Let’s face it the wedding industry is changing.
It’s 2015 so believe it or not, it’s about time! With the proliferation of legislation changes and the freedom fror all to marry taking the country by storm, how has the wedding industry kept pace? Evolved? How have the millions of wedding professionals, businesses and most importantly, non-traditional couples, responded?
Being a local LGBT-friendly wedding photographer, the quest for answers and insight was personal. In the midst of my research, serendipity knocked in the form of an email from Micah Richardson, VP of the Appalachian Chapter of National Association for Catering and Events (NACE). NACE was hosting an upcoming event at The Venue and the topic? “Love is Love”, with guest speaker, Bernadette Smith, of 14 Stories/Gay Wedding Institute.
I immediately pulled up my trusted companion, Google, and was intrigued. Bernadette Smith is not only the founder and president of 14 Stories/The Gay Wedding Institute but is also the author of The Business of Gay Weddings: A Guide for Wedding Professionals.
14 Stories is the first firm in the United States specializing in planning same-sex weddings and the Gay Wedding Institute, launched in 2009, continues to be a national thought leader, researcher and educator on gay and lesbian weddings. According to their website, GWI is the world’s only wedding certificate program that focuses on the LGBT market. The course covers topics such as laws and policies affecting same-sex couples, LGBT wedding data, trends, traditions and more.
The experience of Bernadette, the topic, and the audience was exactly what I was looking for. Naturally, the timing felt serendipitous.
As I entered The Venue’s upstairs event space, I was greeted by over 40 of the region’s top wedding professionals. The delicious lunch and fantastic presentation easily exceeded my expectations. “Love is Love” was an all-encompassing educational overview of how the historically heteronormative and gender specific wedding industry has transformed into the new wedding industry; one that is not “all about the bride”, one that does not depend on traditional gender roles and one that is rewriting the industry’s use of language. The new industry is one that embraces equality, celebrates individuality and tradition, and is well educated on same-sex wedding dos and don’ts as explained in this article by Matthew S. Bajko.
It was enlightening to learn that there are educational resources for wedding professionals such as GWI. The Institute plays a crucial role in our industry’s ability to adapt, embrace and include all couples with equal love.
Following Bernadette’s presentation, I was curious. Asheville is well known as a desirable wedding destination. But how has our community embraced and invested in the new wedding industry? What local vendors and resources are available for same-sex couples looking to marry in Asheville? How has the city made it easy for same-sex couples to find information on LGBT friendly businesses such as myself? How have local wedding venues evolved in their marketing and use of language?
I reached out to Kiersa Holy, owner of Events By Kiersa, an award winning wedding and event planning company in Asheville, to find out more.
Abi Fields: Kiersa, thanks for sitting down with us today. Tell us a little about your background and how you came to be one of Asheville’s premier wedding planners?
Kiersa Holy: I got my start in the business fresh out of college, working for a company that produced a convention and trade show that drew over 1500 participants annually. When my husband and I moved to Asheville 12 years ago, I worked for organizations that taught me what it is to own and run a business, and all roads kept leading me down the event path. Wedding and event planning is my dream job, so when I had the opportunity to launch Events by Kiersa 7 years ago, I didn’t hesitate for a minute. Over the years, the business has grown to include a team of talented planners that help make it the success it is today!
Abi: What is your favorite part about the wedding planning process?
Kiersa: The lasting relationships that develop along the way! Weddings are such an intimate and significant event in the lives of the couple and those closest to them, and during the planning process, we really get to know each other on such a deep level. Over the years, cousins, sisters, and friends of previous clients have hired me to plan their weddings, and I get to see some familiar faces and reconnect with extended family. I have this really amazing opportunity to contribute to the joy in their lives through these celebrations.
Abi: Late last year, NC passed the legalization of same sex marriage. Tell us how this has impacted your business, the wedding industry and the community of AVL? What are some of the least apparent changes?
Kiersa: I coordinated my first same-sex commitment ceremony in November of 2012. Same sex marriage wasn’t legal in the state of NC yet, but that wasn’t stopping people from making their commitment to one another in a place that was special to them. In that case, and subsequent same sex weddings I coordinated prior to October of 2014, the couple would plan their honeymoon in a state that did offer them the chance to legalize their marriage. My most recent same sex wedding was on October 11, 2014, one day after the legalization. The impact was amazing. The couple and the 100+ guests who came to celebrate with them were elated. In addition to the love that these two people share, we then had even more of a reason to celebrate! We were close witness to the positive change that was happening around us, and it was really incredible.
Abi: Do you see areas for improvement in the professional wedding industry as a whole? What has changed, for better or for worse, in the industry?
Kiersa: There is always room for improvement, but I am proud of the enthusiasm, dedication, and genuine love for the industry that the wedding professionals in Western NC share. There’s a lot of creativity and collaboration that can be found here, and I am continually impressed by just how much wedding professionals lend a hand to one another in this area. As the wedding industry has grown, so have the number of professionals that are available to each couple, providing them with the opportunity to assemble the perfect cast of characters that are just the right fit for their budget, their vision, and for who they are.
Abi: The non-traditional wedding has been growing in popularity over the last decade. What shifts have you seen and what are some examples of your favorite non-traditional weddings?
Kiersa: I see couples and even their families put less importance on following traditional wedding etiquette now, and focus more on what they feel in their hearts would work best. I’m a huge believer in personalizing weddings. I love it when I overhear guests make a comment about a detail or activity that is happening, musing on how fitting of the couple’s personalities and interests it is. One of the most enjoyable and memorable was a couple that designed their entire wedding ceremony to mimic the dating game. The contestant who could dance as well as grandma would be selected! Another couple had a gender reveal during the reception – blue balloons popped out of a container when they lifted the lid and all were surprised, including the couple! That same evening, we had scheduled dinner before the ceremony, so the couple had the opportunity to visit with everyone before hand, and all processed together after the meal.
Abi: What is the most interesting wedding theme a couple has requested?
Kiersa: One of the couples I worked with was engaged at SantaCon in NYC, which was revealed to guests in the save the date, during the ceremony (envision the officiant in a Santa hat), and in subtle details at the reception. In another instance, a bride had grown up loving the book Your Personal Penguin, so penguins and hippos were playfully incorporated into the elegant centerpieces and pictured on the “book like” programs and custom made reception lounge pillows, and a close friend of the bride read a passage from the book during the ceremony. Another couple, two engineers, were huge gamers, so we carried a fantasy theme throughout the enchanted Hickory Nut Forest at Laughing Waters Retreat.
Abi: For a lot of couples, the idea of a “wedding,” was never a possibility. Now here they are, faced with the daunting task of- what vendors, what venue, when, etc. What resources are available for LGBTQ couples?
Kiersa: The same ones that are available to everyone here in Western NC, I’m glad to say. Referrals say a lot about a wedding professional, so when you find someone you are enjoying working with and trust, ask that person for suggestions and recommendations. You can gain insight into how that suggested vendor works before you make the commitment, and build a solid team of people who enjoy working together.
Abi: What is your favorite wedding venue in the Asheville venue and why?
Kiersa: Ah, it’s impossible to choose just one favorite! I think one reason that the Asheville area is such a widely popular destination wedding location is because there are so many amazing venues available. I really do believe that there’s something for every couple here. The best venues are those that really speak to the couple. When you set foot on property, you just know it’s the perfect place!
Abi: How is your approach to planning a wedding unique? Different from other wedding planners?
Kiersa: I take a lot of time to listen to the couple’s vision, learn about who they are and what they really love in life, and make it my goal to create a wedding experience that is so fitting to them that it’s like I’ve known them all their lives. I approach all challenges calmly, and always with a smile!
Abi: All right, a couple is engaged; they’re ready to plan a wedding. What is their most important first decision?
Kiersa: The date and the location are number 1 and 2, not necessarily in that order. The time of year, part of the world, and specific venue are the major factors that guide the rest of the planning process. Once the couple has made those decisions, the vision really starts to come into focus.
Abi: What three qualities should a LGBTQ couple look for in a potential wedding planner?
Kiersa: Someone who makes good decisions with the couple’s best interest at heart, someone they feel they can really trust, and someone who really listens and communicates well.
Abi: Despite changes in legislation, the unfortunate truth is that hate and discrimination still exist. How has the AVL community of wedding professionals reacted in a way of equal love?
Kiersa: It’s true, there are still a few out there who hold on to more traditional ideas about what a marriage should be, unfortunately, but enough of the Asheville community has been recognizing same sex marriage for so many years. I don’t believe a shift happened the day it became legal – I think that shift happened some time ago in this area.
Abi: Have you experienced any push back in planning a same-sex wedding?
Kiersa: Personally, not much. Many of the other wedding professionals that I choose to work with are like-minded and progressive, and those who would rather not be involved in a same-sex wedding have made it known. I am clear on those very few, and am sure to recommend to my clients only those who would be 100% thrilled to be involved in their celebration.
Abi: What advice would you give to same-sex couples thinking about tying the knot?
Kiersa: The same advice I would give to anyone – surround yourselves with wedding professionals who support your budget and your vision, but also those you would enjoy having around you on one of the most important and joyous occasions of your life.
Abi: What advice would you give to fellow wedding planners who are interested in advising LGBTQ couples?
Kiersa: Love is love! That’s the business that we’re in, and it’s an awesome responsibility. Guide every couple in a way that they can feel fully supported.
Abi: If I call you up for an interview, 6 years from today, where do you think you will be?
Kiersa: My team and I will still be right here in Asheville, in my opinion the best place in the world to live and work, having a blast planning weddings and events!
All photos by Abi Fields