Shortly after my husband proposed last summer, I remember Googling the words “bridal hair.” I was searching for some wedding hair inspiration, only to find that the majority of the pictures presented straight, blonde hairstyles. I found it frustrating that unless I included “Black” in the search bar (even then, options were scarce), most bridal hairstyles weren’t any semblance of what I pictured myself wearing on my wedding day.
As I journeyed deeper into my wedding planning process, I realized that hairstyles were just one of many aspects about the bridal industry that I found to be non-inclusive. I began to ask myself, “are weddings only for white people?”
I’m not alone in that thinking. It’s a question I believe many Black couples wrestle with in a predominantly white wedding industry (more on this shared sentiment later).
“Overall, when we look at the leadership components of what’s making up the big building blocks of [weddings], you have venues, planners and caterers—the thinkers, if you will, of the industry. Those areas are overwhelmingly lacking representation.” – Bron Hansboro, event designer
With our family history in mind, my husband and I began searching for vendors who could help us create our vision. As much as we honor and appreciate old traditions like jumping over the broom, we also wanted to embrace the fact that we could also do something different and new because of the sacrifices made for us. We wanted to display the privilege we now had to celebrate our Black love in a luxurious way that our parents, grandparents and our communities, historically, couldn’t.
We searched for a Black caterer, a Black photographer and a Black bridal hair stylist, but accessing these professionals was very difficult. The pickings were slim to none. I began to talk with other Black brides and Black wedding professionals to find out if what I was experiencing was more widespread.
“The hair vendor was really hard to find,” says Shirley Daniels, who was recently married in Tampa, Florida. “I did a lot of researching on WeddingWire and different websites, and I didn’t feel there were a lot of options.”
Tina Anyoaha, another bride who was recently married in Atlanta, had difficulty finding a venue that would allow an external vendor to cater her wedding. As Nigerian Americans, she and her husband wanted to represent their cultural roots by serving authentic Nigerian food. Making that a reality has been a difficult process. “A lot of venues have very specific requirements for catering and vendors,” she says. “They will have a preferred vendor list that won’t have any Nigerian food or only one option.”
The most common ethnicity of caterers is white at 64.5%, followed by Latinx at 16.7% and Black at 9.0%, according to Zippia. Bron Hansboro, better known as Flower Guy Bron, pointed to these diversity gaps in catering in his own work experiences. As a floral and event designer, he’s seen firsthand how infrequently wedding venues decide to partner with caterers of color. He pointed to a lack of representation in other categories of wedding vendors as well.
“Overall, when we look at the leadership components of what’s making up the big building blocks of [weddings], you have venues, planners and caterers—the thinkers, if you will, of the industry,” says Hansboro. “Those areas are overwhelmingly lacking representation. But there’s no shortage of people of color in entertainment. And there’s no shortage in people of color coming to clean. Let’s be very clear about that.
According to Hansboro, this speaks to Brown and Black people’s longstanding struggle with access to capital. “It’s one thing to borrow $5,000 to $10,000 for some chairs and rental inventory, or $20,000 for backdrop and lighting, but it’s another thing to have access to hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars, to build and maintain notable venues that people really want to make significant investments in,” he says.
Creating more equitable opportunities would also create a more lucrative wedding industry as a whole, Hansboro notes. He adds, “The quicker we can drop some of the biases and preconceived notions and get to the heart of service, the faster we can all have bigger teams and take on more work; the faster we can have bigger databases of work that reflect our diversity and attract different types of clients. We would move so much quicker and make so much more money.”
“The same way we talk about couples not seeing themselves [in the wedding industry], we didn’t see ourselves [as professionals].” – Chanda Daniels, wedding industry professional
Chanda Daniels, creative director of Chanda Daniels and the owner of A Monique Affair, decided to be proactive about closing the representation gap in the wedding industry. She partnered with Lea Stafford, a Black wedding professional in Oakland, to help launch Stafford’s Ethos West Collective in 2020. The collective is a membership and platform created to highlight and uplift Black professionals in the refined wedding and event space across the U.S. and Canada.
“It means a lot because the same way we talk about couples not seeing themselves [in the wedding industry], we didn’t see ourselves [as professionals],” says Daniels. “It’s so extremely important that when another up-and-coming Black planner sees me on this list from Oakland, they will know that no matter where you come from, you can produce something that will get you on a best planner list.”
Ethos West founder Stafford says she’s seen a big change since launching the collective. In 2020, Ethos West reached out to a number of publications asking them to accept a pledge. They let them know that they wanted to see at least 15-20% of minorities and different races featured in their articles, publications and marketing efforts.
Among the brands was Brides.com—an 87-year-old publication—which published their diversity pledge on June 12, 2020, where they admitted to their shortcomings and made a commitment to improve. This commitment included prioritizing coverage of Black and diverse couples in their Real Weddings column and highlighting various perspectives in their stories. Recently, the company also partnered with Ethos West in a long-term capacity beyond the initial pledge and now turns to the collective for expertise in feature articles and stays in regular contact about the industry.
But there’s so much more that needs to be done. When racial bias very much still exists, it is important for both wedding professionals and consumers to recognize that the same bias exists in an industry that’s simply supposed to be all about love. Is love only for white people? Certainly not. Nevertheless, if we don’t continue to do the work to call bias out, educate ourselves, make more informed decisions and support diverse wedding professionals, the industry will continue to reflect one type of bride, one type of love, and one type of wedding.