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White weddings going green

by Lola Dada and Alexis K. Weed
March 06, 2008

Lola Dada & Alexis K. Weed/Medill

Chicago bridal boutique, White Chicago, sells "once wed" gowns, making the entire shop 100 percent environmentally friendly.

As summer approaches, businesses like Shelley's Bridal Boutique Inc. in West Dundee that are part of the $70 billion wedding industry can count on more than the grass turning green.

Shelley Murray, founder and owner of the shop, gives her customers the environmentally-friendly option of purchasing pre-worn fabric that is re-sewn into a one-of-a-kind gown. The process, she says, shows off each bride’s unique taste and creates the equivalent of a couture gown wholly made from recycled material.

“Brides can purchase a couple of sample gowns, rather than having to buy new parts. The samples sewn together can be the interior and the outer shell of the dress,” Murray said.

Murray also offers dresses that incorporate or are made from “peace silk,” a type of silk that is produced using an unconventional method. Traditional silk-making requires killing silk pupae or worms before they emerge from their cocoons. Peace silk production allows the pupae to grow and emerge as adult moths, after which time the silk is produced from cocoons found in the wild.

Murray’s environmentally-conscious gowns range from $2,600 to $5,000.

A growing number of the estimated 2.3 million brides and grooms each year are seeking ways to make their big day environmentally friendly. From recycled gowns to propane-fueled limousines, businesses that provide wedding venues, services and products are turning up solutions to satisfy these “green” customers.

Chicago resident and bride-to-be Barbara Burke is looking for a venue for her 200 guests that is earth-friendly. “I’m hoping for an outdoor location for the wedding and reception,” she said. “It is one of the best ways to reduce energy use.” Burke explained that by having her event outside, she can rely on the sun to light her ceremony and candles to light the reception tent.  

Business partners Usurla Guyer and Stacey Senechalle are part of the trend. In 2006, the team opened White Chicago LLC, a bridal boutique in the River North neighborhood that sells “once worn” and sample designer gowns. All of the boutique’s gowns are on the verge of being recycled – each dress was either worn by one previous bride, or created as a sample garment for a manufacturer or retailer.

“The whole idea is to save money, save time, and save the earth, all at the same time,” said Guyer. White Chicago limits its selections to gowns originally priced at $1500 or higher. The shop sells the gowns at a discount ranging from 30 percent to 70 percent.

“Going green is so hot right now. Everybody wants to do their part to help save the earth,” Senechalle said. “Just in the last few months, I’ve noticed a huge increase in the number of people looking for environmentally-friendly dresses.” Senechalle estimates that 25 percent of the brides who visit her shop do so because of environmental awareness.

Bridal Expo Inc., a trade show that frequents the Chicago and Milwaukee metropolitan areas, is also promoting green weddings by showcasing some wedding vendors that have provided their customers with green options.

"Since you'll probably spend more on your wedding than any other single expenditure except your car or home, it's a great opportunity to support local, organic, recycled, and recyclable goods," said Bill Brennan, CEO of Bridal Expo, in a 2007 press release.

Frank Deangelo, owner of Executive Coach Limousine, a division of Executive Image Limousine Inc. in Villa Park, announced last July that he would convert his fleet of limousines to liquid propane gas, a gas that he says will reduce vehicle emissions by 98 percent. Deangelo has converted three of his 20 limousines thus far and hopes to complete the conversion process by the end of 2008.

The U.S. Department of Energy acknowledges that propane gas can significantly reduce vehicle emission in comparison to traditional gas alternatives, but it does not give a percentage as to how much.

Deangelo said the cost of each limo conversion is between $2,500 and $5,000 depending on the size of the vehicle.

“The cost of gas was definitely something to consider,” he added, “but we also feel like we have a responsibility to go green.”

As of yet, going green hasn’t directly transformed into greenbacks for Deangelo. “We do market it and talk about it. People think it’s cool but it hasn’t really converted into business yet.”

But he's willing to wait. “This is all fairly new. We gotta give it a couple of years before we can make that determination. Most of our weddings don’t happen until between April and November, so we still gotta give this time."

Some wedding Web sites are providing expectant brides and grooms with links to eco-friendly planning options and some Web sites are even wholly devoted to these practices.

“The Web sites are really helpful,” said Burke. “Some allow you to search by green vendors.”

Some future thoughts for green-leaning brides and grooms:  organic flower pieces, wedding invitations on recycled paper, and an all-organic dinner menu.