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How Textile Designers are Pivoting to Satisfy the Modern Bride

Weddings today look very different than they did even 1o years ago. And that’s because modern brides aren’t as willing to splash out on over-the-top dresses as they once were.

These days, less is more—but that doesn’t mean brides willing to settle for boring cookie-cutter designs. For textile suppliers, this means more small batches, an eclectic blend of fabric designs, and fewer orders for mid-range products.

Data from The Knot’s most recent Real Weddings Study, from 2017, indicates that couples are spending more on their weddings every year, but spending less per garment. As couples step away from the traditional black tie wedding, they’re also leaving behind the formalwear that comes with it.

Fabric suppliers are seeing the results of that change, said Sandy Weng, general manager at Gaychun, a lace and embroidery manufacturer founded in 1978. Interest in mid-range options has eroded as brides choose to either invest in more expensive and complex gowns, or choose cheaper dresses that hold more stylistic flair than pricy fabric. According to Weng, modern bridal designers are keeping their use of premium fabrics to a minimum.

“Generally speaking, the demand for lace and luxury fabric is decreasing due to smaller budgets,” said Weng. “There’s been less interest in mid-range fabrics over the last five years. We’re selling either very high-end luxury fabrics with heavy embellishments, or plain, thin fabrics with a much lower price.”

Cavalleri Textiles, a family-owned group that produces fabrics for men’s and women’s formal wear, has seen a similar trend. Franco Montanelli, director at Cavalleri, said brands are using fabrics like polyester blends in place of silk or satin.

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“Bridal companies are seeking out cheaper fabrics, because brides want cheaper dresses,” said Montanelli. Brides today care less about having a “status” gown made from expensive materials or attached to a big-name designer. Instead, they are happy to compromise on less expensive fabrics, if it means their ideal silhouette and unique embellishments are the trade-off.

Even beleaguered wedding chain David’s Bridal has had to concede to the more frugal times. In a statement announcing the company’s emergence from bankruptcy last month, it said, “David’s has been listening and heard from brides that affordable prices are more important than ever. In response, the company is excited to re-introduce favorite styles at a new lower price.”

Personalized gowns are the look du jour, and part of the reason traditional bridal retailers are struggling, said Catherine Clark, senior editor of Offbeat Bride. Offbeat Bride launched in 2007 and has grown into both a wedding resource and lifestyle guide for modern couples. Clark noted that as the culture surrounding marriage and weddings has changed, more niche brands cropped up to take advantage of white space that larger companies have been slow to act on.

“Couples getting married later in life have more freedom to deviate from tradition, and younger brides are aware of the needs of wedding parties’ budgets,” Clark said. “So the cookie-cutter wedding dress shopping experience just doesn’t speak to what a lot of brides are looking for anymore.” In other words, while polyester may seem antithetical to the modern “luxury” gown experience, brides put a higher value on total customization, and are fine with designers’ use of cheaper materials to provide a particular look.

Trish Lee is the chief design officer at direct-to-consumer company Anomalie, which helps brides design their own custom gowns through online sessions with designers. Brides create custom silhouettes and trims without ever stepping into a fitting room. Anomalie’s customers, according to Lee, are those who don’t feel served by traditional bridal retailers and are looking for a gown that meets their exact specifications. 

Along with changes in color and silhouette trends, bridal designers are also facing more niche trends rising to the top, like bridal separates. “We have many brides who create separates, toppers, capes, and overskirts in order to have multiple looks, or for repurposing [after the wedding],” Lee said.

Dresses based off of pop culture are also driving the trend toward smaller bridal companies and less expensive fabrics, Lee said, naming movies and TV shows, including Game of Thrones, as popular points of inspiration.

Celebrity styles are increasingly a driving force in the market, too. Lee pointed to Miley Cyrus’s Vivienne Westwood wedding gown as a popular style, leading to a surge of requests for cowl-neck dresses. And the two dresses worn by Meghan Markle (the first by Clare Waight Keller, artistic director of the fashion house Givenchy and the latter by Stella McCartney) at her wedding and reception are still part of the bridal conversation. Carolina Herrera and Lela Rose added Markle-inspired styles to their Spring 2019 collections—but Markle’s gowns have been replicated by small designers for months, including a surge of similar gowns on Etsy. There are replicas of the dresses on countless retail websites, too, from FashionNova to Revolve

Clark predicts that the focus on smaller bridal companies that she’s watched grow during her time at Offbeat Bride will only continue to build. She’s even looking for dresses and accessories on Etsy for her own wedding later this year. “For brides looking for anything other than traditional white ball gowns, designers and direct-to-consumer brands just open up so many more options,” Clark said.

That means interest in floral lace, silk organza and expensive satin will probably continue to taper, and suppliers will adjust their offerings to suit. Careful sourcing practices, according to Lee, are what allow Anomalie to offer brides a fully custom experience, without making the process cost-prohibitive.

The company negotiates pricing for bulk materials orders, and Leslie Voorhees, Anomalie’s CEO and co-founder, who previously worked in product development and manufacturing at Nike, M.Gemi and Apple, tapped into that experience to help her find affordable factories to produce Anomalie’s designs. “Since we’re an e-commerce company, we can create dresses based on a person’s individual measurements and keep the price point lower due to leveraging our supply chain capabilities and scalable design processes,” Lee said.