New WSU graduate designs reusable wedding dresses

Brides may dream about their wedding gown for years, but most of those dresses are only worn once. Though beautiful, they’re not environmentally friendly or cost-effective.

4 different photos showing a wedding dress with slight alterations. Those include beaded sleeves on or off, the train tucked up to a much shorter version.
One bridal gown, shown with different modular options.

Washington State University graduate student Mya Phan is hoping to change that by creating modular wedding dresses that can be worn again with minor, easy-to-make adjustments.

“People invest a lot in a wedding dress,” said Phan, who graduated this weekend with a master’s degree from WSU’s Department of Apparel, Merchandising, Design, and Textiles (AMDT). “I wanted to see if I could make a dress that’s reusable and functional, where the look can change into various different options without too much work.”

Phan took the idea and ran with it, creating several designs with different adaptations that can transform wedding gowns into cocktail dresses or other outfits for future celebrations.

“Mya worked very hard on her thesis project, not just on the designs but talking with potential consumers and industry professionals,” said Armine Ghalachyan, Phan’s advisor and an AMDT assistant professor. “The designs are beautiful, but they’re also grounded in research on what people want and how they can help the bridal wear industry be more sustainable.”

Before getting to work, Phan gauged buyer interest by interviewing women who indicated they may purchase a wedding dress in the future.

“I asked a lot of questions about what they would look for in a dress and if they’d be open to the modular concept,” said Phan, who earned a bachelor’s degree in design in her native Vietnam.

5 separate photos showing different wedding dresses, then showing how they can have elements added or removed to look different.
A few of Mya Phan’s designs showing off how they each can transform.

After the first round of interviews, she used what she learned and what she knew from her professional and educational background to develop the modular designs.

“Some people were skeptical of the idea in the first interviews,” Phan said. “Some said they wouldn’t want to re-use their wedding dress, but the majority changed their minds after seeing the designs. It brings value to a consumer and value to the environment to have dresses that can be worn again.”

In addition to consumers, Phan talked with bridal industry professionals, like Valerie Mesenbrink, the owner of Black Tie and Pearls in Moscow, Idaho. Mesenbrink has worked in the wedding gown industry for more than 15 years, owning shops in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and Pullman, Wash., before opening the Moscow store.

“I was completely blown away when I saw her gowns,” Mesenbrink said. “Mya’s creativity is unreal. Every bridal shop serves a different demographic of people with different requirements. Mya’s ideas cross those differences by allowing the bridal gown to be whatever you want it to be.”

Mesenbrink’s shop hosted a gown premier earlier this month, where models wore Phan’s dresses and she demonstrated how the modular modification systems work.

Formal portrait photo of Mya Phan
Mya Phan

“It’s fairly easy for me to talk about modular designs,” Mesenbrink said. “But once everyone saw them on a live body, they were amazed.”

Bridal wear materials, including beading and lace, can be expensive. Phan’s research and dresses were funded in part by the Margaret M. Hard Research Award she received earlier this year.

Phan doesn’t have any concrete plans now that her time at WSU is complete, but she hopes to work as a designer in the bridal wear industry and eventually develop her own brand.

“I hope to keep designing beautiful wedding dresses, hopefully ones that can be re-used by brides multiple times after their big day, fostering cost-effectiveness and enabling them to relive the joy of their wedding day on multiple occasions,” Phan said. “My passion and dream is to make brides feel beautiful and happy on their wedding days. Doing that while reducing waste would be perfect.”