The world's trusted guide to sustainable and ethical fashion

The world's trusted guide to sustainable and ethical fashion

8 Ways We Made Our Brooklyn Wedding Eco-friendly and Authentic to Us

All photos by CLY by Matthew unless otherwise indicated. 

It’s my husband and my’s one year anniversary, and, well, I guess I’ve been too busy traveling and exploring to tell you what the wedding was like! I’m long overdue on revealing the whole thing to you, from the organic flowers to the low-waste, reusable favors. So now is the time!

First, you should know a little bit about my husband and me. Because of course we designed the wedding to our own preferences and passions.

I met my husband, Illich, at a beautiful spring rooftop party in April of 2013. I’m pretty sure it was the most beautiful rooftop party I’ve ever attended, and as a New Yorker, that is saying something. He was DJing, though I didn’t notice. I had just quit my editorial job and was in the middle of planning the launch of this blog. Someone introduced us on the dance floor, and I chatted briefly and then wandered off. I didn’t find out this next part until three years later when Illich was telling the story, but he saw me heading downstairs to the bathroom, and followed, knowing the line would be long.

I had my big Canon DSLR camera with me that day, and he tried to break the ice by asking if I could send him any photos I happened to catch of him DJing. He had caught me at a bad time. There was another guy at the party, which I would now call a fuckboi, an ex hookup that was treating me badly. I was in, I’m focusing on myself and ignoring men mode. “Maybe a friend of a friend will tag you,” I said. And turned away.

He withdrew to regroup. Then, pulled up a funny picture of a cat and slid it into my vision. I laughed. And the rest is history.

I know that many men would have scoffed at me when I said, “I’m launching a blog!” But he was completely supportive of my crazy idea from the beginning. He designed my launch party invitations, and DJed the launch party. He’s taken hundreds of photos of me. In return, I’ve always supported his DJing, going to every gig, editing his bio and newsletters, and giving him social media promotion tips. (His day job is in architecture.) He proposed three years later on the roof of our Brooklyn apartment that we had renovated together, and we celebrated that night with our friends at a surprise electronic music party in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

Our Goals for Our Wedding

So as you can imagine, when we started planning our wedding, we had a lot of goals.

1. It would be as sustainable as possible.

2. We would design it together. With his architectural background, we wanted it to have a unique, modern design that we came up with together – none of this traditional “Whatever the bride wants” business.

3. It would have excellent electronic music, while not alienating our friends and family who don’t party hard.

4. Because we couldn’t have it in Venezuela, because of the crisis going on there, the wedding would reference Illich’s Venezuelan heritage.

We decided to have it at The 1896, an old warehouse in Bushwick blocks away from the area where we frequently go out with friends. We had been at this warehouse before for huge, all-night warehouse parties, so we knew they would let us go as late as we needed – they wouldn’t kick us out at midnight like most venues. It was also a blank slate for us to play with for design. Which… is fun, but incredibly intimidating! We had to bring in everything, including extra bathrooms.

(Here’s a list of cool wedding venues in NYC that are perfect for the conscious and sustainable couple.)

At first we interviewed wedding designers, but when we realized that Illich could do all the services that wedding designers provide – graphic design, a floor plan, even renderings – and I already had contacts in the sustainable world of weddings – florists, makeup artists, etc. – we realized that we could absolutely do this ourselves. In fact, it would be a wonderful opportunity to combine our talents to create something beautiful.

Our Theme

Our colors were black, white, and copper, with a sacred geometry theme. This was a reference back to a sacred geometry necklace I bought for Illich in Bali a few months after we started dating, that he still wears almost every day, and another lazer cut pendant he designed and made as his Burning Man gift. The main symbol was something special Illich created using two circles that represent our respective heights of 5’2″ and 6’5″, and we splashed that across the invitations and favors, in lieu of a traditional name-and-date motif. All the guests also received laser-cut wooden pendant necklaces with the same symbol, which they would need to get into the afterparty nearby in Bushwick after the main festivities wrapped up. Above each dinner table, we hung a large birch laser-cut pendant with flowers in shapes corresponding to the escort cards, so that the 90 guests could find their table not by number, but by sacred geometric shape.

A Clever Way to Cut the Budget and Still Invite All Our Friends

Another special thing we did was to have a two-tier wedding. We planned our wedding in NYC, so it would be easy for Illich’s parents (who don’t speak any English) to arrive straight to our neighborhood, where the Puerto Ricans and Dominicans all speak Spanish. We didn’t want to subject them to the suburbs of Maryland where my family lives, or Upstate New York. Of course, planning a wedding in NYC is expensive. At the same time, it felt wrong to exclude all our friends for budget reasons, when most of them live in NYC.

Our solution? We had 95 people to our ceremony and dinner. Then, 120 more people were invited to the dance party, where they drank beer and prosecco, and nibbled on late night snacks from the caterer. Nobody seemed to mind this scheme at all, because everyone realized that if they hadn’t been invited to the main part, we wouldn’t have been able to invite them at all. In fact, even a few friends came from out of town just for the dance party. They made a weekend trip of it to NYC!

How We Made It Sustainable:

1. We Chose Eco-Friendly Invitations

I know most people recommend evites. But I wasn’t into the idea. I had heard a horror story about a friend of a friend who had a New York wedding and invited all their friends to the party on a boat…and half of the people who RSVPed yes didn’t show up! (NYC party people. Flaky AF.) I was terrified with our two-tier plan that the same thing would happen to us. So, I wanted people to know that this was a Real Wedding. And that required Real Invitations on heavy card stock that arrived in the snail mail.

So, we ordered invitations from a local eco-friendly company, Bella Figura. Bella Figura uses vegetable-oil based and low-Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) inks, and low-VOC and citrus-based solvents. They recycle and compost their waste, and use recycled packaging materials. The papers themselves are made of reclaimed cotton fibers from the garment industry, and colored papers are FSC-certified. They are entirely powered by wind through the purchase of Renewable Energy Credits (RECs).

2. We Used Local and Organic Flowers

The flowers were organic and local, by Molly Oliver Flowers. She sources the blooms seasonally from local Brooklyn farms, regional growers, and NYC farmers markets (with supplement from NYC floral district wholesalers). And proceeds from flowers purchased from Molly’s partner educational farms support sustainable agriculture educational programs for youth and adults around the city.

We gave her a color palette months before, and based on what was in season, she crafted lush, gothic bouquets and garlands. My bouquet had ranunculus and hellebore from New Jersey; Tulips from New York; Peonies, Dogwood and Huckleberry from New York; and Lambs Ears right from from Brooklyn; all tied with natural waxed black twine.

(See all the sustainable florists in the NYC area.)

3. None of the Decor Was Disposable

We rented all our furniture and most of the decor from Patina Rentals, for a rustic look that matched the brick warehouse walls. And we rented all our place settings from Broadway Rentals. We invited our friends over to help us stamp 100% cotton napkins with the logo. And everything that Illich designed to have custom built for our wedding – the laser-cut hanging pendants, the sacred geometry DJ booth – we sold to our friends who are party organizers to use as their own decor. We sold the custom LED chandelier (above) to a local club that’s a ten-minute walk from our house.

To welcome guests to venue, we rented two Gamelatrons from a local Brooklyn artist. They’re based on the Indonesian gamelan. We had discovered Aaron’s work at a music festival that Illich played at, and then continued to follow his work and visit the Gamelatron whenever there was an NYC exhibit. They played softly before the ceremony, played a sort of wedding march as we walked in, and then played celebratory music as we kissed and walked back down the aisle.

So nothing from our decor was thrown away in the end. It was all either sold or returned so it could be used again and again.

4. The Fashion Was All Sustainable

Because I write about sustainable fashion, I wanted to make sure every element of what I wore was sustainable and ethically made. My dress was a custom hemp/silk blend piece from Venezuelan designer Susana Colina. It combined my passion for sustainable fashion with a nod to my husband’s home country.

(Here’s my guide to finding your own perfect eco-friendly wedding dress.)

My gold shoes were secondhand, and my quartz crown was from Etsy and made in L.A., my artisan cuff bracelets I bought from the sustainable online store Modavanti, and my fan was by the artisan brand Caravana.

I asked my bridesmaids to pick out a long black dress from Reformation. And in a wonderful touch, my sister handmade matching brass and purple stone earrings for everyone.

We requested that the groomsmen wear a simple black suit – not a tuxedo, which they might never wear again. A couple of them didn’t have black suits (architects don’t need them, apparently) but I didn’t feel at all guilty for sending them to Indochino for a custom suit. “Tell their girlfriends I said, ‘You’re welcome,'” I said to Illich. Indochino is not an sustainably-focused or social good suit company, but a good black suit is something that every man will get a lifetime of wears out of, and Illich loves his.

5. My Makeup Was Non-Toxic

Rebecca Casciano, a makeup artists who specializes in non-toxic makeup, did my makeup. (You can read all about the products she used and tips for making your own wedding makeup non-toxic.) My hairdresser, David Hickey from Hale Organic Salon, did my and my bridal party’s hair. The day before, the bridesmaids and I went to PH7 Nail Couture in Williamsburg to get non-toxic manicures and pedicures. 

6. The Food Was Local and Organic

The food was by a local farm-to-table catering company, Purslane. We chose them because we kept running into them at wedding fairs, and would end up parked in front of their table pretending that we were just making conversation while stuffing our faces with their delicious food.

They ended up doing an amazing job of accommodating the diverse allergies and preferences of all of our guests. We could choose from a long list of potential dishes, and I kept sending them questions, because two of my dearest friends have such strict and completely different dietary needs. They were game for everything, and my two friends who usually have to pack food for events like this were able to have a delicious dinner just like everyone else, served family style.

(Here’s a list of the best organic and farm-to-table caterers in NYC.)

The cake was by Lael Cakes. It was gluten-free and organic, and had a vegan layer, so everyone could enjoy a piece as well. We put a mango layer in, another reference to Venezuela, where Illich’s family has a mango tree right in their backyard.

7. The Favors Were Reusable or Biodegradable

When guests arrived for the ceremony, they stopped at a table to find their name on an escort card tied to a copper Moscow mule mug. The escort card had the symbol of their dining table on the other side. Then they could go directly to the outdoor bar to get a Mezcal Mule before finding a seat for the ceremony.

The second wave of guests received custom matchboxes made of paper and wood, so they could light the sage and palo santo scattered around the venue. There was no plastic involved – except for the packaging that came around the cups. That seemed to be unavoidable.

8. We Hired a Compost Company

Our venue didn’t provide composting – though they did provide recycling – so we hired a local non-profit called BK Rot to come fetch all the compost created by catering the next morning.

Making It Meaningful

The one big hiccup was when, a week before the wedding, New York City tried to classify our wedding as basically a warehouse rave, which would require two fire wardens, a special disability-compliant port-a-potty in addition to the trailer we had rented, and an inspection before the wedding, which would have ruled out any rugs, curtains, or candles. Luckily, Illich was able to send over complete blueprints of the wedding design that he had designed himself, and The 1896 hired a lawyer to fight the city, and won! So everything moved forward and we had our rave — oops, I mean wedding — as planned.

“#Illden was the best night of my life. Period.”

We took almost all our pre-ceremony pictures in front of Bushwick’s amazing street art, and in front of our favorite inclusive Bushwick club, House of Yes, where Illich frequently DJs.

We had our good friend Liz, who’s a Spanish professor, translate our vows live for Illich’s parents, who had flown in from Venezuela for the wedding. (We had met for the first time three days before, our communication was limited to hugging and crying, but it was clear we already loved each other.) Our officiant, Barbara Michaels, is also an improv actor. We chose a non-religious ceremony where she sent us questions to answer ahead of time, that we didn’t show each other, and also surprised us with questions that we had to answer off the cuff. When she asked us the first surprise question, I though, This was a terrible idea. But it made for some really funny and also tender moments, and it was completely authentic. 

After the ceremony, all the chairs were moved inside during cocktail hour. We were the last people inside, and when we walked in, we gasped. It was even more beautiful than we imagined, and we had designed it all ourselves! Our friend said it looked like a fairy forest, with the twinkle lights, candles, and flowers.

The bower from the ceremony was also moved inside, to behind the DJ booth Illich designed. After dinner we cleared space for a dance floor, and 120 more of our New York City friends flowed in. We kicked it off with a surprise salsa dance – Illich never learned how to salsa in Venezuela, and when he dipped me on the final note, his parents exploded with joy.

Instead of hiring a DJ, we invited six of our incredibly talented friends to DJ back-to-back, and it turned into a proper electronic music warehouse party! (This was the same weekend as the failed Fyre Festival – we like to joke that our lineup was better than theirs, with Walker & Royce, David Hohme, and a surprise set by Joris Voorn.) But anyone who was feeling a little overwhelmed by the music could go outside to lounge by the Gamelatron, which played softly all night.

Photo by our friend John Dill
Photo by John Dill
Photo by John Dill

We had so many moving parts, but our Day Of planner, J.D Valentine, was somehow simultaneously relaxed and ridiculously organized the entire day. She handled all the crazy decor requirements, and kept everything running smoothly. And she didn’t raise an eyebrow at all the unconventional choices we made for our warehouse party!

At 2 am, everyone still standing grabbed the leftover beer and prosecco, and we all trooped over to a loft where we had an after party until dawn.

I know everyone says this, but our wedding was so ridiculously fun, that one of our friends who throws a really well-regarded monthly dance party in Brooklyn posted on Facebook the next day saying “#Illden was the best night of my life. Period.”

We’ll take that compliment.

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