Three years ago I felt fulfilled as a creative entrepreneur living ‘The American Dream’: make money, buy things, repeat. There were plenty of small business hurdles to overcome, but for the most part I felt semi-accomplished. My husband and I were wedding photographers and we attended all of the networking events, bridal shows, and expos, on top of having a 12-month schedule full of happy clients. But something was always missing in the work I did - g enuine intentionality and impact.
Everyone was so concerned about creating a Pinterest-perfect, publication-worthy wedding. No one cared about where the thousands of dollars worth of flowers or leftover catered meals would go after their big day. They weren’t aware of how their choices as a wedding consumer would impact others, or the environment. It depressed me regularly how far off some wedding intentions had been taken, and I longed to meet new clients that had plans of purpose within their wedding planning process.
Though many people think I am extreme in my beliefs, I was impacted early on for the need of intentionality in our choices. At the age of 19, in the midst of pursuing my education in photography, I had the opportunity to teach and photograph in the townships/squatter camps in CapeTown, South Africa. This experience laid the groundwork for my adulthood. Fast forward ten years later, and I have been to Jamaica, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, France, Burkina Faso, and West Africa. All with my camera in hand, photographing various travel and humanitarian projects that were near and dear to my heart.
Throughout each trip I would grow more concerned, more weary, and more depressed with how I could be impacting more people and be better used to serve others.
It was on my first trip to West Africa in 2013 that I realized this wedding industry that was supporting my family wasn’t for me anymore - I wanted out. After coming home from the airport, I fell into sobbing tears at the grocery store as my husband, two children, and I walked into the massive selection of fruits and veggies available in the produce section. Mind you, I was a frequent third world traveler aware of culture shock - but this was different. I had just returned from a trip helping feed orphans and refugees on the Burkina/Mali border who had no hope where their next meal would come from, and had never seen poverty or despair at this level anywhere before.
I became overwhelmed with reverse culture shock, and shortly after that episode, I told my husband I no longer wanted to be supported by an industry that has all the money in the world to impact thousands, but chooses to selfishly use it all for the ‘finer things’ in life. He quickly reminded me that our business fed our children and we needed weddings to survive - a good point. So, I took a step back and reflected, realizing that I had a problem, and needed a solution. Instead of dwelling on what I thought was wrong with the wedding industry, I began a journey of discovering what was right with it.
It was during this time that I recognized the only way to accomplish my goal was to build a bridge between my passions: weddings and humanitarianism.
I pitched the idea to several wedding industry peers who laughed, saying it wouldn’t work. My response became: “then I guess I will be the black sheep”. Shortly thereafter, I began an online wedding publication devoted to highlighting wedding stories, couples, vendors, and products that focused on giving back and sustainability, called _Black Sheep Bride _.
What started as a frustration-based passion project actually began to catch momentum with our rapidly growing online millennial audience and social media presence. In the past two years, we’ve watched our little baby-blog grow and seen the true impact it has made on the wedding industry first hand. All because we simply decided to overcome societal fears of rejection, and do things a little differently.
We have shown people it is okay to stand out and give back with your wedding day! We have held tough conversations with wedding designers in NYC during Bridal Fashion Week, asking them about their manufacturing processes and corporate responsibilities. We have educated vendors on how their services can be impacting others in their own communities, and create a less wasteful wedding. It has been an amazing rollercoaster to have both engaged couples and creative entrepreneurs join us for this ride, saying w e can make a difference .
We quickly recognized that when couples were given the opportunity and awareness to make a difference with their wedding day planning, they jumped right at the chance! There was a growing majority of couples that were just, plain and simple, not being reached. They had been told by society that a wedding had to look like x, y, and z. Even couples of non-profit founders, civil activists, or community outreach program directors, the ones elbow-deep in doing good for others already, often didn’t think there was a place for their wedding vision. We were able to show them they are appreciated, encouraging them to use their weddings to make a true impact!
So, that leads me to ask you… What are you passionate about? What are you separating because society says those things don’t mesh well? What if your personal identity, story, gifts, trades, and passions could go hand in hand with making a real (and bigger) impact by challenging the way people think for the better? Are you willing to pave your own path and stop following the flock? It isn’t easy, but I am here to tell you it is worth it!
Photos by Karen Hernandez