How to Bring Social Equity to Your Wedding

Imagine sitting on a chair supported by only one leg? What about a chair supported by only two legs? Would you take a chance and sit on this chair? Most likely not. And why not? Because in any moment, it can topple over and not support you, and potentially may even harm you. At minimum, a chair should have three legs to be able to support you properly. Yet even today, we build our businesses with just one priority or a stretch maybe two. We are so used to seeing businesses put financial priorities over environmental and social agendas, and somehow, most of us are okay with that. If we squint and look at it from one angle, the chair looks like it may be stable, I mean there is a seat right? We just have to balance ourselves on this chair, but over time that one leg will give in, we will fall off the chair, on the ground, and be hurt.

Photo credit: Silviyana

The origins of the three-legged sustainability model came from the Bruntland Report and the 2002 World Summit on Sustainability. The model is centered around the idea that to build a more sustainable organization/business/economy/world, we all must effectively apply three major pillars – economic, environmental and social. To us, sustainability is basically balance. When we hold on to that Hatha pose, we are looking to balance our sun energy with the moon energy. In Eastern medicine, there is a belief that when one is sick, it is an imbalance in their inner balance. When one eats too much oily food, one is suffering from ‘yit hai’ which means ‘hot air’. When we get too hot, we jump into the pool or crave the calming and refreshing seaside. We aspire to be in balance. It is the natural order of things.

You may be wondering as you plan your wedding this year, how do you go about doing that with all that is going around in the world. I mean wedding planning is already quite difficult with no real manual, and we pile on all the 2020 world events and challenges into the mix, one can’t help but feel left with more questions than answers. First and foremost, breathe. You’ve got this! In sustainability, we have another analogy of ‘low-hanging fruit’. Visualize an apple tree, when you pick apples, you typically start at the bottom of the tree, picking out the low hanging fruits, before you get a ladder to bring in the other bushels of apples, right? Sustainability is just like this analogy, there are smaller things that you can do to make a difference.

Photo credit: Silviyana

First, stay curious. A curious mind is an open mind. Allow time for contemplation, the wedding planning experience can be an overwhelming experience and what better way to digest the experience than to journal about it? It will also be a beautiful documentation that you can look back to with your future children and perhaps help them through their own wedding planning experience? Be curious about where your food scraps are going. It is typical that caterers will bring out a new batch of food when 50% of the dish is consumed, is there any way to wait until the dish is finished before bringing out new batches of food? Can your city take scrap food to donate to the homeless and in need? Can your flowers be given to a nursing home and bring joy to the elderly?

As you climb up the ladder to work through tougher sustainability issues that pertain to your wedding, you will ask questions such as, how does my wedding vendor support my values as an ethical bride? How are materials sourced? Where is it produced? Are workers being paid an ethical living wage? What is the difference between ethical living wage and fair wage?

Photo credit: Silviyana

In the world of sustainability, there are so many terms and it can be quite difficult to understand it all. Let us take for example the difference between ethical living wage and fair wage. Fair wage is what an employer deems suitable to pay their employees according to skill and job description; this may be above the minimum wage. However, a fair wage does not account for the individual’s living expenses in the area they live in. Ethical living wage on the other hand, accounts for the employee’s cost of living in the region they live in to make sure their wage covers their basic necessities such as rent, food, utilities, transportation, etc.

As a sustainable business, at Silviyana we focus on ethical living wage for our partners in the Philippines. The Philippines is a very unique economy, Overseas Foreign Workers (OFWs) remit money to support extended families. Remittances account for 11% of the country’s GDP in 2018. This has a positive impact on the economy, as more income from outside the country is spent on increasing the living standard of most Filipinos. This also means though that families that do not have extended families abroad are left with inflation of goods and services that they cannot afford. We are a small business that wants to make a difference, and we too take the approach of asking questions – when working with our partner scrappers, knotters and weavers to create our eco fabrics, we ask them how much they’d like to be paid. We also re-evaluate their wage on an annual basis, so it minimizes the feeling of being trapped into a contract.

As you see this chart, you may question, why is dress patterning, cutting and constructing the highest cost? Very good question, and congratulations for being inquisitive!

We are a collective of different independent designers, and while we have an in- house designer, we allow our partner designers the creative freedom to curate collections for Silviyana. Most of our partner designers are from Hong Kong, USA and Canada. In these areas, the living standard is quite high, and for our partner designers to feel that they are paid ethically, they need to be paid more. A designer does a lot of work in the background that is not often seen. There is a lot of research and creative energy that goes into the initial investment of curating a gown that is truly a unique design and one that is eco-conscious (i.e. looking at biodegradable beading for instance). Then the designer creates a technical sketch to outline how the dress will be constructed including the inspiration for the design. Once the technical sketch is complete, the designer works on sizing (what the standard size would be), then the designer patterns on tracing paper. Sometimes, the designer may do a mock-up to ensure fit and flow. The designer then moves on to cutting the fabric and designing. On average, our designers spend 100+ hours to curate one eco wedding gown as part of a 2-4 piece collection.

As you see, there is always more to sustainability than what meets the eye. We ask you to stay curious and healthy! We are only a tiny business in a big pond. Moving forward, we are hoping that you may join us in the ripple-effect of a kinder, more sustainable, and just system rooted in social equity. Let us all build three-legged stools and find balance!

Are you a wedding celebrant looking to make your wedding a sustainable or ethical one to make a difference in the world? Perfect! Thank you for doing your part, in this blog, we ask that you become curious in your wedding planning experience. We also suggest you journal about it to really explore the impact of your decision.

Sustainability is a three-legged approach, it looks at finding a balance between three priorities – social, environmental and economics. We ask that you work with businesses that are working towards achieving these 3 priorities simultaneously.

Photo credit: @elusive_photo

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