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'Colorful Weddings' pushes the marriage business beyond bridal white


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Geoff Bennett: The wedding industry is up and running again as more venues reopen, more people are vaccinated and couples rescheduled their canceled plans due to COVID. But with the return of weddings comes the return of a lack of services cater to people of color and non-traditional couples. Special Correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro looks at how some in the industry are hoping to change that.

Fred de Sam Lazaro: It was called colorful weddings. A wedding expo intended to push the bridal business beyond, well, bridal white.

Renna Maheshwari, Kahani Events & Design: So much of the mainstream wedding community doesn't realize that all these businesses exist.

Fred de Sam Lazaro: Reena Maheshwari started her wedding planning business in 2019.

Renna Maheshwari: Mixed Ethiopian an Indian weeding.

Fred de Sam Lazaro: She's been to classes on how to market her company, on how an Instagram feed should look.

Renna Maheshwari: We're just told well, you need to like have these like bright, white airy photographs. And immediately I'm like, well, that color aesthetic does not apply to every wedding.

Fred de Sam Lazaro: For her own wedding, Maheshwari struggled to find vendors who understood the traditions, that nuances of her Indo-Nigerian celebration.

Renna Maheshwari: You know, this engage and, you know, traditional evening of dancing and stuff and what exactly are the elements going on with Henna and just somebody who had that understanding where it wouldn't have to like walk them through the entire process. And we wanted to also incorporate a John's (ph) Nigerian culture or at least something West African, and I couldn't find anybody.

Fred de Sam Lazaro: That could be because diverse vendors have struggled to break into the mainstream business, anchored by major wedding venues. Maheshwari says most event centers work with a small group of preferred caterers, for example that limit the options for ethnic cuisines.

Naa Abban, Twinkles Events: It's very hard to penetrate into any area.

Fred de Sam Lazaro: It's not just venues that shut out the ethnic startups, Naa Abban and Christiane Ampadu (ph), run a wedding planning company offering a distinctly African aesthetic down to the cake decorations.

Naa Abban: If you want to get, you know, your work in a publication, like a bridal magazine, it's so hard. We've just been forcing and just talking to people and just referrals and things like that.

Professor Katherine Jellison, Ohio University: I think the wedding industry lags behind. And some of that is because it is an industry that is selling, "tradition."

Renna Maheshwari: Ohio University Professor Katherine Jellison, says that tradition began in the upper classes in Victorian England, but it really took off in America after World War Two. And curiously, as a result of it.

Katherine Jellison: There were many people like the DuPont Company that had specialized in the making of synthetic fabrics during the war, who want to find a way to put that technology to use in peacetime. So making inexpensive white wedding gowns was a way to do that. And it was largely white working class and middle class families who really rushed to embrace what had been previously an elite custom.

Renna Maheshwari: She says it's important to include vendors that have caught up to the reality of a changing America.

Katherine Jellison: If we're going to make the wedding industry more diverse, we need to promote wedding vendors who would like the more diverse wedding customer.

Fred de Sam Lazaro: Amal Karim is a Bangladesh native, Bryan Boyce, a white Minnesotan.

Amal Karim: For me, I think the place where maybe it's come to surface most is around, maybe like makeup. Like I'm sort of a little bit, I've been a little wary of going to makeup artist who don't know how to work with like my skin tone and my skin coloring.

Fred de Sam Lazaro: They discovered ideas for their upcoming wedding celebration, were not easily found in magazines, or online.

Amal Karim: We wanted to not have like a traditional, just sort of traditional wedding cake. And there were some really cool vendors here who do beautiful, like, gallop jam and cake, which I've never heard of before as a cake option. But that's like a South Asian sweet.

Bryan Boyce: Well, I think it's nice to be in a space just gets our conversations out of just us, you know, and just like a place where there's no one script for what a wedding can look like, right?

Saba Asefa: I already felt accepted, just walking in here right now.

Fred de Sam Lazaro: And for non-traditional couples, acceptance is perhaps growing but never guaranteed. Saba Asefa and Danielle Gonzales have been nervous at times as they plan their wedding.

Danielle Gonzales: I feel like sometimes I'm like, oh, do they know? Like, how are they going to think about it once they do know that we're, going to say the same sex couples getting married, you know?

Saba Asefa: So far walking in here, I was actually expecting the like, oh, when -- where's your groom? Where's your groom? Because we get that a lot. But right away, they're like, oh, when's your wedding? And it was assumed which is really nice.

Fred de Sam Lazaro: And potentially really profitable with the average cost of an American wedding now approaching $30,000.

Katherine Jellison: I think we do have a situation because of changes in our U.S. society that more persons of color, and members of same sex couples have a kind of purchasing power and a kind of security in our society that allows them to be customers for professionally produced weddings.

Fred de Sam Lazaro: A more than $50 billion business that she expects we'll see a post pandemic surge this year. For the "PBS News Hour" this is Fred de Sam Lazaro of St. Paul Minnesota.

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