My Eco Chick Wedding: Ethical Bridal Gowns by Leila Hafzi

I can’t say that I’ve dreamed of my wedding dress since I was a little girl—I’ve always been more of a tomboy—but after my fiancé put my Great Grandmother’s vintage engagement ring on it and I sent out my recycled paper save the dates by Paper Culture (so official—ah!), I knew I had to start thinking about an ethical bridal gown. I don’t really enjoy shopping, so if I was going to be true to myself about what I (not everyone else) wanted—the whole bring your Mom, Grandma and bridesmaids to appointments and have brunch thing—wasn’t in my future. So where did that leave me? Finding my wedding dress all by myself? Heck yeah!

I also can’t say that I spent a lot of time finding my bridal designer because the decision happened really quickly and there was zero waffling. I was simply looking for an elegant and understated gown I’d feel proud wearing, and one that was designed ethically by an artisan who valued people and planet.

And so I before I knew it, my pro Google searches landed me on a Vogue article about eco friendly wedding dresses where Livia Firth, founder of Eco-Age said, “I love Leila Hafzi, known as the first high-end ethical and eco-conscious bridalwear brand that empowers women in developing countries.” This quote sent me spiraling into a Leila Hafzi obsession. ‘Who is Leila?’ ‘Where is she based?’ Norway… ‘How would I meet her?’ ‘Dare I ask if she’d even consider designing my dress?’

Before I knew it, I found myself on a flight to Oslo, Norway for my fitting with Leila Hafzi herself. The designer is based in Stavanger, Norway, but holds private bridal fittings throughout the year in Oslo, Stavanger and Milan, Italy. The timing worked out for us to do the fitting in Oslo—that is if I wanted to catch her before she would be traveling to Nepal to work with local artisans on her latest collection of bridal gowns (where my gown would eventually be made!).

Hafzi is one of the loveliest people I’ve ever met. She’s thoughtful and gentle, and she and her assistant, Benedikte, made me feel like family because I didn’t have my crew with me. The fitting was held in a light-filled, spacious suite at the Grand Hotel Oslo, where I was staying, and the most beautiful gowns I’ve ever laid eyes on surrounded me in the room. It was majestic, somewhat overwhelming, and an unforgettable experience to say the least.

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Back in 1997, when Hafzi founded her eponymous company, few fashion brands talked about globalization, empowerment of women and ethical and eco conscious production from a developing country. When traveling in Kathmandu that year, Hafzi observed a society where women lacked both economic power and equal rights and she found herself inspired to start a fashion company with purpose. Hafzi wanted to help shift the perception of Nepal and raise awareness of artisan communities there; employ and empower women and teach them highly specialized skills (like draping); and build a high fashion, sustainable business that still appealed to Western culture.

Hafzi said that while she works selectively with American brides, trying to keep up with European demand is more than enough and she’s only interested in growing the Leila Hafzi brand if it’s done her way. Ethics and the environment are at the heart of everything she does. Hafzi has also co-founded the non-profit Rebuild Nepal to further her mission to help make emerging economies better places to live by building earthquake resistant homes and schools.

Here’s a collection of intimate photos taken by Benedikte during my fitting. Leila Hafzi designs are romantic, feminine and bohemian and they’re inspired by a fusion of themes from different cultures such as Norway, Persia (where her Father’s from), Greece and Nepal. THE Dress may or may not be photographed! When I picked my dress, Leila and I made a special video to send to my Mom and Leila described what influenced and inspired the gown. It was a beautiful moment.

  

  

About Lindsay E. Brown
Lindsay has spent her career at the intersection of media and social change. In her role at Eco-Chick, Lindsay has established partnerships and campaigns with some of the world’s most-recognized companies committed to sustainability and CSR. She co-created the popular interview series “Heroines for the Planet” that features groundbreaking women who share courage and a deep passion for protecting people and the Earth. Lindsay currently manages field marketing for Health-Ade Kombucha in the New York region and previously served as Director of Communications at the social enterprise CBS EcoMedia where she directed corporate advertising dollars to the nation’s most effective non-profits tackling urgent social issues in local communities. There she was awarded CBS Corporation’s prestigious Share-the-Vision award. She has written for Whole Living Magazine, Edible, Cottages & Gardens, From The Grapevine, EarthHour.org, Eco-Age.com, and for environmentalists Laura Turner Seydel and Susan Rockefeller. Lindsay holds a BS in Global Business Studies and Marketing from Manhattan College, and received the 2012 Honors Award at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

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