We asked talent from all sectors of the industry to weigh in.

By Sarah Schreiber
December 08, 2020
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If creating a more equitable world is a priority in your life, it should be on your wedding day too. Establishing a diverse big-day team is a reflection of these core values—and this choice amplifies the Black community in a myriad of ways, notes Charleston-based wedding photographer Sacia Matthews. "Spending your money with diverse vendors based on merit helps create equity in the industry and access for BIPOC, and other diverse vendors, to continuously elevate their businesses," she shares. Ahead, industry experts share their best advice on crafting an intentionally and meaningfully diverse wedding vendor team—and how to ensure that non-diverse talent shares the same values that you do.

Expand your research.

There are countless ways to search for a diverse wedding vendor, say our experts, including using Pinterest and Instagram. "Look on social media and ask around," offers Summer McLane, the founder of My Simply Perfect Events. Matthews also suggests searching inclusive hashtags and combing through Black talent lists on reputable wedding websites and blogs; there are also established groups to help you on your way. "The Ethos West Collective is a great resource," adds wedding planner Summer Newman. "The founders, Lea Stafford, Chanda Daniels, and Erica Estrada created a curated list of Black vendors who have a commitment to beautiful and, specifically, refined events. Couples can browse through the vendor list at EthosWestCollective.com or see the list of these vendors on Instagram."

Start with a planner.

"You need to hire a wedding planner," says McLane. "Some people think we're a luxury, but we're a necessity." Hiring a Black planner, specifically, opens many doors, notes Erice McNeff, a floral designer and the owner of Everbloom. "Wedding planners are the glue the holds everything together and they'll have a network of vendors they prefer to work with," she shares. "If you hire a planner who is a person of color, chances are they'll be able to recommend other diverse vendors for you."

Ask the right questions...

When vetting any vendor, ask questions with one end goal in mind: to find out whether or not their work and values speak to your own. "The first thing you should prioritize is the vendor's ability to connect with you and your background or beliefs," explains Matthews. Ashleigh Duhon of Model Paper agrees, adding that during an initial meeting, pricing will likely be the next topic of conversation. "I highly recommend prioritizing quality of work over pricing," she says. "Choosing vendors whose work you genuinely admire will make the wedding-planning process so much more enjoyable." That being said, determining your budget (and being forthright with that information) is a necessary step in this process, says McLane. "You need to be honest about what you are comfortable putting into your wedding and that's the number to go with," she says. A vendor's reviews are just as important, she adds. "What are their past clients saying about them? I'm not saying to look for that one bad review. What are their clients actually saying about them on social media? What reviews are they giving them?" McLane says.

...especially when vetting non-BIPOC vendors.

If you are interviewing a non-BIPOC vendor, vetting them thoroughly is paramount. "Ask what the vendors are doing to create change in the world. We all have to be doing our part at this point," advises Matthews. "You should be able to tell this very easily from the work they create, the platforms they're vocal about, and the way they write about themselves and most importantly, their clients." Nicole Redd-McIntosh, of Nicole Bakes Cakes also says to ask "if they donate to organizations to help Black or people of color on a continual basis." Other queries to pose? Newman suggests checking to see if they work with a diverse team of vendors regularly ("Be specific—diversity may not mean the same thing to you as it does to the vendor," she notes) and, if you are a person of color, asking questions specific to your culture, like "Have you ever styled hair like mine? If so, can you send pictures and talk about the experience?"

Ask to see their portfolio.

When viewing a vendor's portfolio, there should be a clear sense of diversity in their work, says Duhon. "If you're searching for a photographer, look for signals of diversity in their portfolio with past couples. Looking for a baker? Ask to see photos of multicultural-inspired cakes they've created in the past," she says. "If it's a good fit, a sense of their values will be visible throughout their past work." McLane agrees, noting that their collective body of work should ultimately speak for itself. In addition, thoroughly compare a photographer's diverse and non-diverse weddings, adds Matthews. "Look for clients that look comfortable—and make sure the diverse galleries have the same high-level quality that all the other galleries have," she says.

Check out their preferred vendor list.

"It's important to know who is on your venue and planners' preferred vendor list," says Redd-McIntosh. Whether or not you decide to work with the talent on this list is up to you, but the roster itself should tell if you they prioritize equity on the whole. "They should be able to give you a well-rounded and diverse list of people to choose from," she says. After reviewing the list, have a "respectful and direct conversation about their working relationships with other vendors of color," notes Duhon. "This will help to point you in the right direction." A great follow-up question after you review their list? "Ask about their comfortability level in regard to working with a vendor team that they may not be familiar with," she says, since the talent you choose should be able to work with anyone, whether they know them well or not.

Think beyond forward-facing staff.

It's not unreasonable, says Matthews, to ask venues, caterers, and other vendors with larger teams about the staff you don't see during that preliminary meeting—diversity, of course, goes well beyond forward-facing members. What percentage of their staff is BIPOC? What is this business doing to ensure there is equity in their industry? How are they creating space for these talented vendors within their field and their community? "If they don't have an answer, or if the number is very low, that should be very telling," notes Matthews.

Be open to tougher conversations—and walk away if you have to.

Communicating concerns about incongruous values with a vendor can feel uncomfortable, but having this conversation is critical, say our experts. In fact, it can be a harbinger of growth. "A newly-realized difference of opinions and values presents a wonderful opportunity to encourage your vendor to take an introspective look at their own business and personal practices," say Lauren and Leah Palmer, the founders of floral design company The Wild Mother. Newman suggests going into this conversation calmly. "Don't let your emotions drive you to make changes before you have talked to a vendor," she says. "Make sure you have clearly communicated your values and give them an opportunity to make necessary changes, whatever they may be." If change doesn't come, don't be afraid to walk away, offers Matthews. Palmer and Palmer affirm that walking away from this type of toxicity—which might require breaking a contract—is worth the loss. "Though you may lose a deposit, you will be spared the ongoing headache of working with a vendor with whom you do not ethically align," they say.

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