The wedding industry has had its share of unprecedented challenges since the beginning COVID-19 pandemic. Many engaged coupled have faced the difficult decision to postponed or downsize their weddings. Millions of Americans unexpectedly became unemployed, putting a financial constraint on funding a wedding, while some viewed the pandemic as a means to reevaluate their priorities.
More than a year into the pandemic, it’s unclear when, if ever, society will return to some semblance of normal. But Doyin Fashakin, owner and CEO of Doyin Fash Events, says the pandemic is opening other avenues for wedding planners to create memorable experiences for their clients.
Nigeria native Fashakin, is an internationally renowned event planner and runs a luxury bridal consultancy and events company in Houston. She specializes in weddings and the production and management of corporate events. Her clientele ranges from the likes of Fortune 500 companies to celebrity NBA and NFL players. For more than a decade, this project manager-turned-entrepreneur has devoted her passion to giving back to others in the community by providing event planning workshops teaching the ins and outs of the industry.
The Defender spoke with Fashakin to discuss how her rise in the event planning industry, the pandemic’s impact on wedding ceremonies and what couples should consider when planning for their big day.
Defender: When did you enter the world of wedding planning and why?
Fashakin: Wedding planning started for me as a hobby. I grew up in Nigeria. My parents did a lot of gathering at home. As the first daughter, there were certain expectations to take on domestic responsibilities. I welcomed all the guests, helped the caterers, set up all the rooms and fed the guests. Fast forward, I went to school in Atlanta and continued to host events because I enjoyed it. I would call my friends over and they would compliment me on how organized and color-coordinated my gatherings were and a few of them asked me to plan their baby showers, and bridal showers. And it grew. I got married and moved to Houston in 2005. I joined a church and took part in their planning committee and members of the church started to inquire about me. From there, I decided it was time for me to start charging people. I was a project manager and financial analyst at the time. I stayed at my job for a few more years, while doing event planning as a side hustle. In 2011, I decided to focus on this full-time and leave my 9-5. I’ve had many challenges, but it’s been a fruitful journey.
Defender: Did your background in economics and finance prepare you for entrepreneurship?
Fashakin: It prepared me for my event planning career. In finance, you are always working with numbers and budgets. As an event professional, I’m always working with my client’s budgets. The project management aspect… of course a wedding and corporate event is a project. In this industry sometimes you are managing multiple projects and people at the same time. I had the structure of how to manage projects so helped ease the transition process.
What makes Houston stand out in the wedding industry compared to your time in Atlanta?
Fashakin: I plan a lot of African weddings and events. I think Houston has more weddings. Sometimes you have about 20 African or Nigeran weddings going on in one weekend. The market here is bigger in Houston than in Atlanta. The market here is saturated. There are more vendors here and it’s more diverse, which makes it more cost-effective. Atlanta has vendors, but not as many as in Houston, so prices are higher in Atlanta. As a planner in Houston, you will be busy.
Defender: Houston is home to a large Nigerian population known for its culturally diverse and elaborate traditional weddings— For those who have never attended one describe the experience.
Fashakin: African weddings are elaborate. They are typically 2 to 3 days weddings. You can’t do everything in one day because there are different aspects to African weddings, especially in Nigeria. There are many tribes. For example, in the Igbo culture, the traditional marriages have phases, like the introduction or the knocking of the door (Iku Aka) when the groom’s family visits his bride’s family to let them know of his intention of marriage and then there is the wine carrying ceremony (Igba Nkwu) where the bride publicly points out who she wants to marry. The bride wears beautiful traditional attire along with coral beads and colorful head ties. Families are identified through their color-coordinated fashion designs and styles. There is lots of food and lively music. Celebration of life is very important to African culture.
Defender: Wedding planning is a lucrative and competitive business. What are key factors to having a thriving business?
Fashakin: When I went into the industry, I wanted to set myself apart. I did my research to see what the problems were in my community so I could be the solution. I started out serving the Nigerian community. One of the problems I saw was that during fusion weddings (mixed culture weddings) usually, the weddings were one-sided. Both cultures were not represented. I would attend weddings and observe that one side wasn’t happy. That’s why it’s important for me to not only understand the needs of my couples but their families as well. The timely factor was also another problem. People are used to coming to African weddings and having started very late. I saw there was a lack of structure and organization. At my weddings, everyone is in sync and on the same page.
How has the wedding planning industry changed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Fashakin: A lot has changed in the wedding industry since the pandemic began. We are seeing smaller weddings. Also, people are using live-streaming and Zoom to their ceremonies, so that way you can have 500 attend your wedding [virtually], but have a few guests attend physically. The wedding industry has gone digital. Before the pandemic, you would meet with clients and vendors physically. Now, these meetings are hosted through Zoom. It saves time, except of course you have to visit the venues to review the mocks-ups for decorations and design. The budgets are very different now, close to doubling. People are spending about 50% more. The costs have gone up. Vendors are being charged extra for importing products and rentals internationally. There are more protocols during events, social distancing, and requests for temperature checks, COVID-19 testing, and vaccines for guests.
Defender: How have you pivoted in the pandemic?
Fashakin: Before COVID started, there was already a plan to turn my company digital because I had clients that were out of town and it was impossible to meet with them all the time. So, I used Zoom frequently. I invested in a CRM system to make things seamless for me. My contracts and everything I did were digital. When the pandemic started, I was prepared. I had to get more training to learn the various software to help transition my business digitally. I had to train my team to make sure they are safe during in-person events. Most importantly, my team is learning how to be more empathetic. This is a difficult time for everyone, especially for the families who we serve.