Behind-the-Scenes of Ethical Fashion Activist and Designer’s Sustainable Wedding

Ethical fashion professional Ashelyn Przedwiecki is no stranger to the Ethical Weddings movement. She has been a pal of ours since we’ve been growing our community of event professionals passionate about the environment. When she shared with us she was getting married, we immediately called dibs on her sharing her wedding story with us! Read on for this priceless 411 to inspire you as you plan your own socially impactful and environmentally friendly nuptials.

You and your then fiancé had a very clear purpose to your wedding. What was the process like coming up with that purpose?

Surprisingly enough, our dream wedding was born out of the COVID19 restrictions. While we acknowledge these past two years have brought so many challenges for couples and families, the barriers allowed us to redesign the entire process.

A true blessing in disguise for us, postponing our first wedding date was the gateway to creating the truest and most meaningful version of our wedding we couldn’t have even envisioned possible. Our first round of wedding planning took on the typical — find a date, venue, and secure the invitation list. Etc etc etc. As an event planner, I already felt uninspired and stuck to the traditional wedding to-do list even though I didn’t know if I even wanted to have a wedding at all. How could I find joy in this process?

When we were forced to consider postponement in March of 2020, my partner Pablo and I took it as an opportunity to pause and ask ourselves why wasn’t the process working for us? Why were we already stressed out, short-tempered with one another, and overwhelmed by how we were going to spend our money?

After we pushed our date out one year, we sat down over our favorite fair-trade coffee and mapped out our why – together as a couple.

We pulled inspiration from Priya Parker’s Art Of Gathering where she shared the purpose of why we come together, stating that “gathering matters because it is through each other that we figure out what we believe.”

There is also an amazing podcast between Priya Parker and Brene Brown where they deconstruct Brene’s wedding and share why even, decades later, people still talk about how unique and special it was. We wanted our event to be just memorable for us and our guests, so we took on the challenge and asked ourselves, Why do we even want a wedding at all? What do we believe and how do we share that with our closest people?

Pablo and I took time to define a clear purpose for our wedding and kept this close throughout the planning.

Our Purpose:

Share and create a meaningful experience for guests to learn about who we are as individuals, introduce ourselves as a couple, and make a memory together that invites them into supporting and engaging with us in our commitment to one another.

Who it was for:

For those who have meaningfully engaged in our lives, impacted who we show up as in our relationship, and who we hope will be with us in building our future together. 

Once we did that exercise together, we were so much more aligned on the goals for our event, how we wanted to feel on our day, and how who we wanted to surround ourselves with.

It made all of our decisions from there on out that much easier to make. It even made it easier to talk with our families and parent’s to share why our second cousins weren’t invited and why we chose to focus on some non-traditional elements of day to take them inside our relationship and what makes it one of a kind. 

We asked ourselves some questions:

After we discovered our purpose and why, we shared it with our families and those in our lives. Anytime people would ask how planning was going or impose an opinion, we would spin it to the positive and share the gratitude we had for our people and the joy in keeping our event small and intimate. We reduced our guest size from the original 125 down to 55 of our closet people. Having fewer guests allowed us to deeply connect with people that were present plus reduced our carbon footprint and allowed us to have more of a budget to spend elsewhere. Bonus!

We also wanted to share our values and get our community involved in our wedding. We wanted to inspire those to commit to our relationship moving forward.

A few ways we tried to create something memorable: 

Your people want to help. Give them a job!

People love to help and support the process so give them something to contribute. We looked at the various gifts or talents or skills of the people invited and allowed them to shine! Our families each love to cook, so we assigned them to create their families’ signature dishes to share with each other the night before the wedding. During the ceremony, we had various friends creatively express themselves through poetry or share a reading from their favorite writers based on the theme of vulnerability (we see you, Brene Brown!). It was so meaningful to highlight these important relationships in our lives and they felt such a sense of purpose when they were given something to contribute.

Create a few focus moments throughout the night.

How did we actually want to spend our time during the day? We discovered we wanted to spend most of our time being with our people and give them the opportunity to connect and meet one another. We gave generous time for the cocktail hour and the dinner where we had curated Conversation Menus on every table to guide people through a series of questions to go beyond the small talk. As a couple, we took the stage and guided people throughout the night (thanks to our theater background!), so they felt comfortable and safe to engage in the activities we planned throughout. We wanted to feel as if they were in our home and we were the hosts! 

Curate your guestlist

What started out as the most challenging part of cutting back our wedding, the guestlist, ended up being the most fun. Many couples struggle to narrow down who should be invited and how do you communicate that to them in the process. We decided on a hybrid option, which allowed for people to engage from afar and to also feel included. We asked those tuning in virtually to leave us a love note during the ceremony for us to read later. This also gave us an option to share for those who weren’t invited to the in person portion. We had such a great time with our in person guest list, mixing up the table assignments based on who we hoped would meet one another, and gave our families an opportunity to spend that quality time with one another.

We designed our guest list and where they sat based on the mood, ambiance, and connections we wanted to feel. Who would bring the high energy on the dance floor? Who would get excited to play ping pong and get the games rolling? Who would guide the tables in conversation? Curating our list made it fun for us to create the moments and the feelings we wanted. Plus we didn’t have to worry about weird drama from our awkward uncles or meeting plus ones of our cousins that we would never see again… Curation was everything!

Where did you get educated on eco-friendly practices?

As an environmentalist at heart, I have always integrated sustainability into my lifestyle and work. I come from a background in fashion, events, and design, and have been advocating for a more fair, just, and clean future for the industry for the past 8 years with my work at Fashion Revolution USA. It only felt right to integrate those values of ethics and sustainability into multiple aspects of my life, including all the events I have the privilege to produce. In my day job, I design and coordinate events and experiences of all kinds including fashion shows, festivals, pop-up markets, galas, photoshoots, and brand experiences and I always focus on creating memorable experiences that match my clients personal and company values. 

Introducing my clients to ways they can integrate social impact and eco-friendly practices into their existing vision is something I LOVE to do.

Whether it’s purchasing from a fair-trade company that supports women or working with a caterer who sources organic produce from a local farm, it creates a sense of connection and purpose not only to why they are hosting the event, but how they are using their money, time, and energy. It gives a stronger sense of purpose to the planning process, which can be overwhelming and daunting for people at times. But coming back to the why and how makes it even more meaningful! 

While I have been integrating sustainable and eco-friendly practices into my own events company since its inception, planning your own wedding brings a level of creativity and drive that I hadn’t experienced in the past. I was able to work with new vendors and explore interesting avenues of DIY and creativity that you don’t always get to do when planning other people’s events. I have been planning sustainable events far before the internet had so much to offer us now and it’s exciting to see all the ideas out there. I learn so much from the vendors I work with, whether it’s a florist, caterer, or graphic designer, there is so much to glean from other’s experiences and ideas. So just ask!

Tips, ideas, and research is only just an internet search away — and it can be daunting! As many event planners will tell any couple embarking on a wedding planning journey, starting with your purpose, your why as a couple, and your personal values is key to not getting overwhelmed. Same goes for sustainability. In our current world, there is no way to capture every aspect of what would be a “sustainable wedding or event”.

Even throughout my own planning, I had to remind myself to make a sustainable swap wherever I could and not hold myself to perfection in every area. It’s just not possible. Pick a few areas to focus on that get you really excited – whether it’s your food, the artists you hire, your attire, the flowers…select vendors you trust that are already working on integrating sustainable practices. They will be your best allies to keeping to your values and your budget. And if you have a vendor you already are in love with, ask them about their practices! (Putting a plug for Ethical Weddings awesome guides on the 5 questions to ask your vendors!) Get to know their story, share your values, and see what aligns. You might be surprised what they might already be doing behind the scenes or what they would be willing to do to support your vision.

What ethical ideas, products, or vendors did you stumble on in the process?

While I plan many events for my work, I don’t often get to pair up with florals and floral designers! This was an area I was especially excited to explore with my own wedding. I chose my wedding date around the flowers that were in season and selected an incredible florist, Hannah from MinneFloral, who was equally passionate about the environment and rooted in practicing growing her own blooms, using local sourcing from nearby farms, and never included floral foam and plastic behind the scenes.

Through this, I discovered the Slow Flower Movement that highlights incredible florists, studio designers, and flower farmers across the US that are committed to using American-grown flowers and more. I hope the events industry can learn a thing or two from them and expand to more planners. Some other amazing ideas that I integrated into my wedding included an all plant-based, locally sourced seasonal menu with womxn-owned company, Root to Rise Catering, sourced all the décor from antique stores or local vintage shops like Style Society Shop; and utilized fresh fruits and grasses from our garden throughout the tables and venue design.

As a creative, I couldn’t help but be incredibly hands on in the process, down to building my own cake stands from brass plates and candlesticks to upcycling linen fabrics into table runners that were hand dyed with natural minerals and avocado pits. Some personalized elements of our wedding were the cornerstone to incredibly memorable experiences for us and our guests. My partner and I built a ping pong table together and hired a local artist to illustrate our guest’s portraits rather than using a photobooth or polaroid’s that create unnecessary waste. Plus, we were able to put our money back into the artists, musicians, and community we loved and that made it even more special to our love story! Throughout the process we discovered a food rescue program called Meal Connect through Feeding America ensuring any perfectly good meals made it to those in need and found a local nonprofit that delivers floral arrangements to nursing homes and care centers – composting them afterwards. These programs can be found in cities across the US and often your caterer or planner will know just who to connect with!

We focused on reducing waste and sourced local (to reduce carbon footprint) wherever we could and avoided single-use as much as possible:

  • Our save-the-dates were emailed and we sent only a few wedding invites printed on recycled paper through a company that plants a tree with ever order. 
  • We hired a sustainable florist who sourced local, seasonal blooms, and doesn’t use floral foam. She even let us include some of our own dried grasses from our garden. 
  • Our woman-owed venue had onsite composting and organics recycling and was totally values aligned. Not to mention gorgeous.
  • We skipped welcome gifts, wedding favors, menus, and ceremony programs.
  • All our signage was handmade from wood scraps and designed to be reused over and over.
  • All of our decor was sourced from vintage shops, antique stores, and local resale.
  • We chose a seasonal menu and a caterer that sourced from local farms and co-ops.
  • We saved the leftover food and had planned to donate anything else, but did pretty well at not over ordering in the first place. 
  • Our rings and jewelry were handmade by artists who prioritize using recycled metals, ethically sourced gems, and small batch production
  • We monitored our carbon footprint using the Wedding Footprint Calculator by Less Stuff More Meaning!

How did you divvy up your budget? What parts did you invest more in? What fell to the bottom of your list?

Budgeting can be a challenge, as wedding costs can add up quickly, especially towards the last month of planning (Yikes, no one really prepares you for that!). My partner and I kept returning to our purpose and it was the best advice. Even if you come up with some wonderful last minute ideas and additions, it’s important to remind yourself what’s most important and if that idea doesn’t add to the vision and experience, it’s okay to let it go. I had SO many ideas the two weeks before the wedding… my partner and wedding coordinator had to talk me down. 

My partner and I focused on our venue, catering, floral, and “experiences.” We wanted to partner with a venue that fit our values and finding the space that reflected us both aesthetically and ethically was incredibly important. Since our menu was entirely plant-based, we also wanted to ensure that all our guests would walk away surprised and delighted that vegetables can be a delicious dining experience that don’t leave you feeling heavy or bloated. Perfect for a night filled with dancing! 

As a couple, we love spending time in our garden and we were so excited to find a florist who was interested in using some of the blooms from our own garden for the event. We let go of areas like hiring a DJ and simplified the dinner the night before, as well as the bar. We found that no one really missed having a full, open bar in our family so we were glad we spent our money and time on experiences like the illustrator and the ping pong table. I won’t lie and say that I wasn’t worried that we didn’t do enough to meet our guests expectations, thoughts crossed my mind, what if we don’t have enough variety of cocktails? will our families secretly judge our vegan menu?

But it was our day that we got to share our story and life with the people we love most and they were so honored and happy to get to know us better through this event.

What do you wish was easier in planning an ethical/eco-friendly wedding?

If I could wave a magic wand, I wish that everything wasn’t secretly wrapped in plastic. You know that box in another box in another smaller box sort of thing. Even if you do all your due diligence and try your best, there are usually some elements of plastic that sneak their way in. I know this can be frustrating, believe me, but I promise it’s still worth trying even if it’s not perfect!

As an advocate for ethical fashion, it was also incredibly important to me to ensure that the attire at our wedding was responsibly-made and not exploiting people and the planet in the process. For attire that is meant to only be worn once, it saddens me that the wedding industry is even further behind in transparency and ethical practices than even the traditional fashion industry. I know so many soon-to-be married couples that ask me about dresses and attire, and there is often no perfect answer. But hey, that’s life! I had SO many of my own feelings when it came to figuring out what I would wear and how it fit my values. Ultimately, I compromised. I focused on one or two areas and found something magical!

My process was completely unexpected but I am so glad I was open-minded. I started out by trying on gowns in a few bridal shops to get to know what I actually felt amazing in vs. what I thought I liked from photos. I am so glad I did that because let me tell you, I was surprised at what type of gown I loved once I was wearing it. In my mind, I was planning to hire a designer or dressmaker to create something one of a kind for me, but when I fell in love with a fully-beaded head-to-toe number…my heart sank because I knew there was no way that would be able to have that made with my budget. So I started searching for the dress on some secondhand sites like Still White, OnceWed, and Borrowing Magnolia. And finally (after lots of waiting and searching) I scored my dream dress (at a fraction of the cost) !! And now I have a beautiful connection with Sonia, the other gal who previously wore this dress and we have event sent a few letters to one another via post. It was better than I imagined.

Finding your dream attire can be both stressful and daunting — but it can be so heartfelt too. While I had in my heart set on having me wedding dress to be hand-made or locally made, it didn’t quite work out that way. My Maid of Honor and I decided that we would go that route with her attire. We worked with a local designer near where she lived (and a dear friend of ours) to create something that represented her style that she could wear again. We all worked together to design something that fit her body type and personal style, as well as the wedding aesthetic and vibe. It was SO fun to get to work with a designer, dive into the process of making a Made-To-Measure garment and share this art form with my Maid of Honor. We had an incredible time picking out fabrics, workshopping renderings, and spending time together in the process. It brought me back to my days of wardrobe and costume design, which was a lovely memory I know we will treasure together. Now she has a beautiful jumpsuit that was made for her, made to last, and designed to be loved and worn over and over again. (I may need to borrow it in the future!)

If you had a boomerang button, what moment in your day was so perfect that you would want to do it over and over? If you had a do-over button, what would you want a second chance at?

I would definitely want to relive our ceremony over and over if I could. We put so much time, tenderness, and love into designing it and I had no idea how much it would impact me to share it with all of our people surrounding us. We (unintentionally) chose the theme of vulnerability for our personalized vows and reading them out loud was more heartfelt than I could have ever imagined! I remember standing in the back before the doors opened feeling so ready and excited, but as soon as we started to walk in and I could see the faces of all my favorite people I just started to bawl. It was such a beautiful moment that I never expected to be so emotional.

I wouldn’t do anything differently. I was so present, calm, and just happy to be there that nothing really got to me. It made such a difference to hire a day-of coordinator so that we could just enjoy and let the rest go.

What word from the wise would you share soon-to-be-bride?

You don’t need a Pinterest wedding to have an incredible experience!! There were a couple of moments throughout the process that I felt so panicked about the style and design of the wedding. Will it be beautiful enough? Will everything reflect our aesthetic and vision? Will it be Pinterest-worthy? Etc etc etc. While Pinterest is a good source of design inspiration, it is only capturing moments and small parts of the event — with so much of it highly styled for photo shoots and not totally realistic for an average budget. By focusing on your values and the feelings you want to create you can design a memorable experience that lasts without spending more than you actually need to. Design for connection and not just for aesthetics. That’s the real beauty!

And lastly, if you and your partner were a rom com, what movie would you most likely be and why?

Pablo is going to laugh, but there are so many moments during the movie The Holiday that have me smiling whenever we watch it. So much of Cameron Diaz’s character resonates strongly for me… the work acholic producer, avoiding her emotions, can’t turn off her brain, running away to a magical place to “rest” … only to run into a different kind of adventure. Her unexpected suitor, Jude Law is humble, swoons her with an unforgettable romantic week of deep conversations and playful moments that remind her that she can have fun AND reconnect with her feelings — then asks her to stay forever?! Just like the film, I said I would try NOT to fall in love with you, especially because I really didn’t see a way we ever going to make this work. We came from different worlds! But yet here we are, eight years later, after a long-distance love story of on-again-off-again. He is a true family-centered gem of a human and I am so lucky to have his grounded sentiment in my partnership! As our personal motto goes, “I will keep you safe if you keep me wild.”

Shout out to our amazing vendors and partners in our planning process who helped keep our values of responsibly-made and sustainably sourced:

Venue: @paikkamn | Photos: @kaleigheraephoto | Florals: @minnefloralco

Catering: @roottorisekitchen | Dessert: @amyscupcakeshoppe

Coordination: @joymcbrien | Invites: @paperculture 

Bride’s Wardrobe: @kwhbridal via @stillwhite

Earrings: @a.b.ellie | Hair: @juutsalon 

Maid of Honor’s Wardrobe: @nesmathelabel | Bar: @4liquidmotion

Makeup: @uloveit.justloveit via @everthinebeautyco

Table runners/fabrics: naturally-dyed @ethelstudio

Decor: Curated from antique shops, borrowed, or hand-made

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about the author

Ashleyn is a sustainable event producer, designer, and ethical fashion leader based in the Midwest. As a creative entrepreneur and social impact consultant, Ashleyn is focused on building a community of like-minded socially conscious businesses at the intersection of fashion, events, and the creative economy. She produces a multitude of creative, arts-based events including film festivals, fashion shows, marketplaces, gallery installations, conferences, and now weddings (!) — bringing a lens of sustainable and social impact design. You can follow her event work evolution on instagram @miss_ash_leyn or her ethical fashion platform @wearethreaded

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