I am unapologetically into weddings. When I was just a whipper-snapper of 14 (it was acceptable in the 90s, kids), I worked in an independent bridal boutique and florists in our village and I loved it. Although I was on a wage that was practically on a par with a Dickensian orphan, the hours I spent every Saturday and throughout the summer months in this little local business were really formative for me. While my sister trousered the wages of sin working in our grim local Wetherspoons as a sixth-former, I had my introduction to the wedding industry from a self-made business woman doing her own thing in our sleepy, northern village. I never imagined that this would be the industry that I would one day carve out my niche in, but twenty years later, here I am. Life, oh life, as Des’ree prophetically sang!
Off I skipped to university, and when I graduated, I landed a job in events and marketing, before moving into hospitality both in the UK and abroad. I’ve always had a keen eye for detail, am mega organised and love working with similarly creative and passionate people, and I loved managing events that were meaningful and good, and where the team really shone.
In 2015, the lovely boy I’d met in the mountains years before decided (finally!) to put a ring on it and I found myself embarking on my own wedding-planning mission. A dream for an events enthusiast, surely? What fun I’d have! Except, I didn’t. I traipsed round a number of wedding fairs and found them all to be really… uninspiring. Held in huge, corporate spaces or stuffy stately homes, they were often poorly curated and felt a little soulless, to me. I felt like I was being herded around on a conveyor belt, (where the lighting was always terrible) and left a bit dejected by the stalls offering cosmetic surgery and dieting programmes in readiness for my “big day”. The pinnacle was the god-awful event where I received a razor and a pack of femfresh in the ‘goodie bag’ – and whilst it did make me howl with laughter, I thought, someone needs to do this better. Hell, I can do this better!
None of the wedding fairs in my area seemed aimed at couples like us, and I resented having to spend a fortune travelling to a city that was nowhere near where we lived or wanted to get married. My other half hails from the South West, and we spent our twenties together snowboarding, going to festivals and generally dicking around with other laid-back folk. I couldn’t see any of the exhibitors peddling their wares at these wedding fairs fitting in with the kind of wedding we wanted. Organza chair covers? Nope. Diamante place holders? Absolutely not. Naff, dated tat of any kind? ALL A HARD NO, GUYS.
Talking to other newly-engaged or married friends, I found this was a common theme. I’d worked as an events coordinator for several years and so I thought that planning my own wedding would be a cinch, but it was only as a bride-to-be that I realised how daunting the landscape can be for someone who is trying to navigate this scene for the first time. It’s easy to feel you’re drowning in a sea of pinterest ‘ideas’ and I was unsure whose advice and guidance I could really trust. With the myriad of blogs and directories on offer online, the possibilities were seemingly endless, but the human element of being able to connect in real life with people wasn’t there.
Our little bundle of joy/insomnia-inducing howler* (*delete as appropriate) had arrived – somewhat unexpectedly – a couple of years before we got engaged, and this meant we had to totally rethink our plans for the day outside the then, seemingly standard format (and for the rest of our lives, turns out). Many of our friends also now had a small child or two in tow, and we wanted to create a child-friendly day that was as stress-free as possible. We chose a rural venue in Wales that could accommodate our friends and family for a whole weekend, meaning our pals didn’t have to leave early to put sleepy kids to bed. We organised a silent disco for the evening from about midnight, allowing the bambinos upstairs to crash out whilst the adults could carry on busting their moves downstairs. In opting for a DIY wedding, we were able to incorporate little touches like these that were tailored to our needs, rather than acquiescing to a rigid policy set by a venue. Nothing was prescriptive; we could literally do what we wanted, and with a little help from our friends and thoughtfully selected suppliers, we managed to pull off a wedding that was absolutely perfect for us.
In the lead up to our wedding, I spoke with friends who worked in the industry and realised they were equally frustrated with the way wedding fairs often operated. I’d worked with so many small, independent suppliers who were hella passionate about what they did and who loved working with similarly creative-minded couples. Yet these lovely people with so much talent found that the big wedding fairs were just not worth their while and their vibe just didn’t mesh. They were prohibitively expensive to attend, and even if they did manage to claw together the exhibition fees, they often found that were sidelined in the space to make way for bigger, corporate brands and they weren’t connecting to the kind of client base that really valued their skills and expertise. Often, there were lots of the same type of suppliers (i.e. the curation was lax, so there might have been five dress shops in a relatively small pool of suppliers, or the classic, ten photographers preaching to a footfall of about 30), or they felt poorly promoted as being part of the event, or indeed felt the event itself had been poorly promoted.
In short, just as much as couples like us were traipsing around, feeling like a number on the conveyor belt, so too did the suppliers. All of this seemed a sorry state of affairs, to me. What had happened to the value of people and this being an allegedly exciting, enjoyable journey?!
Armed with a vison to genuinely do this differently, I decided to take the plunge and organise the first Indie Wedding Fair in Manchester, bringing together independent, reputable suppliers in a unique setting that was designed with couples who wanted something a bit different in mind. And that’s how it all began.
Five years on, I’m the Director of Inner City Weddings and I guess I’m an industry insider, now. I’ve learnt so much since the first fair, and much of that is down to the people I’ve worked with as Inner City has blossomed. I’m privileged to work with amazingly talented local creatives across the North, and I’m part of a real community that form the backbone of this industry. I know how much time and effort goes into making both a great business and a great wedding, and I love bringing together couples and suppliers who are totally on the same page. Three years after I tied the knot, I’m incredibly proud that Indie Wedding Fair has grown into three events in cracking Northern cities. But I’m most proud of the fact that its ethos has always remained the same: to showcase local indie suppliers whose passion and creativity are the heart and soul of their business, meaning every visitor knows they’re getting a lovingly curated experience with industry pros that have real integrity. As the cultural landscape continues to change and evolve, so will we, and we’ll continue to fly the flag for couples and suppliers in the North who want something a little less ordinary for their big day. Long may the indie wedding reign.
In the true sprit of singing the praises of talented independents- the photos featured in this, our principal blogpost (!) are by Nathan Dainty who has shot the last few indie wedding fairs as well as several Inner City Weddings. My own wedding photos are by the very talented Ian Jeffrey.