How to make your wedding dress sustainable with Bhadra Eco Fashion
Updated: Jan 19
This is a little segue from the typical fashion post as Bhadra works in bridalwear - but Bhadra's practice is inspiring and also atypical which makes it a perfect story to tell! I first discovered Bhadra on Instagram (where else in this modern age?) and followed her for a while until I finally plucked up the courage to reach out and give her a call. As an Aussie, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that Bhadra spent a few years living in Australia and there were fun moments of reminiscing over Australian memories and experiences during our chat.
Bhadra's practice is very interesting in that she works directly on the body and side by side with her clients, something that isn't commonly done in the bridal industry. Her work falls into the upcycle category as she invites her clients to bring in already existing dresses - from a secondhand store, a mother's/sister's/aunt's, and even a regular white dress that is already owned - to transform them into the dream wedding dress. She works out of her studio in Hadera, and if you're interested in having a sustainable wedding dress, her contact info will be at the end of the interview!
Hi Bhadra! So what brought you into the fashion world? Did you study design?
I actually studied patternmaking, and not design. I lived in the Far East for quite a long time - in Japan, India, Thailand... in so many places in so much of the world, and I didn't think that anyone should teach me design, so instead I learnt patternmaking so I would be able to make the clothing. I got into clothing not because I like clothing, but because I like the body, the fit, how it sits on the body. When I lived and travelled overseas I used to carry a sewing machine everywhere and made made-to-measure clothes for people.
When people ask what I do, they ask if I'm a designer or a seamstress, but if you really have to define me, you could say that I'm an artist of clothes.
When I came back to live in Israel 15 years ago, I opened a studio - not for wedding dresses originally, but for upcycling clothes. People used to come with the clothes they didn't wear anymore, and we would change it into something that they would. And one day my neighbour came in and asked for some help making a wedding dress that someone had asked her for. We had so much fun making it, that I worked with her on wedding dresses, she as the designer and me as the patternmaker. After a year she gave it up, but I continued.
The upcycling came in from the backdoor - not originally because of ideology, but because it's what I love to do, it's my passion. I like to change things into something else. The ideology came in later.
Tell me about your fashion practice, and about working directly on your clients.
In short, I make the dresses by draping - I use the brides as mannequins. When the brides come in, they already know what to expect [that it's on the body draping]. In the first meeting, I work just with pins, seeing what the bride would like, getting to know her, building trust, listening to her. I really try to see my brides, and sometimes even the bridesmaids come - we can spend the whole day in the studio; working, designing, talking, laughing. It's a wonderful process.
In detail, for the first meeting, I ask the clients to bring a dress; doesn't matter what kind of dress, it can be the ugliest dress in the world... and still, I can make a dress out of it. It doesn't matter what you bring, because out of one dress I can make three or four hundred other dresses. If they call me before they have a dress, I ask them not to buy a dress from China or online, but to ask around - you'd be surprised by what other people have in their closets! So when they come in, straight away they put the dress on and I start experimenting on the body, working with the bride. Every idea that comes up in the studio from her, from the bridesmaids, from me, we experiment with. The first meeting usually takes around an hour and a half.
We can change the skirt, the sleeves, the top; anything until the bride stands in front of the mirror and says, "this is how I'd like to get married".
The second meeting is usually about two weeks before the wedding. This is partly because I get their accurate measurements, and partly because they're clearer with what they want. I finish the whole dress in that one day - it's a long day, but they come and stay with me till the dress is ready. It's an experience... the mother and the bridesmaids come and we spend the whole day in the studio. When I sew the dress on the body, I can be really accurate with the fit and measurements, there are no mistakes. The nice thing about my process is that it leaves a lot of room for flexibility.
With the materials used, I do occasionally buy new fabric for my studio like plain chiffon, silk etc, but the majority of what I have are remnants of previous dresses, fabric that I took off from one dress and will put on another, so the majority of what I do use is recycled to begin with.
Do a lot of your brides come specifically for the sustainability factor?
Yes, more and more. A lot come for sentimental reasons, girls that bring their mother's or sister's dress. And some come with dresses bought online that didn't arrive exactly as they wished - they come for my art, for my vision... a lot of the time if they go to a seamstress, they only see what they cannot do, they cannot sew. For me, I see it not from the sewing side, but from the artistic side, and so there's not a lot of things that I cannot make.
Are you an eco-friendly person in life outside of fashion?
I live in a recycled house - my house is built from recycled materials like doors, and sinks, and windows. I really try! Unfortunately in Israel even if you do try and recycle your rubbish, most of the time it ends up in the same place as everything else, in landfill.
My idea is that you don't really need to make more stuff for the earth, while there are things that you can use that already exist. It's definitely one of the reasons that I'm doing what I'm doing.
And final question... what is your vision for a future sustainable fashion or bridal world?
It's more and more talked about, thought about. People are much more aware of it. There's more and more people working with it... for example, a friend told me about a girl who also does sustainable wedding dresses in Tel Aviv, and asked if I was concerned with copying - I replied, of course not! We're people who are working in a small industry, and more people SHOULD be working like this; it's not a competition. I think it's a wonderful way to be working in.
Bhadra, it was so lovely chatting with you and getting to know more about you and your practice! Bhadra has such a warm and lovely personality that radiated even from a quick phone chat! You can find her on Instagram, and on her website where she has a lot of information about what she does (it's in Hebrew but Google translate is your friend!) and endless photos of the dresses she's transformed. As a note, Bhadra speaks excellent English so please don't hesitate to call her!