The ethics of a cheap off-shore wedding dress

Updated Oct 31 2018
By: Taylor McBrideCC BY 2.0
I think that stealing a wedding dress design and having it made in China (in a place that is probably a sweatshop) is really unethical. It upsets me, as it both screws the original designer (who is probably a creative type who you would want to hang out with) and the workers … all for a dress you will wear once.

Then again, I am not poor, and I can afford to pay the designer direct for some of the dresses I like and I will check that they are not made unethically.

Am I just being a judgmental bitch cos I have the money to "do the right thing" here? Am I assuming that people have not thought about these issue, but actually they have and are fine with it? -Anonymous

What a thick and meaty ethical question! Thanks so much for bringing the issue up. Ultimately, it's up to each of us to decide where their consumer values align — this is bigger than weddings. This is about pirating music, buying local produce, and world trade issues. I'm no consumer values expert, so really all I can do is share my personal perspective and values…

Since I tend towards slightly odd clothes that I generally can't find in mainstream stores, I get a thrill out of supporting independent designers — I love the individuality that indie designs provide. When I was planning my wedding, this value translated into not being attracted in the big ticket dresses that I couldn't afford. My goal was to work with a couple local indie designers/seamstresses to custom-make something awesome and unique that I could re-wear. I had about a $500 budget, and integrated pieces of a cheap prom dress made in China and hand-crafted elements.

While I personally had no interest in wearing a designer dress, I will say that I have no qualms with off-shore reproduction of name-brand designer wedding dresses through online spots like Kaersen. Many of the commercially-made dresses available at mainstream wedding boutiques are made in China anyway, and I don't think you're doing something inherently awful by taking money out of a big name designer's pocket. Vera Wang is a rich woman who dresses movie stars. The $5k you're not spending on one of her wedding dresses isn't going to put her in the poor house. I kind of equate reproducing a designer wedding dress with pirating a Beyonce album.

That said, I think it's a different game if you're reproducing a dress made by a small, independent designer. And heaven forbid if you're reproducing a dress by an indie seamstress. That just doesn't fit with my personal values of prioritizing indie designers. (Then again, part of the magic of indie designers is that they create dresses that aren't easy to rip off. What off-shore dress factory is going to crank-out hand-dyed silk in your custom colors?)

This is a way bigger question than just wedding dresses though, and you're right, anonymous: having money gives you the luxury of thinking through this decision with your consumer values held high. For some brides, their consumer values are a big priority in their lives that they translate into their wedding planning.

Other brides may be focused on different offbeat aspects of their wedding — like hand-knitting scarves for each of their bridesmaides, or making sure their gay minister friend officiates, or hand-baking 200+ wedding cupcakes. These folks may think to themselves, "I like that dress I saw in the window, but I spent all my budget on organic catering and my amazing photographer. I'll just have the dress made in China."

Like every other wedding decision, it's an issue of picking your battles, identifying your priorities, and compromising to make the best choice you can.

  1. WOW! Great topic and yep, I agree with…most all of you. Let's put it in a different light (because I'm more familiar with this marketing) – ever heard of "twinned cars"? It's when two cars share the same basic model, but are sold under different brand names. example: Toyota Camry/Lexus ES350 or Toyota Matrix/Pontiac Vibe (the list is dozens)

    Nice. Same car. Different price. Different warranties. Different depreciation values. Made in the same factory. YOU DECIDE what you want to buy.

    Now, if I want the latest, greatest NO BODY has it vehicle, I'm going to pay. Or, if I want a top design vehicle I pay dearly. Is it a BETTER car? sometimes…the sheet metal might be better, the screws a little tighter, the paint a higher quality – but if i'm not on a race track should I care? Maybe, if it's what I'm into. If I don't care what I'm seen in and my little Honda gets me to the store, then that's what I have.

    Is an indie designer BETTER? only if you like her/his work and it fits your budget. Is Vera Wang too rich? I'm not sure what that means, but she makes mattresses now.

    Fashion has always been a crazy knock off world. You wait 2 years for the HOT now style to be ripped off and pay what we can afford.

    My personal issue, is the sweat shops in all countries, including US waters. If you want to try to stay green, maybe buy a dress off the rack b/c at least it's already been made and it's not new sweat? I struggle with this one on almost EVERYTHING I buy and it's very hard to escape.

    Last point to ponder for me – many of us will never have a financial footprint as big as our wedding (except house and childbirth) so think about how you want this billion dollar industry to act. Buy what you can afford and feel good about!

    Then go hug your neighbor just because you can.

    (putting soap box away…Thanks!)

  2. This is SUCH an interesting discussion, and it's really good to hear the intellectual debate around the issue and not just the massive slag-fest that might have emerged elsewhere!

    I agree with everybody who has said that it's the desire that is at the core of the issue – people who really think that having a Vera Wang will MAKE their day.

    As someone living in a developing country, and working as a volunteer, it has been so refreshing to be planning my wedding from here, because the uber-consumption factor is simply not an issue. It has REALLY influenced my wedding planning process from Day 1, because every day I come face to face with people living hand to mouth and STILL finding something to share with their neighbours.

    As for the original question posted, I don't think you need to have money to "do the right thing". Our wedding is costing under $5000 USD, which I think is a heap of money but according to all other standards comes in as a "budget wedding", AND it's going to be carbon neutral and as ethical as possible. We have reduced where we can and purchased carbon credits to offset what we can't.

    I'm still me on my wedding day, so I want that day to be as considered as any other aspect of my life. This includes ensuring as much as possible (I take the point of Meghan in Comment 39) that my choices won't negatively impact on the lives of others, or the planet.

    And seriously, it is hard not to judge people who are prepared to spend $70K on a single day, with absolutely NO consideration of the consequences of their actions. I just can't help it – so call me a judgemental bitch!

  3. In the fashion design world there are no copyright laws when it comes to garments (just brands/logos) so to mimic the design of your favorite Vera Wang or Wai-Ching dress has no legal reproductions/illegalities. That's why you see so many "inspired" prom dresses or "Get Michelle Obama's Inauguration dress!" With designer prices you are paying for high end fabric, quality construction, service and the brand.

    Just thought I would point that out.

  4. One more point about sourcing, which seemed to be part of the original dilemma: clothing sold in the US is supposed to list its country of origin on the label. Thus, if a consumer has qualms about abusive working conditions in China, all we need to do is look at the label of the clothing we're considering and see where it's made. Commissioning a dress in the US from a local seamstress or designer can give some assurance of the working conditions under which the dress was made, because of US labor laws. Still, there are cases of sweatshops being discovered in garment districts in the US. I suspect – though I don't know for sure – that many high end designer gowns are made in China, a long with the knock-offs one can find on ebay. All this being said, I am embarrassed to say that I don't know where my gown is from…

  5. Oh, just make your own darn dress! Even if you can't sew, you probably have a friend or a relative or a friend or relative of a friend or relative who knows how to sew.

  6. One Barefoot Bride, in theory that is great advice, but many bridal boutiques rip out tags and will refuse to even tell a bride who the designer (let alone where it is made) is until AFTER she has paid for it. Totally illegal, but not enforced.

    I agree with Bird. Make your own or find someone locally that can.

  7. I'm coming into the game pretty late here, most of my thoughts have already been expressed beautifully above, but I would like to talk about my dress that I bought my wedding dress for $60 at a local thrift shop. I had originally planned to make my dress, and it may not be exactly what I had originally envisioned myself in, but I thought that it was important to tax the world as little as possible with my committment ceremony….and my fashion sense. The sixty dollar dress is gorgeous, lots of intricate, vintage looking embroidery and beadwork, a timeless flattering cut and a really bold neckline….what I'm trying to say here is that you CAN find that amazing dress through other means. Thrifting and bridal trade/rent/sharing communities are great and not just filled with outdatedf unimaginative dresses.
    I agree that it is your own decision, but please please PLEASE when you make that decision make sure it's an informed decision. Know where and what you're buying and take responsibility for it.

  8. To put a different spin on things, what about situations where you're having a dress copied because the original dress doesn't come in the right colour/fabric? Is that still wrong?

    I had a lot of trouble finding a dress I actually liked, and finally found a photo of a Jovani prom dress that was exactly what I was after. However, I had two problems – 1. I live in Australia, and I couldn't find anywhere that stocked the dress, and 2. I really wanted it to be in a particular fabric.

    I ended up taking the photo to a couple of independent dress designers for their opinions, and both refused to copy it outright for the same reasons expressed above, even though the original dress wasn't 'designer'. Our compromise was to use the photo of the dress as a base and change a number of things – the colour and the fabric and a couple of other small details.

    So I guess my question is, what is a 'copy'? Does it have to be an exact copy to be wrong? Is it still wrong if you change something in the design? Is it wrong if you're not copying a 'designer' dress? Is it wrong if you're copying the dress because you physically can't get your hands on it (either because its not available in your area or because its an older style that has ceased production)?

    I think that there is no black and white answer, to be honest – the only thing you can do is inform yourself as best as you can and make the decision that is right for you.

  9. Personally I wouldn't really give it a second thought, while I am against sweat shops, most of these "designer" dresses are made in equally poor conditions, and machined as well. So, if you're gonna just buy a knockoff, go for it, it's for one day, not that huge of a deal.

    Personally, I bought my hand made/designed wedding dress/corset from an indie designer in Australia, I would be far more likely to give an indie designer my money than a WIC infested powerhouse like Vera Wang, who could probably give two shits about your wedding dress.

    Plus, realistically if you buy the traditional wedding dress, you are really only going to wear it on one day, why spend that much money unless you have it?

  10. I'd have to say in these times of economic turmoil more people are going to lean towards the cheaper option of going overseas. For me I am going to buy my dress overseas from a wholesale place, I don't know if they have ripped off designer dresses but I am buying the dress I want in the budget I have.
    I wouldn't rip off an indie design though I would admit but I'm not about to pay someone who already has masses of money heaps of money for a dress that I am only going to wear once.

    Realistically though it is your day, if you have to have THAT dress but you don't have a $10 000 budget just for your dress I say go the overseas option. If you have the money go for it. You'll have the label and the specific super fabrics the designer uses, or you'll get the dress you love that suits you in maybe a different fabric (no one will notice in the photos or on the day really).

    And I've babbled on a bit hopefully I've made some sense.

  11. I find this topic very interesting, and not just because I bought a Vera Wang dress. I went to a consignment shop that specializes in designer dresses. I tried a bunch on, and I loved this beautiful beaded silk organza Vera Wang. Even used, this dress was $1600, which I paid. I completely agree with an earlier poster that class privilege was at play, and I try to never forget that.
    Why am I OK with designer prices? I think it is very similar to the pharm industry. Yes drug companies have big advertising budgets, but they also have millions in research and development cost. I understand when I buy a brand, that I am buying a lifetime of work. That's where brand recognition comes from. It means something that we all know who Vera Wang is. Continuing the drug metaphor, generics contain the same essential ingredients. Dresses not made by the original designer house are not subject to the same control process, and therefor are not the same. I would argue that construction of a dress matters greatly, and that can be difficult to see from a photo.
    On a more selfish level, I worry about "knockoffs" watering down the original. I don't want to look at the label of my dress and wonder "is this really a Vera Wang?" It shouldn't matter, but to me it does.
    I think it is great that I am the third bride to wear this dress. I feel like I cheated the WIC, while still honoring the artist. I have an original dress, I just acquired it in an offbeat way.

  12. I honestly don't think a woman spending $200 on a knockoff is taking money out of a designers pocket, no matter which way you slice it. A person finding a knockoff dress for a steal is a person not willing to spend $5000+ on a dress anyway. If the knockoff were not available, would that bride say "I guess I have to spend the 5k!" no, she wouldn't. She'd just find a different dress that fits her budget and hopefully still fits her vision. You see it happen on boards all over the place, not just the OBT.

    And the point at which it becomes okay to knockoff someone's work is when they begin price gouging based on their name. It ceases to be about getting your wares, designs, and ideas to the world, and becomes completely totally about the wedding industrial complex.

    Do you think Vera'd be selling her dresses for that kind of price if she was on etsy? It's the same phenomenon as the price for a fancy birthday cake, vs the price for a wedding cake.

  13. In addition to bing a psychotherapist I am a textile artist. I spin my own yarn, weave my fabric and produce the final object/garment from my fabric and my designs. When I send a piece of my art out into the world – be it a show, a museum or a customer – that design becomes party of the world. Other artist and craftspersons can use it for inspiration, people can knock it off – that they would want to only flatters me. Creation and design does not belong to an individual but to the society in which it was inspired. In turn becomes a source of inspiration for what comes later. By all means modify my designs, steal my designs, use them to create your own designs.

  14. So, I totally get the whole "stealing is wrong there is no such thing as black and white" thing… shoot, I was raised in Judea-Christian America too. But I do not concede that a "rip-off" wedding dress is wrong.

    First of all, like many other posters, I'm hesitant to call it "stealing," per say. After all, many of these offshore dresses are designed specifically to your measurements, and so they will like inherently different, because they're made to fit a specific person.

    Secondly, aren't most of the complaints you (or anyone who does any research on the Chinese, etc. dress manufacturers) will read about knock-offs involve bitching about how the dress isn't exactly the same as the picture. Most of the companies being discussed (Kaersan, Perimart, Milly's Bridal) state that they are making dresses based on photos of gowns, and that as such they are not (and can not) be totally identical.

    I think it's a little ridiculous to assume Maggie Sottero (or whoever) invented the sparkly princess a-line dress with one sleeve, because seriously? He/she/they did not. The bulk of differences between big name Western designers is not so much. They all copy each other anyway… That's what a TREND is.

    Personally? I'd much rather directly support a Chinese seamstress via her own Ebay store than via Miss Vera Wang.

  15. In my business of fashion class is pointed out to us that there is no such thing as copyright in fashion. Once you're design is out there you really can't keep anyone from copying it. It's simply not considered the designers in the same way a song is a musicians or a painting is the painters.
    Look at F21. They are ALWAYS copying high end and only once did they get in trouble because the directly 100% copied DVF. Change a button here and a hemline there it's not considered the same design.

  16. Although I am not condoning sweatshops, people in China need jobs too. I need a traditional Chinese wedding dress for my wedding and they are most always made in China. Probably a lot of the fabric including silks used by indie designers originally came from China. The US imports the highest % of our foreign goods from China. Whether we like it or not we live in a global economy.

  17. @Sarah H ("and maybe I should have used a different company like Costco that isn't as contentious"): I just love the mental image of someone trying to steal an economy-size tub of Vaseline or jumbo bag of Sour Patch kids from Costco. I say if anyone can pull something like that off, they're entitled to keep whatever they've nicked. 😉

    My boyfriend was reading this post over my shoulder and said something pretty apt (in that adorable lethargic Californian way): "If she has a 4-inch p—-, it doesn't matter if you have a 10-inch c—." (And he never uses that language which made it even better in that 'you had to be there' kind of way.) If you're on a tight budget, there's little chance you're going to be able to fit a $5k wedding dress into the equation. Unless that's something you absolutely want to fight for–and if that's the case, more power to you. But if you're making budget cuts to afford your dress to the point where your reception is in the cafe at your local IKEA, it's going to fit about as well as the 4"/10" scenario.

    When my mother got re-married (and re-married again), she put most of her money into getting her whole family in on the party (we have a huge extended Syrian fam). So she used dress styles she admired from magazines/catalogs to create patterns and sew her bridesmaid/flower girl dresses using fabrics she picked out, modifying them to fit our different body shapes and sizes. Could the Storybook catalog have used the $500 she would have spent on clothing my aunt, me, and my sisters? Meh. Was it worth more getting to see all of our family in one nice and comfortable hotel? Totally.

    What's best is, she got her ideal dresses and didn't have to outsource to China. I bet if you have misgivings about getting a factory knockoff, you could find a friend, family member, or design school student who could work out your dress for you for a fraction of the cost or a couple of dinners. That to me sounds like a perfect fit.

  18. Having money does indeed give you the luxury to care about these things. Many women do not have the thousands of dollars that most designer wedding dresses cost. I, for example, had no more than a couple hundred dollars to spend (and even that is a lot for me). Does that mean that I don't get to have a wedding dress I love? Does that mean I have to shop at thrift stores or get a revamped prom dress? I'm sorry, but that's not fair. If I can get a dress that looks similar to a designer dress for less, than I'm going to get that.

    It really kind of makes me upset that the original questioner feels that people just aren't thinking about these kinds of things. Of course we are. Of course I did. But I'm poor. I want a beautiful wedding dress too.

  19. I agree that going overseas for a knockoff isn't exactly the equivalent of steal from your local grocery. I agree that if you couldn't afford that higher price, you're not taking business away from a designer. Heck, if anything, more people wearing that design will only serve to send more people with money and who want to pay for a name their way.

    Also, I'd like to add something about "Made in the USA." Yes, if you're going to a local who will make it, that's one thing. Not all things with that label are actually made here. There are factories in American Samoa, the Marshall Islands, and Free Trade Zones across the world who can legally manufacture apparel that says "Made in the USA." The first two are US territories, but have recently have BEGUN taking steps with labor laws. As for Free Trade Zones, that's what you get when the World and/or the Inter-American Development Bank reams small nations. For more information:

  20. How many children could you feed in a third world country with the $5K you are spending on a wedding dress?

    As an artist, I have respect for intellectual property. However, I think there are designers that abuse it. I challenge anyone to send me a so called original design and I will find you the dress that inspired it.

    People lose touch with reality. Perfect example: Amsale, who came to the U.S. from Ethiopia and "couldn't afford designer clothes, so I started making my own".
    Now she not only makes dresses that people like herself (at one time) could never afford, but disregards the fact that the average cost of one of her gowns could feed 1 meal to 50,000 people in her native country (

    If you want to reproduce a design, change it ever so slightly and you'll be doing what every other bridal designer does. Just have it made here instead of in a sweat shop!

    You ought to question how ethical it is for you to frivilously spend that much on clothing when so many people don't have a roof over their heads and don't know where to find their next meal. Is that "doing the right thing"?

  21. Lots of thoughts and lots of opinions- all wonderfully expressed. I LOVE the discussions on this site, they are always so respectful and well thought out. 🙂

    My priority in this debate is moral issues hands down. The wedding dress industry is wrought with human right issues and I can'T justify buying a dress for my day of love that has such a horrible, abusive history. It feels weird.

    Good news for Canadian Brides: there ARE boutiques that carry Canadian made dresses for under a zillion dollars- Lee-Ann Belter is one. 🙂

  22. There is another option besides buying original, ordering a knock-off, or having a dress made… and that is buying a dress (new or used) from a consignment shop. I looked at one shop in my local area that had hundreds of new or "once worn" (their words) wedding dresses from various designers. Most of their selection was pretty traditional (read: fitted bodice, A-line skirt, chapel length train) so I didn't up getting my dress there. But I think its a wonderful option for someone that wants: (1) a more traditional dress possibly designer, (2) something more budget conscious, and/or (3) an opportunity to support a small local business.

  23. This topic caught my eye, as I am a indie designer, and although I am not a fan of the big generic bridal shops( for so many reasons…same ol' frocks, snotty sales staff, nothing over a size 8…..) I do however understand why things cost so much for weddings…and I know many of you out there thing that you say the word wedding,and think folk see pound signs and charge accordingly.

    In the majority of cases, I really don't think this is so. …(god, there are so many issues posted and well covered in this thread, I'm trying to not babble on too much….)

    The copy / theft one I will start with; as a small designer I make a very limited amount of dresses each year, this is my full time occupation, I work 6 days a week, aprox 10 hour days. I work hard. On my own I can only make a limited amount of dresses, 12-20 depending on style. I choose to used the best fabrics I can, and give the best service I can. Each dress is fitted 3-5 times in person, by me, I do all the designing, cutting, fitting, sewing. But beyond all this I have to run it as a business, so the dresses final cost, is not just the cost of the fabrics you see on the out side, but also the internals, and everything that makes the business run, in this very comparative market. I have a unit to work from, various sewing machines, irons, eyelet machines, of course computer, printer, camera…and millions of other thing you would not even conceder. …So my designs can be found, each new design need s to be modelled, photographed, hair, make up, ( most of this I do myself, to save costs, but not every one can do this) then they need to be advertised, via magazines, the internet….getting top on goggle is not free and is hard work! Then all the other ad min bill, like tax VAT, accountants fees….tea bags and toilet rolls for when client some to view the collection, which has to be made, so you guys can see it in person…the hundreds of fabric samples keep for viewing and the dozens bought in to show you different shades etc…. Are you still with me???
    This hasn't not even started how many years I spent training to learn my craft…..and continue to do so to keep up with new technology…

    Right, so after all this I charge, £2500-£4500+ for my dresses. yes, I know a massive amount, but this does not mean I am over charging, or sitting in mansion. if I got a proper job, I could work less, and earn more, I know this. I am not bad at business, even when working at full wack, there is a top limit to what I can make, I have to trusted employees who work one day a week. I love what I do, and would rather earn less and continue as I am , a small business. I would never considering going into manufacture, as the whole point of what is do is to make stunning, well made, well fitted, flattering garments, that really show their wearers personality. I don't believe this can be mass produced. But I appreciate this is not always an affordable option

    I also realise that as I am limited to making such a small amount, things will be copied, its inevitable, and flattering,as if 100 people wanted the same dress in one year, I could not do it, also can I cover a international market, as all fitting need to be done I person, eliminating anyone who does not live in the UK. And with the way the internet works, my advertising covers the whole world, which I still find amazing! To get enough customers in the uk, I have to cover the whole web.

    The point I think, I am trying so lengthily to make is, I know not every one has a massive budget, and am the first to say, buy what you can afford!, don't go broke for a frock. But it is still offensive to me when people think that they are expensive wedding dresses are over priced, because even Wang, will have massive over hear to run her business, and by having the gowns mass produced she is giving hundreds if not thousands of people jobs. She may not hand stitch them, but her staff, if not her would have designed them ( personally I'm not a Wang fan, not my taste, just using her as an example) There is a lot that goes in to designing,( well anything really) shape and proportion, details etc…that takes an expert eye to do, and the research in to buying and finding the right fabrics etc…Once its out there,as a dress its quiet easy to copy it, as all the leg work has been done.

    When I started the business, I went round bridal shows, the wholesale kind, and saw the cost of the dresses to buy, the mark up is 3-5 times the cost, more than the usual shop mark up, this may sound shocking, but I now realise why…..

    If a dress is bought by a shop, for say £150, then sold for say £800, that £650 does not go straight in to the pockets of the shop owner, in the same way you can cook a meal for a less than a pound, or pay £50+ in a fancy restaurant. There is a reason for this, not just the food costs, but everything from the chair you sat on, the waiting staff, the lights above you, the public insurance to cover them and you…..shall I go on…..
    The cost of something is never what you just see in front of you….there is so much more…..Especially in weddings, when people want it just so, and want to be able to speck to their vendors at any given moment. Most vendors are happy to do this, as its make for a good service, the client getting what they want, a wedding can and generally is more special, and more time consuming than a day to day event, food or flowers, yes you can get a bunch of flowers for less than bouquet, but do you wan to carry a shop bought bunch of daffodils…( I might!) but most folk want a perfectly proportioned, placed bouquet, which take more time to make, and more time with the client to discuss, sample and source. Time costs money, we all have bills to pay.

    And that is my point. I hate generic bridal shops as much as the next indie bride, but do I think they over charge, no. The dresses may be relatively, or even in the case of the expensive designer shops, the time spent with wedding customers is much more than a normal shop. A potential bride may visit 3-4 time to try on a dress, but never buy it, all these thing have to be costed in to the running of a business.
    It is the time spent that can make things cost so much, for example, the wedding shop, high or low end, or indie,..There is a shop, which is filled with dresses, and staff to help people try them on, these dresses, in most cases(apart from sample sales) are 'hangin up money' as they cant be sold, as they will be worn out and ruined after a few months, as they will have been tried on..and on…This is necessary, but will not guarantee the shop a sale. In many cases people will go and try the dress on to see if it looks good, then go buy it from the internet cheaper. Although this is quiet excepted, is it fair on the shop? The reason the internet shop re cheaper, is because they do not have these over heads. But is does benifit from the shops who people freely use to try on what they will knowing not be buying from there. This is not to say you must buy from every where you try! So it is great for the customers, great for the net shop, but the looser is the shop. Who have basically been used.

    At the end of the day, you have to make your own decisions based on what you think is right for you, at the time, and what you can afford. If you love designer /indie or other wise, and can afford and appreciate what they are and why they cost so much, you will save up and get them, If you cant afford it, there no reason why you shouldn't do what you can to get the look you want on the budget you have, by takign ideas from other designers just please appreciate why they cost that much more. I think this is what is most designers gripe, its not the coping, as yes, all fashion is copied and filtered down to all price brackets, its the thought behind it. The same thought that makes a person think whether they want sweat shop or non sweat shop..and as a sewer, I recon its all sweat shop…just in different places, with different fabrics, and different wages, weather in a home basement or massive factory.

    One last thing, on the money front, I know some folk think it is crazy waste of money to spend more than £$100 on a dress for one day( although many designs can be worn and worn these days if you don't opt a long white frock…) but who has the right to say if your rich, you must live humbly, and give your money to the poor? That's as bad as saying someone who is poor should work harder, get a better job, so they can do the same. People come form all circumstance, and financial positions, some are born into it, some are given it, some work hard, some are just plain lucky. But know one has the right to say what each person should do with it. No more than we should say if a person deserves to have cancer or not. Be true to your believes, as long as they harm no other. That I think is the best we can do.

  24. Oh crap, I forgot one more thing in regards to buying second hand, this is fab, you can find unusual things, vintage things, its re using, less waste, all good, and generally cheaper, but don't forget, there is a chain, if there was no one buying the stuff, then giving it/selling it on, there would be no second hand to buy from, just a thought….

  25. Even when making your own dress it can be pretty tough to avoid sweat shop labour. Although your designer and dressmaker may be local, where was the fabric made? Where was the cotton or linen grown and spun? The silk cocoons unwound? That doesn't mean it's not worth attending to, just that it's going to be tough to be "pure green and fair trade."

  26. I used to be a model for wedding dresses, I sympathise with Jan above. It was easy for me just to show up, be dressed up, and spend 9+ hours per shoot standing there looking blank and getting paid very, very well for it, besides the hairdresser fees and the makeup artist fees and the photographer, and the revenue the designer lost hovering around and pinning this and accentuating that. I tried to fathom the cost per design to ensure this was worth it and ever afterwards defended any designer charging that much. 🙂

    I just want to say, though, that it's not just your desire. Some of the people invited to the wedding are business acquaintances and it's nice to be impressive, but beyond that it's also what your fiance and both of your families want. Wearing an indie dress wouldn't be very smart of me; I might get applauded for my creativity but it might also come across as a sign that my businesses are doing poor economically, so other companies should sign contracts with me/purchase my businesses/allow me to partner why? (I get the challenge of trying to be offbeat under everyone's noses to amuse my fiance and I). I look very young, and labels are important to me so I can approach the older female entrepreneurial crowd. As well, there was that fuss recently about how women tend to hire friends and family who need a job, and that's the largest reason that female-owned businesses do poorly. I realise this doesn't affect that many, but I feel compelled to defend a choice that has less to do with desire and more to do with logic, when we've just defended label choice by saying it's motivated by desire. Sometimes a wedding is just as much a professional event as a personal one! (TL;DR: Labels sometimes help cement a woman's professionalism.)

    I love everyone's comments, though – very good debate! By the way, Helen, if you go to the manufacturer directly it's much easier to determine their "greenness" even though I find, particularly so in the western States, that many vendors use "green" to sell because perhaps one feature of their production line is more green than, say, McDonald's. Besides, there are local fabrics in many places that you can purchase or, if you're lucky, you may have friends who travel for business or pleasure and might know which places to get decent local fabrics in. It's more work, certainly, but if it's so important to be green, then the work makes sense. Finding an ethical designer and dressmaker is relatively easy; finding the fabric is much more difficult.

    I agree about the human-rights violations, though. We know they exist and we promote the culture that causes it to exist. (Does ANYONE disagree?)

    And by the way, the note about justifying spending that much money on a dress is the same as spending that much money on, say, a boat, or a trip to Japan: the short answer is, because someone desires it. Really. They may have dreamt about spending a romantic weekend in Paris since they were six, or imagined their wedding dress since the time they saw a re-enactment of Princess Di's wedding on television. (Curiously and getting way off-topic, I've heard it put thusly: if you spend that much on a wedding dress and a fortune on the wedding, then close a deal for six million dollars, and ten percent of your personal earnings goes to feed people… moral justification for a lush lifestyle is hilarious to listen to.)

    Wonderful debate!

  27. It is dangerous to make sweeping generalizations about China, sweatshops, workers and their "ethical" needs. On the one hand, high-quality luxury apparel tends to be produced in factories that are not sweatshops, or at least not the worst working environment out there. High quality, fashion-oriented goods are also more likely to be produced closer to the market where they are sold, although China and other Asian countries have achieved major successes in high quality production in some instances. Also, it is often true that typically brand name companies/designers have better compliance and standards than no-name brands or knock-offs. On the other hand, wedding gown brands are not as visible or commonly critiqued as, say, your Gaps and Nikes. Therefore, who's to say that the high-end designers necessarily care about working conditions more than the knock-off brands (which are also luxury compared to a t-shirt)? It would be an interesting research project to follow the supply chains of different wedding gowns to find out the actual geography, conditions of the work, living conditions and life situations of the workers (who are women 80%+ of the time). One final comment: if we just accept that "sweatshops" are a necessary reality, that is a sad, sad reflection on how far this ethical trade debate has come.

  28. I think we accept generally that most of our affordable products come from workers somewhere down the line who were not fairly paid, at least compared to the livable wage of North America and Europe. That being said, most of us live busy lifestyles and work within our budgets for both time and money to live as ethically as possible. For some, this means shopping and eating at fair-trade shops and restaurants, or perhaps being vegan or vegetarian to reduce the pressure on the animal production and slaughter system.

    Also, I agree with Ann about the high quality production comment, not much fuss is made in the US over the Hong Kong fashion industry, which is absolutely breathtaking. I find China even to be expensive (my friends translate for me so as to prevent me getting ripped off) since much of my high quality scarves and nightwear comes from there. It seems a bit ignorant to just assume cheap production = Asian countries.

    (Psst: one edit for my post – if you close a deal because of the wedding celebration -> that's what I meant. It's quite hypocritical, though, with the previous statement about mixing family and employees, but a lot of elderly independent businessmen see this as a traditional way of doing business.)

  29. I'm not sure if anyone else brought this up, but once any designer publicly shows a collection, rip-offs IMMEDIATELY show up in Forever21 or Target — it's part of the fashion industry, always has been. What you're paying for with a big-name designer dress is the quality of materials, the handcrafting, and, essentially, bragging rights.

    I see nothing wrong with ripping off a big-name designer dress. The whole fashion industry is used to it, and you're not making a profit like the chain stores are — you're just enjoying the product.

    As far as the ethics of overseas labor, I have no ability to comment… I'm pretty sure half my clothes were made in China, Indonesia, or Taiwan, just like the rest of America.

  30. One thing to consider: If you want any type of clothing, bridal or otherwise "cheap", you will be paying the person who will be creating the garment "sub-living wages", regardless if the seamstress is local or overseas. I am a seamstress who works in a fabric store (I primarily do costumes), and have been approached frequently by customers asking me how much I would charge to make something. When I give them a rough figure- (which is frequently a gross underestimate of what I SHOULD be getting paid) they are usually completely shocked as to why I am asking for so much! Any garment involves time + material cost. I don't have any experience making wedding gowns yet (will be making my own at some point)- I primarily make movie recreation costumes, which can be just as elaborate and detail-oriented. But let's estimate that the average wedding gown takes approximately 100 hours to make (if there's hand beading or embroidery involved, tack on another 50-100 hours, depending on how elaborate.) All those hours isn't just from making the actual dress, but involve fitting and tailoring the dress so it will fit properly, which takes a lot of work. If I charge minimum wage (which is $8 here in California, which is greatly cheapening my work, as sewing is skilled labor which I have spent a number of years trying to perfect- I can make just as much if not more working at McDonald's which takes no skill.) So you're looking at $800 from just labor costs alone. Now we need to factor in the materials. Bridal fabric is typically anywhere from $10 on up. I work in a fabric store and know how to get good deals (plus, an employee discount helps as well) so I can get fabric for significantly less then suggested retail. Your typical bridal gown is approximately 8 yards of fabric. Let's aim cheap, and say we are doing a simple dress with not a lot of embellishments out of a nice silk taffeta, which I can get for about $12/yard (let's not even talk if you want bridal lace- which can be from $24-$60+/yard) 12 x 8 = $96. Now you have to take into consideration all the notions that go into the dress: lining, interfacing, thread, buttons, zippers, hook and eye, boning, ribbon… it all adds up. So you're looking at a very basic custom dress costing over $1000. We're in an age where we've come to expect items for next to nothing, which is why I seldom do commission work: because people expect homemade custom work for "off the rack" prices. So remember, even if your local seamstress is willing to make your wedding dress for $300, understand that she is likely making grossly underpaid for her hard work just the same as if you were to get a dress from China.

  31. Just wanted to say that if the film "Real Women Have Curves" (starring America Ferrera – I love her!) is any indication, even dresses made in the U.S. can be (and probably are) made with sweat-shop labor, or at least people who are very underpaid.

    In the film, the aunt of the main character (main character = America) runs a dress shop where they piece and finish prom dresses to be sold in big department stores. They are paid about $15 for each dress, which is resold in the department stores for about $200, and have to eat the costs of any dress they manage to "ruin," (i.e. crease or burn when pressing, etc.).

    I personally am hoping to go with a local seamstress or a friend of mine who is really good at sewing.

    As for offshore? You're probably paying those seamstresses in China and India much more than they would be getting paid if they made clothes for big American companies.

    I do agree with the consignment shop comment, though. Other options? Ebay, Etsy, local thrift and vintage stores, etc! Or, god forbid, make it yourself!

  32. Lisa is absolutely right.

    I design and make most of my own clothing and get compliments all the time, but I don't do it to sell because I doubt I could sell day dresses for what it would cost me in materials and labor. If I paid myself $10 an hour–which is not a living wage–for both the time spent designing, fine-tuning my improvisations (every dress is unique), and sewing, plus materials (quality cotton prints but nothing extravagant), I'd have to charge about $200 for a simple day dress. I think I'd be very hard-pressed to get that when there are so many cool vintage dresses available on Etsy, eBay, and through thrift stores, much more cheaply. I don't have any other employees to support or a workspace to rent, either! If I were doing this professionally, I'd have to streamline my designing and sewing process considerably, which would sacrifice creativity and uniqueness. Everything has a trade-off.

    So, just because and independent designer is expensive doesn't mean s/he is overpriced. I could easily see a wedding dress, even by a small local designer/seamstress, running a couple of thousand dollars. It's not price-gouging; it's fair pay for her work.

  33. An art dealer might tell you that an original Jackson Pollock holds a hefty price tag, and someone else might look at it and say, "He only spent a couple bucks on a few cans of paint and drizzled it on some canvas. My 5-year-old can do that, and you want me to pay WHAT for this?!??" What determines the painting's value in not the cost of the materials or how or where it was made; it is the supply and demand factor.

    You can have a pair of jeans made in a sweat shop in China for 2 fickin' bucks (which is how much it costs to manufacture a pair of Calvin Klein jeans), and if the demand is high, the price will be high. If no one wants them, they'll be cheap.

    In any event, if you don't want to support Vera Wang or whomever – for whatever reason – then why so keen to have a dress that looks just like hers? I think the mentality involved in purchasing knock-offs is really rooted in wanting that which we cannot realistically have. If you can't afford a Vera Wang, then what's the harm in purchasing a beautiful dress (designed by someone else) that is in your price range? There are plenty of "no-name" dress designers who make fantastic gowns, and no one is going to be looking at the tag on your dress at your wedding.

    I can't resist commenting on those who have posted that knock-offs are not illegal. As a legal professional, I somewhat disagree. U.S. Customs actually looks specifically for (and confiscates) designer knock-offs when these items come through Customs. One clarification, however: EXACT replicas are illegal. Designer "inspired" items are not.

  34. Okay- I really have something to say about this!!!! I am a designer and owner of a company that has made dresses for a number of Offbeat Brides. In an effort to respect this site I am not going to "Pimp My Business Name".

    Gals- just because you give a seamstress a picture of a dress torn from a magazine does not mean that is the dress you are going to get from your "copyist! You will get a version of that dress. It could be indiscernible- if you are INCREDIBLY lucky. But I will tell you- even in Hollywood, when they have the most expert craftspeople in the world and unlimited budgets as tools for achieving authenticity, they sometimes can't really copy 10% or make bad mistakes.

    What you are going to get is a version of what you are asking for- you will NEVER get an exact copy. You are gambling. You are gambling that you will pay less and get close enough to what you want to be pleasing to you. You are taking a very big risk (and if you get what you want, I think you "deserve" it for being so resourceful!)

    You have no idea how many judgment calls will be made during the course of "interpreting" your request, not to mention the corners that might be cut.

    Let's also think about what the very meaning of the word "fashion" carries with it. It's a creation of culture and of the time- it doesn't "belong" to one designer. The people who made mini skirts after Mary Quant "invented" the mini skirt were not copying her. Mary Quant ingeniously plucked an idea from the winds of the times.

    I make "vintage reproductions". They are all my version of something where I have taken inspiration from certain details and then I have done it in my own way. So do at least half of the current haute couture designers out there today- vintage elements are very big now.

    Even though my company has our own distinctive look, some one can- and they do- try to "knock us off". It is better as a designer to simply be flattered by that, keep coming up with "new" ideas, and do what you do the best you possibly can, because it's about so many small issues of quality and so many small judgment calls that 1) no one can ever completely copy you and 2)if you are, on balance, giving value to customers with what you do and creating something people want, you will likely have a market. Worry, as a designer, about doing *your* best at what you do, not what others are doing.

    The last thing I'd like to say on this subject is that a beautiful dress design virtually always evolves i the design studio. It isn't born in one fell swoop- at least not very often. The first time you make it, you learn something and you revise it. If you as a consumer are simply trying to get a distant shop to copy something, they will not be able to afford to make it over a few times and work the bugs out of it before they make your dress. The prototype is so rarely perfect. If the seamstress/ shop is local and you know how to determine why something doesn't look right, at least you can make the seamstress change it a bunch of times to work out all the kinks if s/he is making something for you from a picture or or a sketch. Even commercial patterns (Vogue, Butterick)never turn out like the picture on the front- they always need to be tweaked. So if you go to someone who has already made that particular style instead of going to someone who is copying the style, your chances of getting it the way you want are increased dramatically.

    And there you have my $.02


  35. Regarding "Cheap Offshore". "probably made in a sweatshop… by child labor…"

    I have a small business- you may have seen my last post. I am an American alternative artsy type who worked in the US ("Made in The USA"- how PC- not really) for a long time, most recently in Hollywood for ten years, before I came to my dream place, Bali eight years ago, and created my dream job making dresses I love that nice (yay!) people can afford to buy, in an orchid-draped garden studio, where I know there will be no bad vibes for me to contend with at work because I treat the people who work with me really well and in return they treat me really well. I contrast that with some of the Hollywood producers I had to work for or some of the screaming abusers in New York that I had to work for when I worked on 7th Ave in the fashion industry there. (Not all of them were like that,of course, but all too many of them. Traumatic!!! Shudder!!!)

    I came here because I could do what I love with nice people (working along side me) for nice people (as customers). If I was still working in Hollywood, no way could the same people who can afford my clothes today be able to buy from me.

    Not all enterprises in third world countries are "places where an ethical person wouldn't want their money going"! Golly, you can really FEEL GREAT about yourself when you fund certain undertakings in third world countries. Some of those third world workers are SUPER NICE, TALENTED, DESERVING PEOPLE. Some of those purported "sweat shops" might actually be pretty places with fresh air and an affable atmosphere with short working hours where people are making conversation with their friends while doing a craft they enjoy. There may be some horrible fat cat skimming off every grain of profit, but there may not be! There could be a horrible abusive exploiter fat cat running a US business, too! (Trust me!)

    Are we going to be all protectionist and try to save every nickle to only spend in the US? There's a great way to encourage world poverty.

    I think we have to try to use our heads and pick and choose. I really believe in voting with your dollars. I think that is a very effective way of doing good in the world. Refuse to to business with ugly corporations, even when that is inconvenient for you.

    Let people from other countries make products for you- geez. Don't go around saying every product you buy has to be from the US and then claim to be a supporter of ending world hunger. We need to share. Let's keep the jobs in the U.S. that we do best- let's specialize in what we do best and let our world neighbors contribute -and earn- as well.

    Let's use our heads and evaluate on an ongoing basis with an open mind and evaluate on an individual basis when we can. Let's try not to lump "all third world workers" or "all imports" any more than you would lump "all Muslims" or "all men" or whatever.

    Pardon my preaching 🙂 Katherine

  36. I'm with you on the support for indie designers, but I don't think there's a point where it's morally ok to rip something off just because the person who made it won't miss the money. By that logic, embezzlement is totally fine as long as you pick a rich target! Let's support small artists by buying their goods, not by stealing from successful ones!

  37. Unfortunately, it is naive to think that only big-name designers get ripped off, not "indie" designers. I think trying to make such a distinction is ethically unsound, anyway, and is really just rationalization.

    Take Amy Kuschel as an example. She is an independent bridal designer in San Francisco. Does indie mean cheap? No — her dresses range from about $1500 to more than $3000. But as an "indie" designer, is she exempt from imitation? Follow this link to find out:

  38. This discussion is amazing, I love reading everyone's opinions… and GREAT ideas!

    Can I just throw something out there? Vera Wang offers some patterns through Simplicity. So technically, if you got a seamstress to create the dress from that pattern, you wouldn't have to steal from her at all, she'd get your $18. I know, it's a little besides the point, but if there are any Vera lovers out there who can't afford it, this combines the best of both worlds.

    There are a lot of great ideas in combining the two extremes here, too, and I so loved reading everyone's post that I could (I admit, I stopped somewhere around 70… eyes getting tired!) There's never going to be a "one size fits all" answer, but I think the closest is one many people are saying: it is whatever you are morally comfortable with, IMO.

  39. A few people have already brought this up, but we have workers that are exploited right here in the US, and workers that are treated extremely well in so-called 3rd world countries. In fact, in some of those countries, places we consider sweat-shops are considered a big step UP for the workers in that part of the world. While here in the US, I know of people who are NOT paid overtime, because of a loophole in the laws.

    We should be conscious of how we spend our dollars, whether we spend them on "Made in the USA" or "Made in China," on a designer original or a knock-off, from a resale shop or brand-new. We can do this at every economic level.

  40. I think it all comes down to basic economics and good business. Make a good product for a good price and people will buy it. Make a good product at an unreasonable price and people will go elsewhere to pay a cheaper price. It's really that simple. Everyone who had ever done business knows that if you produce the same product as your competitor but your price is lower, you'll win the buyers. In the case of fashion, there are no US laws that protect the designs – so legally it is perfectly acceptable to replicate a design, as far as I understand it. In my particular case, I designed my own dress then found "my" design was already made by a dress company. So in theory, I'm not really copying their dress, yet they will look the same. The thing about design is, if its good, everyone will copy it in one way or another. It's part of the business. I myself am a designer and although I hope that people will purchase my designs, I realize that theh bottom line will always be money and quality. And on one last tangent, I find that most "wedding" dress shops increase the markup on wedding gowns just because of the word attachment. As an educated consumer, I refuse to pay an additional markup just because someone thinks they can take advantage of me based on emotions. It is a constantly changing balance between what the dresses are worth in time/materials and what consumers are willing to pay.

  41. When I was in Cambodia I met some women who worked in sweatshops. They were extremely grateful for these jobs. One of the women told me about how her son starved to death some years ago because she didn't have enough money to feed him. She works for a tiny amount of money and in terrible conditions, but she's happy because she can feed her young daughter and she can afford a tiny apartment so she no longer has to live at the dump. Without the sweat shops, or as they call them, garment factories, they would have none of that. I'm not saying I agree with the way they treat their workers (don't even get me started on how this woman lived in poverty so the company could have more money), but I think they are helping the impoverished people they employ.
    Sorry if my thoughts are a bit jumbled, I've been up for a while.

  42. in regards to the ethics of having something made in china

    we may consider their factories to be sweatshops but they consider them to be a living.

    factories are closing down at a very fast rate (30-50% in some areas) and their young workers area grateful for any work that they can get. china doesn't seem to have much in the way of welfare

    i would say that it is un-ethical to boycott a countries goods on these grounds

  43. My solution to this was to get a seamstress. I just met with mine today for the second time to look at fabrics. THere are lots of talented people out there who sew for a living, and the results are much more affordable than designer gowns.

    So I went to the local (and locally owned) fabric store and asked for a recommendation, talked to two women, and picked one. She picked up a pencil at our first meeting and basically drew the dress I wanted that I could not find anywhere.

    What I've learned so far is that if you want a dressmaker that will design something for you, you will pay more, around $500-$1400 where I live. If you're just looking for someone to work from a pattern the cost can be much lower. Either way, the cost is still less than most designer gowns and you don't have to pay for alterations.

    Today I picked the fabrics for the gown with her and my mother. That's another possible way to cut costs or to know you're getting the very best French lace.
    Since I wanted something specific that I couldn't find anywhere, this was the right choice for me.
    I haven't seen the finished product yet, but it's incredible to basically be able to ask for whatever I want, instead of being told what I should want.

    So basically, I strongly recommend checking out the seamstress option!

  44. Honestly, this debate is killing me. I thought I'd be able to get around the made-in-Taiwan-by-underpaid-workers-and-then-sold-by-nasty-stores-for-too-much-money issue by buying a lovely vintage dress. I like the vintage dress styles and my ring is also vintage, so it seemed like a perfect fit. I'm even petite, so I thought fit should not be such a problem. Unfortunately, when you don't live in an urban area, most of the vintage shopping you can do is over the internet. And how comfortable is anyone buying such a special item without trying it on first? On top of that, my fiancé doesn't like lace or pouf. Sometimes it seems like he doesn't like anything vintage. So I start looking at the J Crew dresses on ebay, and then look up information about their manufacturing practices, and I still feel yucky. Why does this have to be so hard? (Sigh) I've got the wedding dress shopping blues.

  45. I have one objection to this complicated thread. I will state it short and sweetly.

    Ethics is determined by the action itself and not the cause. Steeling from a morally corrupt bussiness if a cause, the action is steeling. Steeling is wrong. Therefore, the cause is wrong as well.
    If you think it's ok to steel from a morally corrupt place (steeling is morally corrupt as well) then you are saying that it is ok to poke and eye for an eye. This, if you followed your ethics and values consistantly, would mean you also supported the death penalty for an crime of murder. If you do, then fine, your cool.
    If not, I find it hard to believe that all you wonderful life loving people actually do, then there is a flaw in your logic.

  46. hello all, I understand how complicated this issue is,but it can't be ignored. Just because an issue is complicated doesn't mean turn the other cheek. I'm glad someone brought this up because so many people turn into crazed "gotta have it no matter what" brides! I also want a dress I can't afford, which will test my creativity, but not my morals. Set high standards for yourself, in every aspect. Living with items and choices you can feel good about is worth the effort "expense".
    Question everything.
    Stephanie 😉

  47. I had my heart set on a dress like Dita Von Teese's Viv Westwood creation but didn't want to spend £1000 let alone the £10,000 the original cost.

    I have over a year so I looked on Ebay, specifying 'Prom' and 'Vintage'.

    I found a new dress (coming from a bridal shop that was closing down), that was made in the Uk and I got it for only £50! The only thing it needs is a dryclean having got a little crumpled in storage.

    So first thing – get a tape measure – check your measurements (then add on an inch for movement) and then check out Ebay. A dress can always be taken in.

    There are new dresses, tonnes of beautiful vintage dresses that could be updated cheaply and it is recycling.

    I also got a couple of wonderful dresses for my bridesmaids too for around the same cost!

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