Here comes the bride, all dressed in green

Lori Del Genis, ’90, M.S. ’94, designs eco-friendly wedding gowns

By Rita Buettner  |  Photos courtesy of Lori Del Genis

Lori Del Genis was a sophomore at Loyola when she saw a Laura Ashley dress. She just had to have it.

“It was the most beautiful dress I had seen,” she said. It was also $80. So she found a Simplicity pattern and made her first dress. Then she kept on sewing. She created costumes for Loyola talent shows. She earned money for her graduate school tuition by sewing for Baltimore’s Young Victorian Theatre Company.

After Del Genis graduated and earned a master’s in speech-language pathology, she started working as a speech pathologist. She also began making wedding dresses for friends who were getting married.

When she decided to start her dress business in 2006, she started to do research into the industry. She learned about sweatshops and factories and how farmers sprayed the cotton with chemicals.

“I cannot base a living on other people’s suffering,” she decided.

So Del Genis started looking into organic cotton and peace silk—where the silkworms aren’t killed during silk production. She buys local reclaimed and sustainable materials as often as she can and recycles fabric from pre-worn dresses. Today her business, Conscious Elegance, is based in State College, Pa., where her husband works as an astrophysicist, though Del Genis serves brides from around the country.

“The business started by following my heart, and then I followed my conscience,” said Del Genis, who is still a credentialed speech therapist.

Del Genis discovered that eco-friendly dresses aren’t just her passion, but also the passion of many brides, especially in a society where organic and fair-trade products are increasingly valued. And, although Del Genis could charge more for her work, she wants to make her dresses accessible to brides.

“I want to charge what’s fair. To me that’s some of the ethics,” said Del Genis, who typically prices dresses between $900 and $1,500, including all alterations. “Bridal shops charge a 700-percent mark-up on the dresses you buy. I’m trying to give people an alternative to this huge industry. I don’t know who’s making the money but it’s not the producers. So I’m going to charge as much as the dress is worth, but I’m not going to mark it up just because I can.”

And so she creates custom-made dresses for each individual bride, as she works with hemp silk, peace silk, organic cotton, and organic cotton thread. Often she incorporates recycled fabrics—a mother’s or grandmother’s wedding dress or a dress from a thrift shop or eBay.

“I get to find gorgeous fabric that’s literally wasting away, and I’m saving it.”

It’s that aspect of her work that captured the attention of the American Textile History Museum in Lowell, Mass. “This kind of frugality and use of resources is the kind of thing that was done back in the day,” Del Genis said.

One of the designs Del Genis made is now on display in an exhibit at the American Textile History Museum, “Behind the Veil: Brides and Their Dresses.” As it turns out, what might seem to be a new approach to dressmaking is not new at all.

“Even in families that were rich and could afford new dresses, they remade old dresses,” Del Genis said. “In a way I’m keeping alive methods and techniques and values that had been in danger of being lost.”

Although brides often have a reputation as “bridezillas,” Del Genis finds that working with her customers is a pleasure. And they leave happy, too.

“Yesterday I had a bride come in and she was almost crying because the dress looked so good on her. On the check she wrote, ‘The most beautiful wedding dress ever.’”

The exhibit at the American Textile History Museum runs through Aug. 11.

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