Your Wedding is a Gift

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HOW TO USE YOUR WEDDING TO MAKE THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE

photography by Regina as The Photographer

When you think of the word “wedding,” what generally comes to mind? Love. New beginnings. Luxury. Party. Once in a lifetime. Magical. Romantic.

When I think of weddings, this comes to mind: Waste. Drunken groomsmen. Leftovers. Unreachable standards. Lofty etiquette. Fake relationships. False expectations. Misplaced values and intentions.

Call me a buzz kill, if you must, but I have seen my fair share of weddings. I was a wedding photographer for six years. I played the role, attended the events, met with brides and grooms every week, and heard all the fancy plans. But one thing was always missing: genuine intentionality. No one seemed to care about where the thousands of dollars of flowers would go after their big day, or the leftover catered meals, or how their wedding consumer choices would impact others or the environment. It depressed me regularly how far off we had taken “wedding” intentions.

To most people, I am an extreme case, wired “wrong” from birth, I suppose. You see, at the age of 19, in the midst of pursuing my education in fine art for photography, I had the opportunity to teach and photograph in the townships/squatter camps in Cape Town, South Africa, and it completely transformed the way I would live my life throughout adulthood. Fast forward 10 years later, and I have been to Jamaica; Costa Rica; Dominican Republic; France; and Burkina Faso, West Africa, with my camera in hand, photographing various travels and humanitarian projects that were near and dear to my heart.

It was on my first trip to West Africa, in 2013, that I realized the wedding industry that was supporting my family wasn’t for me. I wanted out. I came home from the airport and went to the grocery store with my husband and two children, and fell into sobbing tears the instant we walked into the produce section. I had just came from a trip helping feed orphans and refugees on the Burkina/Mali border who had no hope for where their next meal would come from. I was overwhelmed with reverse culture shock, and shortly after that episode I told my husband I didn’t want to be supported by an industry that has all the money in the world to impact thousands but chooses to selfishly hoard it all for the “finer things” in life. He quickly reminded me that our business fed our children, and we needed weddings to survive. He made a good point, so I took a step back and reflected.

I had a problem, and I needed a solution. Instead of thinking about what was wrong with the wedding industry, I began a journey of discovering what was right with it.

Shortly after that breakdown in the middle of Publix, I began an online wedding publication, Black Sheep Bride, devoted to highlighting wedding stories, couples, vendors, and products that focused on giving back and sustainability.

What started as a frustration-based passion project actually began to catch momentum with a rapidly growing online audience and social media presence. In the past two years, we’ve watched our little baby blog grow and have seen the true impact it has made on the wedding industry. We have shown people it is okay to stand out and give back with your wedding day. We have had tough conversations with wedding designers in NYC during Bridal Fashion Week, asking them about their manufacturing processes. We have educated vendors on how their skills and services can be impacting others in their own communities and how wedding waste can be less wasteful. It has been an amazing roller coaster, and engaged couples are hopping on for the ride and saying, “We can make a difference, too!”

What we quickly recognized was when couples were given the opportunity and awareness to make a difference with their wedding day planning, they jumped at the chance. There was a growing majority of couples that just plain and simple weren’t being reached or catered to — the couples that were nonprofit founders, or civil activists, or community outreach programmers, the ones elbows deep in doing good for others and who didn’t think there was a place for their wedding vision — quickly realized they were appreciated and encouraged to use their weddings to stand out and make a true impact.

So, how do couples make a difference with their wedding planning, you ask? It’s really quite simple, and it can be as creative or streamlined as desired. Here are a few ways to use your BIG DAY to impact others:

1 INVEST IN VENDORS THAT GIVE BACK:

The average U.S. wedding costs nearly $30,000. With over 2.6 million weddings performed in the United States annually (and growing), that’s a lot of wedding dollars! But what if the vendors you choose for your big day all donated 10 percent to charity? Wouldn’t that lift a little bit of the burden in your planning process, knowing you’re investing in wedding professionals that value helping others, too? (Black Sheep Bride has a national directory of vendors that give back — wink, wink, nod, nod.)

2 SUPPORT SOCIAL IMPACT BRANDS:

In today’s culture of world-changing millennials, it’s not hard to find consumer products founded with a mission of giving back: The Root Collective, Sevenly, Feed, Warby Parker, Lush, and the list goes on. The same socially conscious rules apply for wedding consumerism.
There’s a whole world of socially conscious, consumer-minded, and wedding-related products out there at your disposal. With a little digging, you can find really amazing, high-quality wedding-day swag with a super-big purpose. Examples include Celia Grace Wedding Gowns, Purpose Jewelry, Purse and Clutch, The Cookie That Gives, and Hotels for Hope.

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3 ADVOCATE FROM THE HEART:

“Go Big or Go Home” is our motto at Black Sheep Bride. Reflect on what you and your significant other are most passionate about and incorporate it into your Big Day. If you aren’t truly passionate about something, then there’s no reason to blindly support it, so really align yourselves in this process. Maybe it’s rescue dogs, disaster recovery, human rights, faith-based organizations, community-based organizations, veterans, education, human
trafficking, homelessness. Whatever the passion, share your heart with your guests. Here are few ways:

  • Open a fundraising registry (or crowd funding page) via: So Kind Registry, Heartful.ly, I Do Foundation, or Go Fund Me.
  • Incorporate the Giving Back theme into your wedding design. For example, if education is your passion, add books, apples, and chalkboards to your decor.

4 AFTER-PARTY WITH PURPOSE:

We don’t often think about it, but there is a lot of waste/excess that goes into a wedding celebration. Reduce that waste by donating your
leftovers, not just food either, to help others. Here are few ways to help:

  • FLOWERS: Donate leftover flowers to Random Acts of Flowers, or Repeat Roses. They will be delivered to nursing homes, hospitals, etc. the next day.
  • FOOD: Find a homeless shelter willing to take your leftover meals, or contact a Zero Waste Food chapter in your area.
  • DUPLICATE GIFTS: Halfway houses are always in need of home goods.
  • RECYCLE WHAT YOU CAN: Paper goods, glass, metal, and plastic can all be put to use. Also consider Wedding-Recycle.com.
  • CONSIDER DONATING YOUR DRESS to a consignment store or organization that assists a cause, like Brides for a Cause.

Now that you have the knowledge, I challenge you to run with it, let it resonate deep inside of you. As you plan the most important day of your life, consider ways to think about others along the way. Not only will this thought process alleviate some of the stress and burdens on yourself, it will also change the path of so many others, just by making conscious choices to use your wedding dollars (and leftovers) more intentionally.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT JOINING BLACK SHEEP BRIDE
AS AN ENGAGED COUPLE, VENDOR, OR SOCIAL ENTERPRISE
PRODUCT, VISIT BLACKSHEEPBRIDE.COM.