to make a gown. Unless a business is openly discussing this already then it is a hard conversation to have, as this industry is very secretive by nature and people get uncomfortable with this line of questioning mostly because they either know the answers are not positive or because they simply don’t know the answers.
Working within these challenges is about making the best choices you can, starting conversations and most importantly taking action and moving forward.
Tell us about your brand sparkley new sustainable bridal collection, being released during fashion revolution week?
The fabrics that I am using for the collection sit outside the regular choices used in the industry. I am so proud to say that I have a mix of Australian made organic cotton, carbon neutral linen, and organic silk all featuring in the collection. I’m also applying zero waste patten cutting techniques as much as possible to create a mix of zero waste or very minimal waste gowns. I believe both my fabric selection and fabric waste reduction techniques are a first for the Australian Bridal Fashion Industry. I hope it shows others that there are better ways to do things and still produce luxury gowns without compromising on quality.
My collection will be launching on 27th April during Fashion Revolution Week, with a sneaky peek at the top of this post. I’ll be showcasing my work at Australia’s first Ethical Wedding Fair on 7th May as well as speaking about what I’ve uncovered in my research. The momentum and interest in eco and ethical fashion is building, so watch this space!
How can brides ensure their gown is ethically made?
For couples wishing to make conscious fashion choices unfortunately it’s not easy, the good choices out there are swimming in a sea of not so good choices. They have to seek things out and educate themselves, ask questions and start the conversation. Searching online and through social media I find is a great way to discover new brands doing things differently. Of course there are always options for buying second hand or vintage suits or wedding gowns and having them customised to fit and tweaking or reworking the design to suit your individuality. All anyone can do is do their best to find what they can that aligns best with their own values. What’s most important to me is that people just give a shit and try to make conscious fashion choices. It really doesn’t matter if it’s ethical or made from dead stock fabric or organic or zero waste or recycled or vintage or second hand, what’s important is that it’s a conscious decision supporting a better future.
For finding ethical Australian brands searching the Ethical Clothing Australia website is perfect. For a broader view on which brands that have or don’t have a positive impact on people, planet and animals use an app such as Good on You. They don’t have a bridal section as yet but maybe that has a lot to do with the fact that there isn’t much available in this area.
What does it mean to you to be the first bridal designer to be ethically accredited?
Ethical Clothing Australia accreditation is a voluntary program for businesses manufacturing in Australia to ensure their Australian operations are transparent and ethical. Meaning supply chain transparency, meeting legal obligations and verifying all workers in their Australian supply chain are receiving their legal entitlements and other rights and under the law.
It’s a great honour to be the first ethically accredited Bridal Designer in Australia. I support accreditation because I care enough about the future of the fashion industry and it’s workers both in Australia and globally. I know from first hand experience that just because something is made in Australia, bridal gowns included, doesn’t mean it has been produced ethically. I want to support ethical production becoming the norm and I hope it helps brings more awareness to the larger community.
How did you incorporate ethical and sustainable values into your own wedding?
The industry has changed a lot since we were married almost 5 years ago. There are so many more resources now than there was then, so I had to make do with what I had available to me. I wanted my wedding to reflect my values and as such I wanted to make it as eco-friendly and waste free as possible.
We planned a super simple short ceremony in a park (gorgeous location and backdrop didn’t need to be dressed up with much decorations and stuff) with just 28 people all standing. I had asked friends and family to collect any glass jars they came across in their day to day lives at home and give them to me instead of throwing them out or putting in the recycling. These jars were then use to put a few candles and mostly flowers and foliage in to create our setting in the park and for a few table settings. Our simple ceremony was then followed by an intimate dinner with our guests within walking distance form the park and guests were all asked to pick up a jar or two from the ceremony and to take it with them to the dinner where they were then lined up around the edges of the small round glass room. All the flowers and foliage from the wedding was collected the following day and later composted.
Apart from some small table settings, this was all we used to create our space. The restaurant we had dinner at is all about Australian natural produce where the chef’s key inspiration is nature. We were lucky enough that our restaurant was able to provide the perfect gift for our guests to take home, Seed favours. Symbolic of fresh new beginnings these were plantable seedsticks accompanied by the chef’s recipe for a dish featuring the food that the seeds would grow into. For our invites and table settings I used leftover fabric scraps to create silk invites and envelopes decorated with small leftover lace pieces.
Finally my gown was 100% silk from a supplier I know well and am confident in when it comes to the ethical treatment of the workers who produce the silk. It was made using the idea of zero waste pattern cutting, where I didn’t achieve 100% zero waste but I came quite close, and as I mentioned some of these small scraps were then used to help create table settings/decorations. My gown featured a vibrant blue and silver Italian vintage lace that I found and fell in love with at a bridal store I used to work in when I first started in the industry. I was lucky enough to be able to source this amazing remnant piece of vintage lace years later from the wonderful business owner who remembered me and the lace, and was able to find it in the studio and send it to me.
What are your dreams for Lenka Couture?
I have big plans and dreams for Lenka Couture! The big inspiring vision for my business is ‘Embracing individuality and creating concious beauty that inspires positive change’. The mission for my business and long term company goal is ‘To become a leader the international luxury sustainable fashion industry driving innovation, changing the fashion industry for the better and inspiring others’
As I absolutely hate waste of any kind, I am always thinking of new or different ways to do things to reduce my waste especially with fabrics. I can’t bear to waste my offcuts so I try an apply zero waste pattern cutting to my process as much as I can. Though I’m doing quite well with this I’m definitely not at completely zero waste pattern cutting. This inspires me to do more with what I do have left over. These are all high quality beautiful fabrics and laces and shouldn’t be wasted. I have a self taught background in corsetry, one of my great passions from way back and I plan to create a sustainable luxury lingerie line from these off cuts and other deadstock fabrics and laces sourced from other companies, using up first quality beautiful fabric that may other wise end up in landfill!
I would also love to open up a selling option to clients where brides who may not want to hold onto their gown can sell their beautiful creations to other brides looking for a cheaper option to a custom made couture gown but not missing out on any of the quality. Reusing a wedding gown is the ultimate in sustainability after all.
I’d love to offer free mending and repairs to a gown after it’s been worn, so the gown can be either cleaned and lovingly cared for and treasured or sold as a pre loved gown sharing the love.
Ultimately it would also be totally amazing if my business could run as a 100% Australian made, carbon neutral and waste free business. That is a huge goal and one I’m not sure will ever be entirely possible but as long as I’m always thinking about this and aiming to do what I can to inch myself closer to that goal that’s very important!
At the end of the day though it’s just about doing the best you can with what you’ve got and making decisions consciously. The scope of what I can do now as a small business is limited but as I grow more options will open up to me and that is exciting. Developing and creating my own fabrics and laces that are not in existence now is something I particularly look forward to!
Lenka designs from her studio in Melbourne, but also has a consulting space in Sydney. You can find Lenka here.
Thanks to photographer Yana Klein for sharing these images.
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