The Bridal market may be a resilient one though not resistant to a sustainable approach, according to Pronovias Amandine Ohayon, the company’s first female CEO took the reins of the 56- year-old bridal group in 2018. Establishing an eco-responsible platform for the business was first up on her to-do list.
As Valmont Barcelona Bridal Fashion Week wrapped up, Ohayon wrapped the show with Julie Gilhart. The pair discussed the newly launched #WeDoEco initiative as part of the new digital format trade show. Gilhart, Tomorrow Consulting’s Chief Development Officer and sourcing expert David Allo, Head of Sustainability at TEXFOR, were both engaged to guide the bridal group in its journey towards a more sustainable product.
“During my first month at Pronovias, I asked for a sustainability roadmap, and the reaction was, we don’t have one. The feeling was that because no one had done it to scale that bridal could maintain their status quo,” said the French-born CEO. Her previous roles were in beauty at L’Oreal and Lancome, where sustainability was at the forefront of the conversation.
She established a senior management team to helm the Happy World Committee, which began the sustainability journey at Pronovias two years ago. “Bridal hadn’t done anything on this scale,” Ohayon notes, referring to practices from packing to end products qualifying as sustainable. “Making a sustainable T-shirt is easy, but try to find sustainable crepe, recycled glass beads, or zippers made from 100% recycled PET bottles. When we went to look, there weren’t any great options.”
Their partners and the team found options as the show of 39 dresses included all Pronovias Group labels such as Pronovias, Atelier, St Patrick, White One, Nicole, and Lady Bird. A selection of the dresses qualified as 360 degrees eco (sustainable from materials to packaging to greenhouse emission impact) while others are labeled eco-friendly made from sustainable materials.
Ohayon knows she isn’t the first to go green but maintains they are the first at this scale. She asked her supply and manufacturing partners to commit to by agreeing to the sustainable goals’ manual. Ohayon supports by training suppliers and wholesalers to adapt to its philosophy, which aims to be 50 percent sustainable by 2025. “What we learned through the COVID crisis is that certain trends that had begun were now accelerating. We saw positive effects on the environment when everyone stopped, so it’s really on top of mind right now,” she said.
Understanding this topic is important to her brides; she also notes it doesn’t mean they wish to sacrifice glamour. “They don’t want to have to compromise on style for an eco-hippy dress either.” Pronovias Alessandra Rinaudo, Chief Artistic Director, and Gilhart acknowledge the need for sustainability to begin with the design process, which doesn’t translate to a less-is-more aesthetic but a measured and thoughtful approach of design.
More is trending for some brides today. “We look at data, and you will be surprised to see a very polarized market,” said the CEO “One side, simple, minimalist dresses, are skyrocketing, which is great as we are known for beautiful silk crepe dresses. But princess dress searches are up 300 percent as well; nothing is in the middle.”
Another aspect of more is higher price sales. “One of our stores in Holland called and told me women are spending more on the dress,” said Ohayon, “In the middle of the largest financial crisis in decades, they spend more on the dress because they compromised on everything else.” Indeed, with smaller guest lists, limited catering options, and locations, brides felt the dress is one place they still call the shots to make the day memorable. Her team received wholesale partners’ requests for higher-end Atelier dresses and reported a 7 percent price increase overall.
“It’s an emotional purchase, and it’s a resilient market even if they postpone, they don’t cancel the wedding. The bride may have skipped buying a handbag for logical and practical reasons. Still, she isn’t giving up the dream to get married,” said Ohayon noting that even brides who got married more intimately during the pandemic will do a big party later and wear their dress again.
While many industries reported upticks in online sales during the pandemic, Pronovias says bridal is one holdout for digital because the bride still wants to come to the store. “We don’t have an online business; it’s 1.5 percent of total gowns sold at our price-points,” said Ohayon noting the reason, “Technology can’t recreate that moment of magic when the bride finds the dress amongst her family and friends.” She calls the sector’ internet resistant’ but insists they love the internet. Many brides tried shopping parties over Zoom but found it wasn’t the same as being in the salon.
To boost the continued presence of Pronovias in the four key markets, Spain, Italy, the US, and China, Ohayon has increased teams on the ground in those markets, adding key leadership roles. In the US alone, they opened eight stores since she took the job, noting that being close to the customers helps keep them in tune with what they want.
Beyond environmentally eco-friendly dresses, the CEO is also a big believer in sustaining people. Wth dress recycling programs already in effect, Ohayon believes those dresses can go to better use by supporting education for women in less fortunate circumstances. They’ve partnered with Brides Do Good on a recent initiative still in the planning stage. They plan to donate their unsold stock to be auctioned and encourage brides to donate theirs after the wedding with proceeds donated to Brides Do Good that supports women’s educational programs.
The UK-based organization Brides Do Good donates a third of its earnings from the wedding dress resale website to community organizations that ironically aim to end the cycle of young women and girls forced into marriage. The idea which rings true is that female education leads to self-sustainability and greater independence. Selling the gowns to support this cause can be fulfilling emotionally to the bride too. “It’s another way to promote product circularity,” said Ohayon.