Naomi: As part of our Black Love Matters pledge, we wanted to share the voices of our Black planning brides. We wanted to understand how the wedding planning experience can be different for them and to hold ourselves and the wider wedding industry accountable for where we need to step up. To kick-off, we hopped on a Zoom call with one of the first women to call us out back in September 2019. Our call with Ally was a wonderful, vibrant discussion of all that it means to be a Black bride. We asked Ally if she would write a piece to share her experiences, and that is what we have for you today. What follows is an illuminating, passionate, honest read. Over to Ally...
Tell us a bit about your wedding planning journey so far.
Nick proposed after 10 years together, two days before Christmas 2018 in the beautiful city of Hội An, Vietnam. That in itself is a story for another time. We had to span over seven time zones to share our exciting news with loved ones. The reality dawned on us the scale of our wedding - it was never going to be small - my fiancé is one of 7! Being a Project Manager, I meticulously planned a few tasks for us per month to make it fun and also keep the planning on track. It also means that we’re keeping a close eye on the budget and ensuring we tackled venue, photographer, band, and insurance first. This has enabled us to take time off from planning, so it doesn't become a chore. We had been planning to get married in September this year, however, due to COVID-19, the size of both of our immediate families and our international guests, we made the difficult decision to postpone our wedding to September 2021. Like many couples affected by the COVID pandemic, we’ve gone through and are still going through all the emotions and legalities but most importantly it has made us re-evaluate what really is important; the things that we did not want to compromise on and to ensure we keep our family and friends safe.
How was your experience when finding your wedding dress?
Wedding dress shopping came hand-in-hand with underwear shopping. I was appalled that most bridal shops did not know that most Black brides can't wear white underwear under their dresses. I was spoken to like a child and repeatedly told off because I did not come prepared with white lingerie on. I've since found a beautiful and understanding bridal shop that finally provided the bridal experience I deserved. We went to a speciality underwear shop in Angel, London, to have the best chance of being fitted for the right solution for my dress. Yet again I heard the same conversations verbatim. I was presented with appropriate solutions, but they only came in white and nude for white people. There was nothing that would complement my complexion. This was frustrating as the colour of my skin (nothing else) was determining the lack of underwear options available. I went home and cried and wondered how I would wear my dream dress.
How was your experience when searching for the right photographer for your day?
Nick and I are both trained graphic designers and work within the creative industries, so we already had a clear aesthetic for how we want to capture our big day. I've had such bad experiences of being photographed at other people's weddings, graduation and work photos whereby I've come out a lot darker than what I am in reality. I became anxious about finding a skilled photographer that would be able to overcome lighting challenges throughout the day, understand the technology biases towards darker skin tones combined with capturing an interracial couple and our families. It was clear suppliers (venues' preferred suppliers and wedding blogs alike) only amplified predominately white couples. Most photographers did not feature couples of colour as part of their portfolio. It was therefore imperative for us to request to view a whole wedding to ensure the photographer's style is consistent as well as to see Black couples and interracial couples. To the latter, upsettingly, most photographers did not understand why we were asking to see this. However, once we spoke to Carrie, who shows diversity consistently throughout her work, our concerns faded.
How was your experience when looking for a hair and makeup artist?
Black brides will rarely change their trusted hairdresser - going to get your hair done is an experience filled with a hive of activity, singing, food, and giggling. On average, we spend 3-6 hours at our hairdressers for each visit and will spend three times more on our hair care than white women. Afro specialists make up less than 1% of the UK salon industry even though 2 million Black people are living in the UK. This illustrates that getting our hair done is no mean feat, and finding a mobile afro hairdresser as a Black bride is so hard and will be a significant disadvantage if you're not getting married in London. Again, it seems unfair that Black brides can't get the same service as my white bride counterparts. Our original choice of venue was in Hampshire and it was impossible to find any mobile afro hair stylists. With my hairdresser being London based, I went through an extensive search as most salons do not have afro hair specialists. Eventually, I found my hair and makeup artist through word of mouth and Black hair care blogs. This is something the wedding industry can't change alone, but there is a need to warn Black brides about taking the time to find the right hairdresser who can work within your budget and ensure you consider this at the time of booking your venue. I learned the hard way having been a bridesmaid it’s so important for the hairdresser to have knowledge and training in dealing with Black hair. In one experience, my hair was damaged because the wrong products were used. Similarly, finding makeup artists who can deal with a range of skin tones and darker tones is important. Finding one who does not ask you to bring your own makeup is not as tricky, but compared to hair stylists there are more options out there.
You're planning a multicultural wedding! How has that process been for you?
I’m a Black Brit-Nigerian-Bajan born and bred Londoner. I’ve been brought up with strong Nigerian and Caribbean identity (which is an unusual mix) but have always struggled to balance this with the things I like about being British. Nick, my white fiancé, grew up outside of the city lights in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, where people of colour are a rare sight, and his normal was enjoying a traditional Sunday roast (until he met me). Our upbringing, cultures, families, and experiences were always going to shape our wedding and will reflect who we are as a couple today. Intertwining our cultures will allow us to celebrate the things that matter the most. Initially, we defined our colour scheme and decorations, which have been influenced by my Black heritage and British wedding traditions. We’re aiming for a quintessentially English feel with lots of green and wildflowers yet this will be juxtaposed with the pop of burnt orange to interject boldness and colour that will take you to my Caribbean and African roots. Our Brixton venue is a reflection of us a couple - it will represent us as South Londoners; provide a sense of modernity, deliver on an urban design aesthetic and relaxed vibe. We’ve both agreed food and dancing will be at the heart of our wedding. There have been moments where we’ve felt isolated. The look of shock on Nick’s face when one venue told us they were excited by our plans and they host all sorts of weddings, including a Harry Potter, themed wedding. There is a need to educate suppliers between the differences in hosting a themed wedding versus the cultural sensitivities of having an interracial wedding. The two are not the same. Balancing the involvement of family and friends alongside the cultural expectations is hard and at times, revealing. Still, it was essential for us to ensure we had a fair representation on both sides across all aspects of our wedding. While we’ve kept an open dialogue with loved ones (yet trying to maintain some elements of surprise), we hope our guests will welcome our approach, but we’ll be doing it our way.
How can Rock My Wedding be a better resource for you as a Black planning bride?
By no means are the following suggestions an exhaustive list and these stem from my experiences of being a Black bride. RMW needs to be an active ambassador for diversity and inclusion by demonstrating education for employees, engaging suppliers, and amplifying Black business and voices as a continuum. Recognise and celebrate the differences that are affecting Black brides and interracial couples that are not spoken about. Until we're all on an equal platform you will need to do more in this area. Contact all suppliers on the RMW supplier list and talk to them about their stance on equality and ensure their diversity policy aligns with RMW values. Encourage suppliers to share photos of weddings from all backgrounds and actively promote this. Seek out specialist wedding hair stylists who can manage afro hair but also can manage a range of hair types, in my case all my bridesmaids are all from different ethnicities and have different hair type needs. Be advocates of makeup artists who can work with all skin tones and talk to the underwear industry about how to diversify their wedding solutions for brides of colour. Find wedding planners who have managed different types of cultural weddings. Consider setting up a forum or focus groups for Black brides to help generate ideas to help you shape the content or for brides of colour but should also be used for these brides to share common worries, problems and positive experiences. To be inclusive is sometimes not to treat all brides from all colours and cultures the same so initially consider tagging Black brides to help them find content specifically for them. Though be careful to ensure all audiences can access the content, even if the content is for us.Share tips and hairstyles catering for afro hair, show you are aware of the extensive care routine and preparation needed and when is best to get your hair done before your wedding. After all, there is a strong commercial case to say more diverse businesses are more profitable, McKinsey has always made a clear case for this with lack of diversity means companies are more likely to underperform their industry peers on profitability by 29%. I wonder why businesses are not addressing this. But brides are more than statistics, brides of all ethnicities and cultures matter as love is universal - I rest my case for now. McKinsey, Delivering Through Diversity report 2018.
How can the wedding industry step up to meet your needs?
Race matters for people of colour, good or bad, as it has shaped our identity, our heritage our narrative, our culture, and our celebrations. The wedding industry needs to acknowledge their pivotal role in being an ally for Black brides, brides of colour, and move away from providing an exclusive white experience. All brides have dreams about their big day and for many, to make them a reality we want to seek inspiration, share knowledge, and know that what we want is attainable. Yet, to do this, we need to see people who look like us regularly. Black is also equally as beautiful; we should not have to question our Blackness only because it does not conform to societal norms. The industry needs to be actively awoken about the biases, the overt discrimination at play, and be held accountable in providing inclusive narratives to genuinely reflect the demographic of British society. The absence of Black couples across all wedding touchpoints is a reminder of the daily realities of being Black at a time when getting married is supposed to be one of the happiest times of our lives. There is a long road ahead, yet it’s refreshing to be able to talk about my experiences as a Black bride. No longer will people who look like me feel small, hurt, upset, horrified and unwelcomed by the industry because of the colour of their skin. To brides of colour, we will no longer tolerate the status quo, the bias and racial inequalities. I plea with you to share your experiences, which will help to demystify the challenges we face. And to the industry, this is your time to listen and avoid tokenism. We need you to take some immediate progressive actions and facilitate open, engaged dialogues on both sides for what should be the new ‘normal’.
Written by Ally Tyger Instagram @ally_ty