To be frank, I wasn’t really trying to throw a sustainable wedding. I was trying to throw a cheap wedding and a beautiful wedding. But hey, there’s an encouraging lesson: when I combined cheap and beautiful, I ended up with sustainable. Sounds good to me!
First, some context: Christian and I met about 5 years ago. How we met is a much longer story that involves enchiladas, dancing at a senior citizen community hall, fake rain, pants puns, and “the fart that stole my heart”. How he proposed is also a long story that involves leather chaps, self-tanner, a wig, fake tattoos, and a motorcycle. Doubtless, you learned nothing from that except that we’re unconventional and a little quirky. Our wedding followed suit.
I’m from Chattanooga, Tennessee. In the South, you throw big weddings. You hire a wedding planner. You invite your parent’s friends, and your parent’s friend’s friends, and all the cousins and aunties you met fifteen years ago at that one family reunion. You have lots of different parties before your wedding and make lots of lists and try not to break up with your fiance in the midst of it all. You go to cake tastings and wedding dress fittings and a few melt-downs later, you look around and you’re at your wedding you spent a year planning, a little tipsy, sitting in your chair, trying not to get food on your dress that you don’t really have time to eat because of all the people talking to you, trying to fit sincere well wishes into thirty second interactions. I admire the ones who can do this with grace. I cannot.
I did not want a big wedding. I wanted a small communal feast. I wanted to look out from our place at the altar and recognize every single face we were making our sacred vows in front of. I wanted everyone there to already know each other and know our story. I wanted to eat good food with great friends, a slow and intimate evening filled with music-playing, strong wine, and inappropriate toasts. I like imagining explaining that to a wedding planner. So now that you know a little bit more about us and what we were going for, here’s how it turned into something cheap, beautiful, and sustainable:
1. Paper Invites vs. Digital
Bridal shower invites, Save the Dates, Rehearsal Dinner Invites, Wedding invitations, RSVP cards and all of the envelopes. No, thank you. I did not want to deal with all that addressing and all that paper.
We re-designed a vintage Geneva postcard to include our names, wedding details, and the website (withjoy.com) with ALL of the other information. We bought cute stamps, and because it was a postcard, didn’t even have to worry about envelopes, and sent out ONE wedding invite.
Sure, this isn’t traditional. But Christian and I decided tradition, in this case, was wasteful and unnecessarily time consuming, so we did it our own way. The result? Less paper waste and less time wasted for us.
2. A Small Wedding
The easiest way to throw a small wedding? A destination wedding. Conveniently, Christian’s family has lived in Geneva, Switzerland for 10 years, so choosing his backyard as the venue was an easy decision. Our wedding ended up being 34 people total. Because we were dealing with a smaller number, we didn’t have to sacrifice sustainability for convenience (think plastic plates and disposable cutlery) and we didn’t generate the same waste that large parties tend to.
3. The Dress
I needed two things: a dress that could fit in carry-on luggage and a dress that I could afford. Oh, and a dress that made me feel like the most beautiful woman in the world, but that seemed a little far fetched considering the first two priorities. NOT SO, my friends. I found a boutique in Nashville called LVD with an incredibly sensible business model. They sell the sample dresses from other bridal stores at a discounted rate, and if you sell your dress back to them, you keep 50% of what it retails for.
Considering 7 kg of CO2 are released for every kg of cotton produced and it takes up to 2,720 litres of water to produce one cotton t-shirt (about the amount of water that an average person drinks over 3 years), buying second-hand sounds like a deal to me! Especially for something like a wedding dress that is only worn ONCE.
Fun fact- my dress is the only thing on me that I spent money on. My earrings were left behind by a guest at the B&B I used to work at (and she didn’t want them back), my shoes are they same ones I wore to my junior prom in highschool, and my necklace was my grandmother’s engagement diamond.
4. One location
We had it all in one location so nobody had to drive and we didn’t have to worry about logistics. And by “we had it all” we mean the ceremony, the reception, and where everybody stayed. We borrowed and put mattresses down on any floor space we could fit them so that all our friends would have free lodging at Christian’s house the week leading up to wedding and we’d all be in one place. That’s why we ended up calling it #weddingcamp
5. Eat, Drink, and Buy Local
I think one of my favorite aspects of our wedding was how the food and wine reflected the place we were. The wine was from a vineyard 5 minutes away from Christian’s house and they said if we bought a bottle per person, we could have our rehearsal dinner in their beautiful old wine cellar for free! Well, since that meant we only had to buy 34 bottles for our small wedding, then we had delicious local wine and a rehearsal dinner venue for a reasonable rate!
We bought our steak from a neighboring farm and the groomsmen grilled it at the reception!
And all the flowers were bought from a local florist in France. You know, because wedding planning isn’t difficult enough, so I wanted to make sure I had to also describe what flowers I wanted in my sub-par french.
6. Don’t Buy, Borrow!
Tables & Benches- borrowed from Christian’s parent’s church
Rugs and chairs – borrowed
7. And what you can’t borrow, make!
The arbor over the altar? Yeah, christian made that out of sticks in the backyard. We called it his “stick fort.”
8. Glasses and Plates
I didn’t want to pay the outrageous prices for renting dinnerware for one night, but I also didn’t want to go disposable because it’s not beautiful. So, I asked Christian’s mom to start asking friends if she could barrow plates, looking at the charity shops for what she couldn’t borrow, and to save every glass jar she went through six months before the wedding. And because she is the mother of a very large family, she over-delivered. She saved so many jars, we didn’t have to buy or rent wine glasses, water glasses, ice-cream bowls, vases, or candle holders. It was all recycled.
9. Napkins and Table Clothes
To avoid paying for 34 cloth napkins I would use once, I went to the charity shop, bought a king sized sheet, and cut it up into 34 pieces. The table runners are lace curtains and also from the charity shop.
I’m not claiming our wedding as the golden standard of sustainability. People had to fly on planes that use jet fuel to get there and we still had a lot of trash at the end of the night. But I am claiming that there are cheaper, more sustainable, and (in my opinion) more beautiful ways to throw a wedding than the wedding industry encourages. It took a bit more thought and a bit more problem solving, but at the end of night, as I sat in my chair a little tipsy from drinking local wine out of my mother in-law’s old mayonnaise jar, married to the dude I love, listening to our friends play us music and roast us, I knew we had done something right.
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