Hello peeps! Have you stopped by the blog already this morning? If you you've already seen this little set of 'wedding signage' inspiration boards I crafted with my own fair/photoshop hand yesterday evening for you, and this lovely  rustic style wedding from Photographer Andrew J R Squires :)

Make sure you pop along to see if you haven't already.

Now, here's a question…


wedding dress ethics?

Let me explain…

♥  Does it matter to you where your wedding dress is/was made, and who by?

   Does it bother you if your dress is/was 'made in the UK, or not?  Infact, do you know if your dress was made in the UK or not?

♥  Does the idea of cheap off-shore/overseas production bother you?

  Do you care that original designs can be copied for a snip of the price by these off-shore manufacturing houses?

♥  Does any of this matter as long as you get your dream dress at a price that suits?

  Would you prefer to purchase from a dress designer who claims 'ethnic' production and manufacturing credentials or does this not matter to you?

 

♥    ♥    ♥


I'm really very keen to hear any views at all that you may have on the above.

 I intend on following this up with something more in-depth very soon and your comments and feedback will play an important contribution to the feature.

Answers in a comment box below please :)

Much love and thank you all,

Annabel

Leave a Comment!

34 thoughts on The Ethics of Wedding Dress Manufacture – What Are Your Thoughts?

  1. I think price will usually be a factor that impacts on how stringently people apply their own ethics. Personally I’m having a dress made by an independent UK designer but it wasn’t always going to be that way, I was considering buying from a website that manufactures dresses abroad. Whilst the ethics of that is an issue for me, my main concern if I’m honest was not being able to try it on.
    As a small business myself, I feel it’s also important for me to support other UK small business. This has been a huge shift in perception for me since starting my own business. I know now that if I buy production line, manufactured goods I’m lining the pockets of people that don’t put profit before their art.
    However, as I said at the start of this essay (heh!) price is an issue. Handmade and ethically made goods cost more and some people simply can’t afford it.

  2. I know when I got married it didn’t even cross my mind where my dress was made, by whom or how-now that seems really bad but in my defence I was 23-I didn’t even know flower names back then and let the florist do what she wanted and that was pretty much how planning my wedding went across the board.
    16 years on and involved in the wedding industry myself now, I would do things very differently & know eactly what I like, what I want and how to achieve it. At that time I would not have changed a thing. Now I am more aware of what goes on outside my little bubble and would be horrified if my dress was manufactured in an unethicial way, BUT for lots of brides budget comes before ethics or often dreams and that is just a fact of life. xx

  3. I’m paying much more than I can afford to have a couture dress made by a leading designer, handcrafted by italian seamtresses. A lot of craftmanship and care.
    I’m afraid everything else I tried on felt like I was a ‘conveyer belt bride’, rather like high street, profit over quality.

  4. One of the major reasons I bought the dress I did was because of the lady who sold it to me. She was lovely and told me all about how the dresses were made and that it was all ethical. I think I’d be really sad if I found out that somebody made such a happy dress in awful conditions. x

  5. I think it is important where and how your dress is made – I feel so much happier knowing who is making my dress and that there aren’t thousands of others exactly the same out there. I wouldn’t consider a dress that wasn’t ethically made – I just wouldn’t feel right on my wedding day.
    I don’t think you have to blow your budget to get a good quality dress made in the uk though! I am having my dress made by a lovely Glasgow based dress maker and it is actually working out cheaper than if I bought something similar off the peg! I think if you look hard enough and you’re willing to dedicate some time to doing some research then you can find what you’re looking for to suit yout budget.
    P.S I voted for Love My Dress on the Cosmo site today! ;)

  6. Hey,
    I found the subject of this post really interesting and it’s nice to hear peoples thoughts.
    I have just made my first handmade wedding dress for a bride to be (Julie from Vintage & Cake) and my work ethics are to handmake, up-cycle fabrics or use vintage fabrics wherever possible and more often than not use traditional sewing techniques. This is completely a personal choice for me and its lovely to work with people who have the same ethics.
    I have found that working with my bride and offering a very personal service to be invaluable. I was lucky to be able to have my own creative input which my bride appreciated but being able to find unique fabrics and design the dress to make it completely unique for her made her feel special too.
    I agree with Rachel above, if you look hard enough, you will find a dressmaker you like and who can also help you and give you a direction and work within your budget.
    Lisa x

  7. From the moment I got engaged, I really wanted a fair trade eco friendly wedding. So it would be a contradiction if I got everything fair trade apart from my dress. one of the main reason why I wanted my dress to be fair trade and to be made in the UK because the idea of someone who can barely afford to eat making my wedding dress breaks my heart. So when searching for my ideal dress I emailed many designers asking where the dresses are made, where the materials are from. Then narrowed down to those who I can afford! I also asked the shop assistants in the bridal shops to only let me try on british designers! (diva much? lol) While on my quest on finding my ideal fair trade dress, I came across different wedding forums with brides discussing about their designer dress made in china. Most of the brides to be were upset because they paid so much for their dresses, expecting to be made in the USA. Many of the brides on the forums wanted to give it their dresses back but because they love the dress so much they didn’t have the heart to. I don’t like the way some designers ‘hide’ where their dresses are made.
    Another reason why I chose against big designers.
    F

  8. I have no idea where my wedding dress was made or by whom. It never even crossed my mind to ask. Don’t worry, this is totally in character for me: I’ve never once thought about where any of my clothes were made. I am a bad person all round!
    However, my blood runs cold when newly engaged friends brightly tell me that they’ve found this chinese company on ebay who make EXACT REPLICAS but at like, a millionth of the price of the real one. Never once have I heard these tales end well and I dread to think of the impact that these types of “businesses” have on the real designers and dress makers.

  9. I’m constantly surprised by the number of large ‘British labels’ who actually go to china and ‘pick’ out their designs, so no real designing goes into it, and also by the number of designers that say they are ‘British’ through and through and although they may design it on our shores they have them made abroad for cheap, but keep that fact quite hidden.
    However I know of one company who’s been totally open about how they design in a committee style and that their dresses are made in china, but they also will tailor any dress to a bride, so you can change anything about your dress so they can make it bespoke but cheaply, because it’s made in china.
    So it works both ways. The Ebay thing however is a disgrace! Stealing people’s designs, and making poor imitations… it’s sad, and it hardly ever works out well for the bride.
    I did have the honour once of visiting a British company in Enfield who designed & made their dresses on site in England, and they had the most wonderful seamstresses, proper old school seamstresses. The designer and her team worked so well together, like a family. The place just felt like a wonderland and not a factory.
    That was when knew that when I do get a dress I want to buy it direct from the dress maker/designer themselves, I want to meet the person who makes my dress – but of course that’s if I can afford it.

  10. I am designing and making my own dress, I am not a dress maker – I have made 3 or 4 dresses and a couple of tops for fun.
    This is probably only an option for me because I don’t want a weddingy wedding dress, I actually have quite a specific idea of what I’d like can’t find it online or in the shops.
    Reading this has made me wonder about how ethical the fabric manufacture will be though??

  11. I considered everything… but just because my maid of honor herself happens to be in the fashion industry and led me through everything… but you know what .. I think if I hadn’t put soooo much though in it it would’ve been way less expensive and les stressful!

  12. I to have found this post most interesting and helpful and agree so much with the comments. I agree with Cloggins comment about the cheap knock offs on ebay, so many of my customers have ended up purchasing these and been disapointed.
    From personal experience i found that mass produced wedding dresses were not for me. I didn’t feel comfortable in two of my local dress shops been pushed to try on the “ideal” wedding dress and looking at the same ones over and over and over in wedding magazines. And you never really know where or in what conditions they are been made. It wouldn’t sit well with me to wear a dress that may have been produced in a sweat shop by children.
    Which is why my mum ended up making my perfect dress. The love and work that went into making it perfectly tailored to me was worth it, it was magical and a one off. As a result it kick started mums passion for dress making and we are now working on a project to provide such dresses for brides in the near future.
    Also as a small business i will always support other small business’s over massive companies.

  13. I’ve got an original 1950s vintage dress – I’ve got no idea how or where it was made back then but I’m getting it from Dragonfly Dress Designs in Glasgow which is a tiny studio owned by the lovely Lisa who makes bespoke dresses as well as sourcing and altering vintage gowns. My dress is being almost completely rebuilt from the waist up to give me exactly what I’m looking for. I don’t know if it was my ethics particularly turned me off an off the peg dress, more that I didn’t want to be an off the peg bride in the same dress design that 100s of other brides had worn. A bespoke gown from a big name designer is way out of my budget but this way I get the best of both worlds – a unique and bespoke dress, with a history, at a fraction of the cost of a designer dress.

  14. I have so much to say on this topic I may well have to write to Annabel separately on this issue. I applaud everyone’s total commitment to originality and ethically sourced goods.
    However, there is a world of difference between an international fashion ‘industry’ and exploitative practises of sweatshops and forced labour.
    The other significant fact is that there is no textile industry left in the UK. There are tiny artisan companies and expensive couturiers. At both levels neither are able to cope with the demands of the volume of the UK bridal market.
    As a retailer with considerable experience of the rise and fall of the British made product I would like a very sensible discussion of the provenance of the garments we covet without demystifying their significance.
    On the other hand – if you trust ‘me’ (if ‘me’ is a top designer retailer, High Street chain, artisan, local dressmaker or vintage finder – to source with an ethical philosophy) – how much do you really want to know?
    I could reveal the lot – but would it be like finding your Christmas presents? Or knowing, when you are at the top of the Eiffel Tower with a long term boyfriend, what’s coming. Should you not believe in The Elves and the Shoemaker and Fairy Godmother and let us/me stress the politics?
    I can give you the facts – but do you want them?

  15. Personally, I would want a UK made dress. But I prefer to by most tings UK made if I can help it. My sister found a small, independent dress maker in Nottingham when she got married a few years ago and instantly knew it was the right place for her because, well, it just felt right. Personal. That’s the feeling I want. But if it so happens that I get that feeling and THE dress isn’t actually UK made…well we will see. Hopefully not.

  16. Like Sarah I have also chosen a handmade vintage dress from a local collector and had it altered by a local seamstress. Both women are at the start of new business ventures and it has been a delight to work with them. When I started searching for dresses I figured there were so many out there that already existed and, in most cases, had only been worn once! I understand that vintage isn’t for everyone and there may be issues with sizes/condition of the dresses, but it really is worth investigating if you have concerns about the mass-produced end of the market and yet lack the budget to commission an entirely bespoke piece.

  17. Great topic to do justice to.
    Ethics didn’t so much come into my dress decision as the style and the meaning – my mum made mine for me. We picked a pattern, she altered it, and being with her as she made it the way I envisioned was more meaningful than any other dress in any shop could have been.
    However, it does get more complicated I suppose. We bought the silk for the dress from the garment district in New York while on holiday. Other than that I have no idea where the fabric originally came from or who made it, and that’s just as important to consider. I admit I know very little about the mainstream silk trade.
    In fashion and textiles, whether wedding-related or not, it’s almost impossible to know where an item was made, or assembled, or where the fabric came from, or how the cotton was sourced, and how the price trickles down to all those involved in the process from design to assembly to sale. I recently bought a Ted Baker shirt from Oxfam – it’s made in China, but I bought it from a charity shop. Is that ethical? I’m not even sure. As much as I’d love to be ethical in all my wardrobe purchases, I’m as likely to buy from Primark as People Tree.

  18. Quick thought. Knowing what I do now, if I was to go back in time and be married again, I would definitely have a vintage frock…
    I adored my designer wedding dress, but it cost so so much money. And honestly? I wonder now how much it actually cost to manufacture as opposed to how much I was paying for the ‘brand’……

  19. Such a very complicated topic…
    I’m having my wedding dress made by a most fabulous dressmaker/designer in Brighton, and I adore the fact that my dress is being made less than a mile from my house. The ethical side of having a dress I KNOW is not made in a sweatshop, and supporting local businesses at the same time was a huge deal for me. (As an aside, I also knew I wouldn’t find my dress off the peg so I didn’t really bother looking!)
    I am a dressmaker myself, and am making my first wedding dress for one of my closest friends next year. We’re both really keen to be as ethical as possible about the way it is made, but the ethics and eco credentials of fabric in particular are an absolute nightmare. I think the ideal will be for me to adjust a vintage dress for her, but this is so dependent on the luck of finding the right one. If we end up having to buy the fabric, I think we will really struggle to find fabric we know to have been ethically made. I think it is a crying shame that the UK has no fabric industry left, and I live in hope that this will change. I especially hope this will have changed by the time I open my own wedding dress studio ;) However, UK made doesn’t necessarily equal ethical, and I think it is important to remember that.
    Oooh, it’s a minefield!

  20. I’m leaning towards a RowanJoy dress. I found her through LMD! She has such gorgeous dresses and she makes them herself I think. I would support an upcoming designer and her prices are reasonable for what the dresses are.

  21. It mattered a lot to me to know where my dress was being made and by whom. I’m wearing Sassi Holford (a dress I originally spotted on this blog, in fact, it’s a long story but I have you to thank for finding it) and my dress is being made in the UK. This makes me happy – I would feel funny about it being made in a country with a less positive record on employment rights. The idea of cheap off-shore/overseas production bothers me a lot, partly because I don’t like the idea that you should have what you want and to hell with the cost to other people if it costs you less, and partly because I am self-employed and it gets my back-up when people object to someone charging a decent amount for their time and – gasp – charging a mark-up. It’s not like that has to cover tax, national insurance, staff wages, lighting, rent, etc.
    “Do you care that original designs can be copied for a snip of the price by these off-shore manufacturing houses?” I think it’s just as wrong as ripping off someone else’s illustration or photograph, and I think it’s selfish when people buy knock-offs.
    Everyone should care about the ethics of their dress – because if you think your dream dress is more important than not exploiting people, well, that’s bridezilla.

  22. I have a love hate affair with fashion because of the ethics of a lot of companies, and the idea of someone working in bad conditions for a dress that is the most important of my life doesn’t sit right with me. Don’t get me wrong I am a bargain demon, but do believe in the economic butterfly effect and if there is something that you are getting at a knockdown price – it is normally because someone is suffering.
    In terms of the way the free market treats fabric producers and fashion producers in the third world, and some of the horrifying things that I have seen in documentaries – I think it is wrong.
    If my wedding dress is made in terrible conditions, for minimum wage, with no real legal protection then it has to make you feel a little guilty.
    I know it is credit crunch, that we are all financially struggling, and a wedding is expensive – but I don’t want to sacrifice my ethics for the sake of a few quid.
    Also in terms of cheap knock offs as a creative, that hurts me. Trying to churn up ideas and translate them into something tangible although a joy (I do love my job) is quite difficult. So, to have someone show up and pretty much steal months or years worth of ideas, research, blood, sweat and fears – and reproduce it at a tenth of price when you are an independent artist or creator is heartbreaking.
    That’s the problem with creative work – people see the end result and not the work that has gone into creating it, giving the idea of ease and simplicity when are lot of complexity has gone into creating the initial piece. If you value anything then pay what it is worth, whether that is the dress, the cake, the photography or stationery.
    Sorry to sound harsh, but if you are going to get a cheap knock off why not drink a cocktail made with the tears of factory children, and the blood of creatives when you toast your wedding?

  23. Kudos for tackling such a difficult topic!
    I agree that as consumers we ought to put pressure on retailers to ensure good working practices. Great principle. In practice, it’s more difficult: I bought my wedding dress from Monsoon, proportedly the most ethical high-street retailer, with great commitment to fair trade: http://www.monsoon.co.uk/our-company/corporate-responsibility+culture/pcat/cultureandcommitment
    Dig a little deeper, and it seems that their own investigations reveal things aren’t perfect and there is probably some unethical practice within their supply chain: http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2010/nov/21/monsoon-child-labour-india?INTCMP=SRCH
    I do believe the company when it says it’s working on it, but what action should I as a consumer take? It seems easy to say that as most retailers now sub-contract their manufacture elsewhere we cannot absolutely guarantee the garments are ethically produced, we should therefore shop 100% UK or vintage – and don’t get me wrong, I think both of these are marvellous. But let’s say for example every Monsoon customer read that Guardian article and boycotted it, shopping exclusively in vintage stores and Oxfam. What effect would that have on the people that make Monsoon’s clothing? Would they thank us? Is it a genuinely ethical choice?
    It’s always going to be difficult to tell how ethical a clothing brand is – after all, none of them are going to use malnourished kiddies making their textiles on their posters (as opposed to the malnourished models, ha) and it’s an underreported issue. But I think with a little digging one can get a fair idea of which retailers are making genuine efforts with ethical issues and support them.

  24. Some superb responses coming through on this post – I hope they are giving readers much food for thought.
    Amma, you have very eloquently described how I feel on the subject. And this has to be the soundbite of the day…….
    “….if you are going to get a cheap knock off why not drink a cocktail made with the tears of factory children, and the blood of creatives when you toast your wedding?”
    Powerful, and thought provoking words…
    xXx

  25. I think when it comes to a wedding dress, most brides are buying the most important, beautiful, and possibly most expensive single item of clothing for their wedding day.
    I think a lot of people excuse buying clothes on a day-to-day level from shops with perhaps less than ethical policies, partly for ease as well as cost. There aren’t enough high street shops with proper ethical policies, especially when they source their cotton from countries such as Uzbekistan where slave labour is still rife. (link: http://www.antislavery.org/english/campaigns/cottoncrimes/forced_labour_in_uzbekistan_background.aspx ). Please note: that is actual, forced slave labour, not “just” low-paid.
    So when it comes to weddings, I think it’s a great opportunity for brides to break that line. Save a little longer if cost is an issue, or be a little more creative – as some of the other commentators have suggested. Given the outcry towards blood diamonds and subsequent action; why not do the same with wedding dresses?

  26. Thanks for bringing this to our attention. In all honesty, I’m ashamed to say I hadn’t really thought about it. How terrible! I had wanted to ‘support local’ and ensure anything I bought for our wedding was made in the UK and I’ve chosen a dress by a designer and dressmaker in Wales but have I gone far enough? Should I ask them where the material is sourced from??
    I’m a little worried now! I’m paying a lot for my dress but I am really pleased it’s made in Wales and made for me and I’m not just buying ‘off the rack’ as it were. Should I consider anything else?
    Thanks for highlighting this as an issue. I think we get caught up in all of the fabulous aspects of wedding planning and we should be careful to consider how it all comes about.
    Bx

  27. Dear Annabel, your blog post about where dresses are made has struck a chord and is something I feel very strongly about, and something that has been hugely detrimental to my business at points over the year…apologies for my grammar and punctuation
    I strongly believe in making our gowns here/locally! Who will pass on our skills and craft if like all the other “big” players we move production overseas to places such India or China??
    This is my story…
    About 20 years ago I graduated with a fashion degree, I set up my business as a partnership within 6 months of leaving University with the help of some funding from The Princes Trust, and started to build my business, we designed and made gowns and sold them to shops so the business was mainly wholesale and at one point I sold parts of our collection to nearly 20 shops across the Uk and Europe….we had a small manufacturing unit with 6 employees cutting and making our collection and orders…we made everything in the uk….which at the time was no big deal as most of the other designers did too…..
    Then about 12 years ago, things changed…there were far east factory agents who were starting buying up failing labels and then using their names to promote dresses that were being made very cheaply in China, I mean ridiculously cheap!! over the next few years you would hear about more and more manufacturing going predominantly to China. I increasingly found it more and more difficult to compete on price, shops were buying dresses 25-50% cheaper than they had been from the uk manufacturers, and a lot of the time the labels were still selling at the same or similar ex factory prices as before, so their margins were much better….the quality from china is good most of the time, so what would you do if you were a shop or a big volume design label? Buy at 40% cheaper from china or buy a similar gown made in the uk at the original price…so you guessed it the majority bought in directly from china, pretty much all uk bridal manufacture came to a halt…I was approached to get my dresses produced in china , but I refused I was determined to keep my craft alive…I believe in craftsmanship, and the cottage industry ethos. I have employed and trained seamstresses and seamsmen …lol is that even a word? I have had many many students come for work experience over the last 20 years…if I manufactured in Abroard then there would be even less opportunities for people interested in the art of dressmaking and couture work.
    Gradually the wholesale aspect of the business dwindled because I simply could not compete, Things were very touch and go for a long long time so 8 years ago I relocated to get new perspective and a fresh start, and develop my business in a new direction that involves me seeing brides direct and one to one, in going through their ideas and hopefully coming up with some unique designs that reflect their personalities. Now ,I actually really love my job, I love interacting with brides and having a laugh with some really cool girls…they inspire me to try new things and be more creative. I wouldn’t change a thing about my work.. Except have a bigger workroom and more hours in a day maybe
    I predicted many years ago, that if everyone abandoned manufacturing here for overseas …then once a monopoly was established then the margins would be squeezed and people would be beholding to those who held the preverbial basket of eggs, and sure as night follows day I hear disgruntled retailers talking about big price increases and long lead /delivery time .people are powerless to be able to do anything. We cannot revert back to uk manufacture , all the old school factory girls have retired or had a career change and there are no factories or small production units to speak of. There are a few designers who have stayed manufacturing here and it makes me very proud of them and us that we believe in our futures and future generations.
    So all told, we reap what we sew (no pun intended)….it makes me very very sad that we have lost another jewel from our manufacturing crown.
    So I will do my bit in what I can to keep our craft alive, carry on teaching students who come for work experience, carry on training and teaching my staff the skills that my mother passed onto me…and carry on getting a whole lot more job satisfaction and pride in my work!
    I know it may not always be possible but If you can buy British then please try to,,,,as you too will be doing your bit to support our beloved industry here in the uk and the same goes for all the brides around the world please support your local and National designers and makers who make in your own respective countries
    Much respect
    X

  28. I think there is a misconception that handmade dresses from UK designers are always going to be unaffordable. I design and make stylish, vintage-inspired wedding dresses, and can usually manage to cater to any budget. I think that the moral of the story is: don’t be afraid to approach designers/dressmakers to ask for a quote:)
    xx

  29. If I could find someone who was going to make me a dress for under £500 (bearing in mind I just want something 50s style), then I would go for it. Being plus sized I’ve hated the whole experience and quite frankly I sometimes feel like turning up to my wedding in jeans.
    But as it is, every dressmaker I have approached charges upwards of £800, some as much as £2000 and for me, I’m sorry, I just cannot justify (nor afford) it on a dress for one day. That’s just me. Yes, I appreciate a lot of hard work goes into making them and for the brides willing to pay that, great. But I can’t afford that, so I feel like I probably don’t have much choice.
    I’m not saying I’m going the China route either despite my mum urging me daily to do so (that said, I know 3 people now who have actually had lovely dresses from China, but that’s the risk you take for £250 a throw). However, the company I have found with dresses in the style, size and price range I’m looking at, I have a very strong suspicion that they are made in China or similar. I would hope I’m wrong on that, I really do. This does worry me, but I’m not sure I can afford to be picky?!
    I’d love to have the budget and figure to wear something vintage, but alas, that’s not to be.
    Please correct me if I’m wrong about any of this, just putting my twopenneth in (but be nice about it!!)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *