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Spotlight on a Member: Bright Endeavors

In 2015 we are learning a lot about our members! You can listen to Neil Dixon Smith’s awesome podcast interviews with CGWA members or check out our featured member profiles where we visit their places of business and conduct a short interview. Here’s one with John Guido from Bright Endeavors.

John GuidoHow did you get involved in Bright Endeavors?

I was connected to Bright Endeavors through the non-profit volunteer community in Chicago.  I worked in the private sector and was thrilled to have the opportunity to use my skills to develop a growing social enterprise.

Why is Bright Endeavors a sustainable business?

Dreambean candlesOur business is sustainable in a few ways.  First, we use non GMO soy wax and domestically sourced ingredients to make our candles.  Second, we provide candle rentals for weddings and restaurants, drastically reducing the amount of candle glass that is wasted following the event.  Third, we invest in our community by impacting two generations simultaneously.  We teach transferable job-skills to our young moms, who will, in turn, be empowered to pass those skills along to their children in a more financially stable home environment.

What is your favorite thing about going to work every day?

Working with a great team that navigates a variety of business development challenges in order to build a sustainable social enterprise for our participants.

Making candlesWhy did Bright Endeavors join the CGWA?

We saw an incredible opportunity to work with like-minded small business owners who are serious about creating positive social, economic, and operational change within the wedding industry.

Bright Endeavors teamWhat inspires you?

The young moms in our program who refuse to give up hope as they struggle to overcome enormous hurdles each and every day.

What is one thing people would be surprised to learn about you?

At Bright Endeavors, we are dedicated students of the pun.   I’d offer an example, but I wouldn’t want to school anyone.  We do try to keep it classy around here.

All photos are taken by Jamie Davis of Greenhouse Loft.

Spotlight on a Member: Katherine Anne Confections

We recently sat down with Katherine from Katherine Anne Confections to discuss her business and why she is a member of the Chicago Green Wedding Alliance.

What inspires you?

Smiles. Seeing the reaction when people try our sweets: watching their faces brighten really makes my day. In the end, my job is really to make people happy, and I think we do that.

What is one thing people would be surprised to learn about you?

I think most people know I grew up on a 200 acre goat farm by now (right?) but few would know that I exhibited said goats at the Royal Agriculture Winter Fair in Toronto, and won second place in showmanship when I was a teen. Ahh, the glory days.. I also played piano for 10 years and went to the State competition as part of a musical group for several years.

Katherine Anne's delectable truffles.

Katherine Anne’s delectable truffles.

Why did you chose to open a sustainable business in Chicago?

Besides a love of red tape, amirite? Seriously, Chicago is a great city. I love the people that have created an old-fashioned small business support network, so I feel like I am part of one big family. It’s becoming easier every day to be sustainable, from composting to recycling to the advances of protected bike lanes. I may never leave.

What is your favorite thing about working with local ingredients?

The quality. Fruit is the most ripe, flavorful, and juicy when it was picked just days or hours before we receive it. We then get to infuse that flavor into our sweets. It makes for an incomparable flavor. Plus, we get to put names and faces to our farmers.

Box of truffles
What is your favorite sweet?

Citrus truffle, hands down. It has lemon, orange, lime, and lemongrass – it’s very refreshing and summery.

Can you give us one Green Kitchen tip?

Compost – I can’t say it enough! Maybe it’s a given by now, and I’m preaching to the choir, but it makes a huge difference. We compost about 5x as much as we throw away.

A couple of additional tips would be to not waste anything. Have a bag in your freezer for garlic/onion skins, mushroom stems, and other things that would add undesirable texture to foods. As long as it’s not dirty or spoiled, it will add great flavor to homemade stock. I also substitute items all the time when I’m cooking at home – if a recipe calls for milk and I have some sour cream or yogurt about to go bad, I’ll put that in instead. Thinly slice broccoli and cauliflower stems and use them in soups, or right alongside the florets.

Why did you want to join the CGWA?

It started off as a great group of people I really enjoyed hanging out with. Then it evolved to the same group of people really trying to make a difference. I truly believe we will need to make changes in the way we live our lives in order to continue existing on this planet. I’m doing what I can, and hoping that we can all influence others to be just a little more mindful in their day-to-day life.

Katherine Anne Confections will be participating in Committed with sample truffles and a hot chocolate bar in the Rumpus Room!

rumpus room

Reuse and Reuse Again: Green Benefits of Vintage Wedding Rentals

by Kate Lerman of Chicago Vintage Weddings

Running a vintage rental company is rewarding work but working with vintage wedding rentals is always rewarding. I started my own company, Chicago Vintage Weddings, after realizing that there were a lack of unique rental options for couples planning weddings in Chicago. My collection of furniture and mismatched china had already been growing steadily, so this would be the perfect excuse to rescue more pieces! Since then my inventory has grown to thousands of items which rents out for multiple events every weekend.

I’m in good company. Aside from Chicago Vintage Weddings, other vintage rental businesses in the Chicago Green Wedding Alliance include Nimble Well, Aged Vintage Rentals, and Vintage Place Settings. Each has a beautiful collection of goods for rent.

Vintage rentals are a clear green choice. Beautiful objects with rich history are kept out of landfills, reused countless times, and are a wonderful alternative to purchasing or renting something with a “Made in China” label. The vintage rental companies in the CGWA take things even further, finding good use for pieces that can no longer be rented out.

Broken plates are an unavoidable part of running this kind of business. Thankfully, mosaic artist Leesa Tolbert turns broken plates from my collection as well as that of Vintage Place Settings into works of art. Listen to this recent story by DNAInfo on Leesa’s collaboration with Coreen and Stacy of Vintage Place Settings. This kind of upcycling is what Green Wedding Alliance members are all about!

Whether it’s rentals, planning, music, or food you can rest assured the CGWA members are finding creative ways to conserve that can help the planet, help your wallet, and still be beautiful and upscale.

Celebrating Simply Wood Rings’ (almost) 10th Anniversary

SWRSimply Wood Rings has always been about collaboration, connection, evolution, and what if’s. In fact, that’s how it started. In 2005 Simply Wood Rings’ Gustav Reyes was woodworking in his basement, making all manner of right-angled boxes and clocks. One day, his wife Juanita posed a question: What if you could make wooden jewelry? And what if it were a ring, the kind anyone could wear?

Initially Gustav said, “No, you can’t do that. You could drill them out of the wood, but they would break.”

“I’m not talking about drilling it out,” Juanita said. Gustav looked at her sideways, but a few days later, she brought him a piece of plain white paper, and began to roll it. “You can make it thin like this, and strong like this,” she explained. Gustav began to understand.

The first wood rings were crude, but Gustav continued to refine the process until the rings were both structurally strong and aesthetically beautiful. Later came wood- and stone-inlays, and the incorporation of metal. Each evolution made wider the possibility of making even more meaningful rings.


Now, almost 10 years later, Gustav, who heads the studio, and Juanita, who works in the office, feel honored to work with some of the most thoughtful and kind clients in the world. Along with a small team of artisans, Simply Wood Rings has grown into an ethical, progressive, and ever-evolving company, and one that holds strong to its simple origin: partners pushing each other to learn, grow, and create.

Simply Wood Rings always has one foot in tradition and one foot in innovation. Gustav asks himself: how are we honoring the wood and the lives it represents? And also, how can we do better; how can we make the rings even more reflective of the manifest beauty of life on Earth, and of the lives of the wearers?

So, for the company’s almost-10 year anniversary, Simply Wood Rings is launching a new website, reflective of the company’s and the work’s embedded values. “The new site is about telling stories, about refreshing and returning to simplicity and connection,” Gustav says. “We want to communicate our story to clients so that they feel even more welcome to share their own.”

At their heart, Simply Wood Rings are about cohabitating with the past and the future while remaining mindful of the present moment. They are about experiencing the natural world and human life as continuous, magnifying what’s important in life, and celebrating the authentic.

“We’ve always been on the cutting edge of wood ring craftsmanship,” Gustav says. “but what the rings symbolize is age-old: how humans connect to nature, and how they connect to each other.”

Visit the new site at

Tips for Eco-Friendly Wedding Decor

by Lisa Gordon from Lisa Gordon Events

Since everyone is thinking about holiday parties now, I am revisiting some thoughts on eco-friendly wedding decor. You can adapt many of these ideas to any party, but since I have Channukkah and Christmas on the brain, I’ll start with them.

For decor that is environmentally friendly, I suggest using live plants. There are several traditional holiday plants (for example, miniature live pine trees, ivy, poinsettias, Christmas cactus) that could be part of holiday decor. Try juxtaposing a miniature red rose bush with English ivy for a festive centerpiece. For extra credit on the environmental side, look for live plants that have been grown locally and organically. Local greenhouses are a great place to find them. If you don’t want the plants at home after your party, be sure to send them home with guests who want them. Locally grown, organic flowers are always a sustainable choice. In the winter, that means greenhouse flowers, too. There are florists who specialize in local, organic flower arrangements, including members of the Green Wedding Alliance.
basil centerpiece
You’ll probably be looking for some candles for your festive table. Chicago Honey Co-op is a local organization that keeps bees and makes products, including beeswax candles, and Bright Endeavors provides job training for at-risk women and produces soy candles. Beeswax and soy are less polluting than petroleum-based wax candles, and coming from a local source makes it doubly eco-friendly. It also smells nice! If you are celebrating Chanukkah, beeswax Chanukkah candles are available in specialty shops and online, although I have yet to find any made locally.

In the last few years, LED holiday lights have really taken off. In my opinion, most of the white lights look too bluish to be very attractive, but the red, green, and real blue ones I have seen are quite nice, and the pale yellow ones are a fine substitute for white. LEDs use a tiny fraction of the energy of traditional incandescent lights, and they ought to last a very long time. Both those qualities make them environmentally friendly.

outdoor tablesFor any kind of party, any time of year, you can make your food part of your decorations. Edible centerpieces look nice and taste great. You can buy “flower” arrangements made of fruit, or create something yourself. Even something as simple as a basket of unshelled nuts or fresh fruit with a colorful napkin can provide both snacks and visual interest. If you’re playing dreidel, the unshelled nuts of your centerpiece can also be the “chips” in the game.

For eco-friendly food service, nothing beats real china, linen, silver, and glassware. Yes, it uses a lot of water to clean up after the party, but it is still a better eco choice than disposables. It also looks very festive. Compostable disposable dishes are another option, but you will probably have to pay a composting service in order to compost them. Most home compost piles are not hot enough to break them down.

But the most environmentally conscious thing you can do when decorating is remembering that less is more. The more new stuff you acquire and the more you have to throw away, the less eco-friendly your decorations will be. Consider renting large items, instead of buying them, if you are doing elaborate decorations. But if you do find yourself with decorations you don’t plan to use again, minimize their impact by either donating them to a second-hand shop or giving them away on your local Freecycle group.

Have happy and green celebrations!

Portrait Session Tips: Outdoors Lighting

by Genevieve Burruss of Genevieve Lauren Photography


Photo by The Way We Click Photo by The Way We ClickIt is extremely important to keep the lighting in mind when shooting a portrait session outside. Unlike indoors, where we can control all of the light natural light is a little harder to predict, but there are some things to keep in mind. When photographers suggest a session time to you, it’s usually not because we are trying to fit you into our schedule, but rather, we are trying to create a feeling for you based on your style, and the time of day makes a huge difference in how that is created.

Morning light tends to be a bit “thinner” so you will get really pretty long shadows since the sun is still low enough to illuminate from the side, and colors tend to be a little less vivid. A lot of times if you shoot near the lake or in a meadow area you will get some mist from the night’s condensation evaporating which can be extremely beautiful and dreamy. Mid morning to afternoon light, while typically not our favorite, can be great for areas where there are lots of trees to use as filters, or if the skies tend to be particularly epic. A little fill flash in conditions like these where the sun is high and bright can create a truly magical shot if you know what you’re doing. Late afternoon and evening tends to be most photographers’ sweet spot and shooting just before and just after sunset to catch “magic hour” lends itself to some of the most romantic, pretty, and ethereal light. The colors in the sky can also be highlighted at this time of day and there just seem to be more options. Make sure you communicate with your photographer about what images you saw on his or her website that speak to you, and then let them decide the time of day you will shoot to create that same feeling for you. There is no way you will get dreamy golden soft light in a portrait session if you’re shooting at Noon!
Photo by The Way We Click Most importantly, let yourself go a little. Some of my favorite shots are the ones that happen when I pretend to fiddle with my camera for a minute and let my couples interact with each other in a natural way. Holding your breath, trying not to move, and holding a smile for too long are all sure-fire ways to make pictures of you look stiff and boring. Instead, listen to your photographer when they tell you to do something, even if it sounds insane, and trust that we will do everything in our power to make you look your absolute best, no matter what!


Engagement Portrait Tips: What to Wear

by Genevieve Burruss of Genevieve Lauren Photography

So, you’ve got your photo locations picked out; now comes the part that everybody struggles with at some point in their lives – what to wear!? Well here’s part two of my engagement portrait tips.

How to Dress Well

Photo by The Way We ClickThis is often a point of some stress and it really shouldn’t be. First the weather will affect what you can/should wear and the accessories you may need on any given Chicago day. In the middle of summer with high humidity you probably shouldn’t wear a long sleeve shirt and pants, and you may want to plan on a cute umbrella just in case. I usually have at least one client each spring that shows up to her engagement session in April or May wearing a super short summer dress without a sweater or jacket to layer (in the middle of winter it’s easy to forget that it’s often still pretty cold in April and May). I understand you want to wear your favorite outfit, but if the weather is too cold to wear that silk jersey sun dress and sandals, don’t wear it. You will be cold and uncomfortable which makes it hard to get a good shot (unless you’re a professional model it’ll be hard to hide this discomfort and you want to look happy in your photos!). As we all know Chicago also has a fair amount of windy days – especially along the lakefront or on bridges (see location post above) – so the styling of your hair may be affected by a big gust here and there. Try to choose an easy hairstyle that will be easy to tame back into shape should it get a little tousled in a few shots.

Photo by The Way We ClickSecond, beyond the weather, there are some general rules to follow when dressing for photos. Choose a color that complements your skin tone (think about whether you’ll be paler or tanner at that time of year). Sticking to solid colors or small prints generally works better. You’ll probably take color and black and white shots so think about how your color/pattern will look in both. Some couples choose to wear matching outfits – unless you do this in your normal life I urge you to resist matching, but it probably is a good idea to talk about what each other is wearing. It’s always fun when I have a guy show up in a casual olive green plaid shirt and khaki pants while she is wearing a bright red fancy dress. Being complementary does not equate to matching!

Third make sure you are comfortable in what you’re wearing. If you’re going to be on the beach or trekking around choose shoes that you can walk in. Even though you want to wear something a little nicer than your normal, every-day wear don’t go overboard or it can seem forced to your guests who know you. You still want to look like yourself.

Finally, stop stressing! Relax and enjoy a little time with your partner; it’ll show in your photos.

Photo by The Way We Click