Locally Sewn and Grown: Yes, You Can Find a Sustainable Bridal Gown
By Jillian Laurel Steinberger, Photograph by Paige Green
“Your wedding symbolizes a statement of pure love, so why wear something made in a sweatshop from synthetic materials?” says Andrea Plell of Ecologique Fashion, a fashion promoter and wedding and event planner associated with the nonprofit organization, Fibershed.
“In my search for the perfect wedding dress, it’s important to me that it be made locally and sustainably,” says Plell, who became engaged in July. Her ideal dress will be a beautiful heirloom made of natural fibers, dyed with native plants, and sewn with love and care by local artisans.
While finding locally grown bridal is decidedly not easy, resources are emerging, especially through Fibershed, which encourages the growth of a “slow textile” economy that connects organic fiber farmers with haute designers and consumers in their region, much as the Slow Food movement has connected farmers, chefs and consumers residing in the same local area.
Fibershed is based in Marin County, which, along with Sonoma County, San Francisco and Oakland, makes up the hotbed of northern California’s nascent eco-fashion industry. While that might not seem hyper-local to folks on the Central Coast, Fibershed defines its boundary—a circumference of 150 miles—as west from the Pacific and east to the Sierras, and from Tehama County in the far north, down through Monterey County in the south.
Designers who make custom bridal wear include Myrrhia Resnick (Myrrhia Fine Knitwear), who was born and raised in Santa Cruz (she now sells through a storefront on Grant Street in San Francisco’s North Beach), and Fennel Bridal, which provides heirloom-quality, handcrafted gowns, sustainably made using natural fabrics as well as up-cycling vintage gowns.
Closer to home, Christine Clement of Haute Fiber is a “felter” from Felton who creates custom gowns of soft felt wool and silk blends. She also makes dresses suitable for flower girls, inspired by her daughter Claire, 6, whom she dresses in her creations. She uses natural dyes, such as eucalyptus leaves, Madrone bark, onion skins and sour grass, and creates prints with leaves and flowers.
So does her friend, Marilou Moschetti, an Aptos felting master who creates wedding dresses, shawls and “ethereal drama pieces” that she has exhibited around the country.
Another of Clement’s friends is Allison Charter-Smith of Madrone Coast Farm in Felton, Fibershed’s southernmost certified farmer-producer. Charter-Smith raises Babydoll Southdown sheep, an heirloom breed from England, and sells their naturally colored wool at farmers’ markets in Santa Cruz, Felton, Scotts Valley and Saratoga.
A former Silicon Valley marketing professional, Charter-Smith was inspired when she read about an English shepherdess who made her own wedding gown out of wool from her flock of Lincoln Longwool sheep—and even incorporated her sheep into the ceremony.
“I wanted to do the exact same thing when my husband and I got married in 2004,” she says. “But that was before Fibershed and the logistics were too complicated to get a dress made out of my own sheep’s wool.”
Dreams like this should soon be easier to realize, however, as a brand new Monterey Bay chapter of Fibershed is starting up.
Member Melissa Lieurance, for example, notes that the pristine wool that comes from angora rabbits like those she raises in Carmel Valley is a popular ingredient in high-end wedding accessories.
“It’s one of the few, if not only, natural fibers that comes in pure white without bleaching,” Lieurance says. “Kate Middleton wore a handmade angora bolero over her wedding dress when she married Prince William.”
Royal Oaks farmer Trish Sparling, the new Fibershed chapter’s founder, also takes inspiration from the British Isles—in her case, the Shetland Islands, where wedding shawls are knit so fine that they can pass through a man’s wedding ring.
“When I first got my Shetlands, my brother was getting married. I spun wool from my sheep and knit a shawl,” Sparling says. “It wasn’t a great piece of knitting, but I knit good wishes into it to welcome my sister-in-law into the family, and it was meaningful to her.”
Jillian Laurel Steinberger is a freelance writer and designer of sustainable gardens and softscapes (www.garden-artisan.com). She has written for the San Francisco Chronicle and other Bay Area publications. To learn more about Fibershed, see her Summer 2014 cover story at www.edibleeastbay.com.