Plus, how the Collective's founding members, Lea Stafford, Chanda Daniels, and Erica Estrada, are pushing the industry forward.

By Sarah Schreiber
July 13, 2020
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Lea Stafford—the wedding planner behind Lea Stafford Events—has been the only Black woman in the room at industry events more times than she can count. "I noticed that I was often one of one when the guest count was an average of 60—this feeling is like no other," she tells Martha Stewart Weddings. "I have experienced this feeling of not being 'accepted' as an equal contributor over the course of my 12-year run in this industry." She calls her brainchild, the Ethos West Collective, a manifestation of these moments and emotions, something that gradually formed over time. "The vision itself hit me about a year ago," she says. "I not only wanted to promote inclusivity, but I also wanted to create a community within our industry that would highlight those I consider to be marginalized."

Over the course of a year, Stafford worked to flesh out the framework of the Collective, which became the concentrated platform and resource, supported by an online catalog of Black professionals in the luxury wedding and event space, that it is today. Then, she formed her team, knowing event planners Chanda Daniels of Chanda Daniels Planning & Design and Erica Estrada of Erica Estrada Design were the women for the job. "I knew in order for the Collective to reach the masses and gain the recognition it deserves, I would have to tap some folks to execute this vision," explains Stafford. "I met Chanda working on a project a few years ago; she was the first Black planner and designer I had come across in the Bay Area. Erica, I connected with through social media and industry circles."

For Daniels and Estrada, deciding to helm the Collective alongside Stafford as founding partners was an easy choice. "Over my 21 years in this industry I've experienced being the only one in the room—and underestimated—so many times, that I wanted to create my own house, but never had the time to do it. I was thrilled when Lea brought the idea to me," Daniels shares. Estrada felt similarly: "It was a no-brainer. I was beyond excited to highlight extremely talented professionals, who also happen to be Black."

According to Daniels, Ethos West is a "top-notch resource for all when seeking curated, high-end Black wedding creatives." This is ultimately what the project is all about: At its heart, the Ethos West Collective is designed to elevate Black vendors who, in turn, elevate the industry. The bar for being accepted into the Collective is exceptionally high (admittance requires an extensive application and vetting process); some current members include industry powerhouses like Joy Proctor Design, Sinclair & Moore, and Elizabeth Austin Photography. But the trio knows that this list will grow "substantially," says Stafford, especially with increased exposure and their commitment to vendor education—in fact, this is one of their most important benchmarks. The Collective hopes to boast 75 members throughout the United States and Europe by the end of 2020, notes Estrada.

With a talented roster of vendors at its core, Ethos West has quickly gained the support of partners from all sectors of the industry (Martha Stewart Weddings, included!) who have taken the Collective's pledge to work with, promote, and feature their members across their own platforms. "We hope to establish and maintain relationships and partnerships with industry professionals and publications. My hope is that these relationships will lead to some beautiful and impactful work," explains Stafford.

But it is equity, say Stafford, Daniels, and Estrada, that is truly the backbone of Ethos West—it was designed to "bridge the gap of what was an unspoken divide," says Stafford. "This Collective means equality and inclusivity. It is here to educate those who want and are willing to learn. I want it to create and help maintain relationships and partnerships. Lastly, it should be used as a resource for industry and clients alike to continue to promote inclusivity."

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