In honor of International Women's Day, Brides spoke with six women who own businesses in the bridal industry to learn how they are empowering themselves and other women within the wedding world—and beyond. We talked to Andrea Pitter Campbell, founder of Brooklyn-based Pantora Bridal, who started designing dresses at age 16; Gail Johnson, Atlanta based planner and self-published author; Kesha Lambert, a trained lawyer who left the corporate world to start her eponymous photography company; Lisa Dupar, a Seattle-based chef and caterer with Southern roots; Jes Gordon, whose career in event production and design began with her high school job working for a florist; and Sonal Shah, a wedding planner who has become an authority in the Southeast Asian market.
These women share their fondest memories, challenges they've faced, and expectations they have for the future of the business.
In such a woman-centric industry, it's not hard to find women at every step of the wedding planning process: designing the dress, producing the event, creating the menu, taking the photos, and bustling the bride's gown on the day-of. Similarly for women who run the businesses that fuel the bridal industry, they have been able to find women throughout their career that have shaped them personally and professionally.
"I tend to collaborate with a lot of women-owned businesses," Shah says. "Those bonds go beyond ‘this is the bride and these are the vendors’ because we’re here as the team to gather around the bride and make her special day happen."
"I have quite a few women entrepreneurs in the industry that I admire—and a couple that I call my tribe," Lambert says. "They started as colleagues or wedding vendors, but we really rely on each other for bouncing around ideas; we call each other at off hours with crazy ideas. One’s a bridal designer, one’s a makeup artist, another is a planner; we help take a concept that might have been birthed in someone’s mind and bring that vision to life."
Johnson's experience has been similar: "Some of my favorite memories include watching women create unique business niches within the bridal industries that have flourished."
Although talent knows no gender, there are some experiences that bond women together, almost always for the better. For example, one of these women entrepreneurs happily took our interview call while breastfeeding her infant son—just a few hours after giving birth to him. (Who run the world? You know the answer.) That "woman's touch" can have a major impact on how a wedding unfolds.
"My experience of working with women in our industry? Empathy is the word that comes to mind," Dupar says. She tells us about a few brides who have asked her company to replicate family recipes; two brides—one Greek and one Italian—had her bake their grandmothers' cookie recipes for their wedding day. They scanned the handwritten ingredient lists and instructions to Dupar's team, and on the day-of, they had a Greek and Italian cookie bar.
"Bringing the feminine into the wedding, and the legacy of the mother and the grandmother is kind of like honoring the feminine through the generations," says Dupar. "I think women tend to think of that stuff more than men."
Campbell found that getting personal with one bride inspired her business as well. "One bride wanted to cover a scar she had [on her chest] from childhood cancer," Campbell remembers. "The design I did for her ended up inspiring one of our most popular dresses."
As the bridal industry—and society as a whole—allows women more space to break with tradition and make unconventional choices about their weddings and marriages, wedding professionals have to make room for that growth.
Dupar has already seen this affect the way she does business, and she embraces that, saying: "Over the last 20 years our approach has been: 'Here’s what we can do for you.' Now we’re saying: 'Sure we can do that for you—that thing you found on Pinterest or that takeaway that’s never been done before.' Now the mentality is: 'I'm going to find the caterer who’s going to do what I want them to do,' versus the other way around like it used to be."
As a planner, Shah focuses on respecting the couple's wishes, even if the people around them do not. "It’s important to me to go to bat for the bride," she says. "Sometimes, the parents or the fiancé downplay what the bride wants because they think she's being overly demanding. It might seem really frivolous to other people, but telling the parents this is what she wants—that’s important."
Similarly, Campbell's approach to designing gowns for brides focuses on accepting their wishes while offering sound advice: "Some of my brides come in and say, 'I want to go viral,' and I say, 'Make sure the marriage is more important than the dress.'"
Lambert also pushes herself to keep up with these shifts. "I think industry-wide, we need to constantly be seeking to innovate and we need to have an open mind," she says. "A lot of people are breaking with tradition, or if they maintain certain traditions, they want their distinct personality and style to shine through. We have to approach our clients with a client focus and find out about them, find out what fits, and not be afraid to try something that is unusual to come up with something fresh.
The modern day couple is looking for that."
As she grows her business and mentors younger women coming up behind her, Johnson seeks to create space for different perspectives. "Finding funding in a male-dominated, venture capital industry has always been a challenge," she says. "More work is needed as we find resourceful, creative, supportive communities of like-minded role models who are willing to share critical thinking skills, collaborative style, and funding opportunities where there are voids in the industry."
For Gordon's part, she finds that the young women that work for her are teaching her things she never knew she needed to learn. "Millennial women are a really good role models for us," she says, referring to herself and other veterans in the business. "Even my millennial staffers don’t take sh*t. They’re smart and they want something out of what they do. My generation is more hippy dippy. Millennials want to get get the job done and want to get rewarded for it monetarily."
Amen to that.