For a few fun years in my 20s, my singing career led me to singing at a whole bunch of weddings… and I ab-so-lute-ly LOVED it. After some time singing for other peoples’ bands, I decided I wanted to create my own. Funnily enough, that’s how I first met Kat, exhibiting at a wedding fair in 2015…
I really loved that job. I’ll never forget how wonderful it feels to receive a booking enquiry, to chat to a giddy couple about their first dance song, to arrive on the day and see how they had made their wedding their own. But, most of all, I’ll never ever forget how amazing it feels to sing Wannabe by the Spice Girls to a dance-floor filled with closed-eyed, clench-fisted, barefoot bridesmaids who really really really wanna zig-a-zig-aaahhhh! Ladies (and any other genders of bridesfriends), you are my people.
Setting up and maintaining a small wedding business is something that requires buckets of passion, tenacity and love. So, I’ll also never forget how much hard work went into it all. Just like anyone who has started their own small business, I became an entire team of people. I was a web designer, musical director, booker, promoter, stylist, creative director, marketing executive, band manager, accountant, administrator, tour manager, bassist-wrangler… the list goes on.
And, as a result of all that, I’ll also never forget how it feels to have a pandemic come along and wash all your hard work away. I saw so many musicians whose busy 2020-2021 schedules emptied out in a matter of days. With no work on the horizon, people moved back in with their parents. Many skilled, experienced, talented musicians gave up music altogether and got safer, more stable jobs. I actually haven’t played a wedding since the pandemic, partly because I moved to singing-teaching and discovered I loved it just as much, but partly because, knowing what it takes, I just don’t know if I have it in me to start from scratch again. Maybe one day…
It’s hard to imagine the wedding industry as a whole and what the pandemic did to untold small wedding businesses. Thousands of calendars wiped clean (with anti-bac) for two years. I have nothing but respect and admiration for those who got through it and have come out the other side again with their small wedding businesses intact… which is why I believe it’s more important than ever to show these incredible people (mainly women!) our support.
Shopping small when it comes to your wedding is a truly feminist act. As Rebecca Uttley, founder of I Just Called to Say, the original audio guest book, told me while I was researching this article, “the wedding industry is made up of so many female founders who nurture each other’s small businesses, regardless of competition. Couples want suppliers that show warmth, authenticity and dedication to excellence… female founders radiate this.” When I asked her to tell me more, she quoted OG rude gal, Ruth Bader Ginsberg: “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made… it shouldn’t be that women are the exception.”
“Women aren’t taken seriously enough as business owners,” Rebecca continued. “The wedding industry will generate more than £28 billion in revenue for the UK economy over the next two years.” According to research by What About Weddings during the pandemic, around 80% of the 400,000 people working in the UK wedding industry are women. Maybe it’s time we were taken more seriously? Right?
I also spoke to Keri Oldaker, founder of Rebel Rock Bridalwear. Like many women who have created their own wedding businesses (including Rock n Roll Bride’ Kat Williams!), Keri identified a flaw in the pre-existing wedding world and decided to remedy it. “After 10 years as a wedding MUA, seeing brides on their wedding mornings and noticing many (very beautiful!) but similar dress styles, I felt inspired to look for alternative designers,” Keri told me, “Rebel Rock Bridalwear is a wedding dress shop with all the different alternative designers under one roof. I poured my savings into my little shop and I’ve done a little soul searching on the way too. I hopefully this comes across when people visit us.”
Rosie Red, founder of Rosie Red Corsetry & Couture, creates bridal and fantasy couture wear for all body types. “In an industry rife with diet culture,” she shared with me, “Rosie Red Corsetry & Couture creates pieces for clients in a safe and stigma-free environment, because we believe all bodies deserve to feel beautiful. My business is a huge part of my identity. I pour my dreams, time and most of my money into building my business. If you can shop small, please do!”
When I was chatting with other women in the industry, I noticed a recurring theme. It was not only time and work that they put into these businesses… but true love… and parts of themselves too! Georgia Butcher, founder of Freckles and Flowers said, “Freckles and Flowers is a part of who I am – a very proud femme lesbian, whose mission is to create a visibly queer, inclusive and creative space within the wedding industry, through bespoke flower design. I work without heavy heteronormative assumptions and instead design specifically for my couples, their weddings and their love.” Now… no shade… but can you imagine Interflora giving a hoot about that?!
“Shopping small is one of the best things you can do when planning a wedding,” Georgia continued. “Small business owners stand for so much more than the service or product they’re supplying. They want to make a difference to their couples’ experiences, and to the industry as a whole. I always say I try to be the change I want to see in the world. My couples help me to make a difference and join the fight for a more visibly queer and inclusive industry.”
When it comes to planning your wedding, from a feminist POV, it’s clear that there are few things more important than shopping small. In doing so, you are supporting the talented, passionate women whose small businesses make up so much of what is good in the wedding industry. I know what it takes to keep a small wedding business going. It is no mean feat! But it’s so worth it when what you have created becomes a treasured part of a couple’s big day. All the women who shared their stories for this article expressed the love they put into their work. When you shop small, every element of your day will be made with big love… and who doesn’t want a wedding filled to the brim with love?
Ziga-a-zig-aaahhh, ladies. Friendship never eeeends!
Rachel is a writer and contemporary singing teacher. Her children’s book, The Doll’s House Mouse, won the Bath Children’s Novel Award 2021. You can find her online at racheldarwin.com and on Instagram @rachelbdarwin.