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My Experience as a Black Planning Groom During COVID by Kelvin

Naomi: A couple of weeks ago we shared Emily’s article about her experience as a Mixed Race planning bride and as promised, today we have Emily’s other half and business partner Kelvin joining us to share his experience as a Black planning groom. Who also happens to be one of the most organised grooms we’ve ever encountered. If you didn’t know, together they own The Blithe Booth Company – hands-free photo booth hire (a perfect entertainment option for socially distanced weddings). Over to Kelvin…

Tell us a bit about your wedding planning journey so far? 
When reading this question, the word ‘rollercoaster’ is the first word that came to mind!
I originally planned to pop the question on Emily’s birthday (December 2018) and had gone as far as ordering the ring. With us both already juggling a lot at the time, I took the decision to refund the ring and postpone the proposal. Eight months later, I planned a weekend away in the Cotswolds and pulled of what Emily calls “the perfect proposal”.

When the excitement settled in, Emily and I got to planning right away. Very early on, we decided that we would like to have the planning completed some months before our June 2020 date. As a Project Manager in construction, I did what I do best and began creating a spreadsheet to log all Wedmin. We listed all the aspects of the big day and split the list down the middle (I somehow ended up with all the boring and most critical tasks).

After months of saving and wedding meetings, Covid-19 arrived with no warning and abruptly changed things. International travel bans meant our Stag and Hen flights were no longer possible, which lead to us moving the wedding to August 2020. With little update from the government, we took the decision to postpone again and move our date to June 2021. 
 
How have you been gathering inspiration for your wedding that you’ve found relevant as a Black planning groom? 
Before meeting Emily, marriage was not something I had really thought of. I had no idea on what I wanted to look like, let alone how I wanted to stand out from my groomsmen.
My search began with friends and family who were already married. I soon understand that Emily and I are very different from all our friends and family and this process, in fact, taught me what I dislike as opposed to what I like. Looking back this was very helpful.
I then took to the world of Instagram hashtags and searched terms like ‘modern groom and groomsmen’ , ‘Quirky groom’ and automatically noticed very little representation of Black males. Keen to see what colours complimented my dark skin tone, I ditched Instagram and took to Pinterest.
Pinterest searching was a similar experience. How was it that I searched terms like ‘Black man groomsmen attire’ and still came across a plethora of white males in black outfits?
However, all was not bad as, once I found a picture of a Black male in a wedding suit I able to click through and utilise the ‘more like this’ function. In the end, I was still not happy with my results and took to the high street and tried circa 30 suits before I understood the kind of suit I wanted.
 
What challenges have you faced in the planning process?
I consider myself to be organised and goal-driven, however planning a wedding has not been easy. It’s something you can’t really plan until you are formally engaged to someone because despite all you may want for the day, naturally the person you marry will also have their ideas and compromise will very likely take place for the both of you.

My main challenge has been easily accessing vendors that can accommodate Black culture, skin and cuisine. This was particularly the case when sourcing a photographer.
Photography is a hobby of mine and therefore I already knew the type of edit I favoured. Although I came across several photographers that executed this style perfectly, when scrolling through their website there were no examples of how this edit would work with a Black skin complexion. As these are pictures that we intend to look over for the rest of our lives, you can see why this was a problem. Getting it wrong was not an option.
I searched various wedding directories for caterers and came across the same kind of companies that catered to a very specific couple (white or south Asian). In my opinion, the UK wedding industry can do a lot better to entice couples of all backgrounds. There are thousands of great vendors out there that planning couples would really benefit from, if they were provided with the platform to do so. Variety is always a good thing.
 
How have you managed to navigate these?
I am an extrovert and love hosting, so naturally I saw my wedding as one big party for my friends and family. Throughout the planning process, I reminded myself of how I anticipated the day being and persevered until I came across vendors that I considered to be in line with my plans.
Frustratingly, the lack of black representation within the wedding industry has meant I have spent a lot more time searching high and wide for ‘less-known’ vendors. However, in this process I have stumbled upon several vendors that I wish I could have booked, had our budget allowed for this. I honestly tripled checked the excel formula’s in my spreadsheet for any error’s, but there was just no money left!
 
Have you had any positive experiences with suppliers that you would like to shout about?

Covid-19 has caused Emily and I to move our wedding twice, so naturally was a very stressful time as so much had to be re-arranged. Our wedding MC (Folly Fresh) has been nothing but amazing. He has been quick with responses and confirming this availability ahead of date changes.
Catering has been by far the most challenging aspect to book for my wedding. Although, we are yet to confirm our selected caterer the service from Troy at ‘Juici Jerk’ and Adwoa at ‘Peppercorn catering’ have been nothing less than outstanding. I am of a Sierra Leonean descent and Emily is of mixed Jamaican descent, so we knew we had shortlisted the perfect two caterers, when both provided a menu that could infuse our cultures. We are yet to confirm which one we will be selecting for the day but know we will be in great hands whoever we decide.
 
Are there any multicultural aspects to your wedding? If so, how has incorporating that been for you?

Food/Music/Attire
Another important aspect of every wedding is the DJ. My family are Sierra Leonean and Emily’s are both English and Jamaican. It was difficult to find a DJ that was confident across the various genres we wanted but we found an affordable wedding DJ (DJ Jukkes). He specialises in both Reggae music as this is a massive part of Emily’s upbringing and Afro-beats, a modern infusion of West African music. I am the worst dancer, so will be taking to Youtube for dance tips ahead of the wedding.
As previously mentioned, food is a big part of celebrating our multicultural background, so we will be choosing a menu which celebrates some of our favourite Caribbean and West African dishes.
One part of our wedding day will involve a change of attire from not only the bride and groom, but also our friends and family. Culturally this is known as the ‘traditional’ and consists of bespoke clothing being made from a colourful traditional African ‘Ankara print’ fabric, chosen by the bride and groom. We have decided to have this take place shortly after our first dance and really look forward to seeing our cultures merge together and have our families embrace and celebrate my Sierra Leonean tradition.
 
How can Rock My Wedding be a better resource for you as a Black planning groom?

As an established brand with thousands of followers, RMW has the potential to lead by example within the wedding industry. Speaking out about uncomfortable topics is the only way real change can come about as race/identity is something we are all aware of but simply avoid for one reason or another.
In my opinion, RMW should seek to have a better Black representation across their website and social platforms. Interracial dating is common today in society, yet this is not shown well enough across the RMW platform.

Additionally, RMW could seek experienced Black vendors that can offer something different to planning couples. The male categories on the supplier section of the RMW website is a great place to start.
RMW can also reach out to their followers for suggestions of recommended suppliers who may have otherwise avoided the RMW platform as they may have felt that they ‘may not fit in’. Weddings are about expressing love and happiness, regardless of colour / cultural background.
 
How can the wedding industry step up to meet your needs?

  • More Black and mixed models of all shapes and sizes (Male and female)
  • Access to a variety of vendors that steer away from the traditional expectation
  • More social posts/blogs giving an insight into Black culture

Written by Kelvin from The Blithe Booth Company
You can visit The Blithe Booth Company website here or on Instagram @blithebootheco

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