Friday, July 24, 2015

A Day in the Life of an Indian Wedding Planner - Interview with Seattle Mandap and Events

Seattle Indian Wedding Planning

Hello everyone! Today, we’re thrilled to bring you an interview with one of Seattle’s décor vendors, Seattle Mandap and Events. Ever wonder what goes in to the planning of an Indian wedding? We spoke with our friend Shefali, Indian wedding coordinator and decorator extraordinaire, who shares all her insider secrets to wedding planning and décor coordination that has helped her design some truly fantastic local events.

First off, please tell us about the history of Seattle Mandap and Events, and what services you provide. 

My past professional experience, combined with my sincere love for planning weddings and events, gave rise to Seattle Mandap in 2005. When I first moved to Seattle there were not that many Indians in the area to help guide us regarding where to buy Indian groceries or in fact provide any Indian related services. So I feel I am solving the problem many people in a similar situation may have of not knowing where to go when you need help to plan events like this.

Seattle Mandap and Events provide exclusive Indian wedding mandaps and decoration accessories in the greater Seattle, Washington area. Whether you're having your Hindu ceremony at a temple, convention center or an outdoor gazebo, we will design and create a beautiful mandap especially for you! We also provide decorations for poojas, and other Indian ceremonies, as well as providing catering for all kinds of events.

Seattle Indian Wedding Planning mandap

Why did you decide to become a wedding planner? What do you love about it? What are some challenges you experience?

I started my business at a time when the concept was still pretty much non-existent in Seattle, and today I am glad to say that I am a pioneer in the field. It all began with a couple who came to dine at our restaurant Chutneys Queen Anne. They were planning their daughter’s wedding and, being new to the area, they started asking me about good venues, local henna artists, where to rent a white horse, etc. I started helping them just because I had the resources. They told me "Shefali, you are so passionate and so good at planning, why don't you expand your services?” Soon after that, I thought that organizing weddings was a fun idea and it should do well in Seattle since we are a community obsessed with weddings.

Most of all, I love the wedding day, of course! I like to think I am on the same adrenaline rush as my couples, come wedding day.  All the hard work of planning and taking them on the journey from inception to completion comes down to that day. When I see that my couple and their guests are completely at ease and in the moment, it is the most rewarding feeling. To hear “this was the most amazing day of our lives” and “this is the best wedding I have ever attended” makes me honored that I was allowed to play a small part in their life journey. 


 There is no doubt that being a wedding planner can be fun and incredibly rewarding. To be successful and thrive, you have to LOVE what you do. Being a wedding planner, you make incredible sacrifices to be successful. This just doesn’t happen without BIG passion. Along with passion, integrity is just as important. 
When I started last year, wedding planning was totally unheard of, as it is mostly done by the family itself. Being a wedding planner takes multi-tasking and organization to a whole new level. Not only do you have to multi-task and remember the million things on your mind, you have to think and act quickly. During the planning process, you could be working with 5-10 different couples at a time. If you aren’t extremely organized, it will show in your work and in your reputation. If you are working with 10 couples to plan their wedding and each couple has at least 10 wedding vendors, you may be communicating with up to 100 people in a week!

It gets very challenging to communicate with all the family members and friends of the bride and groom, because the couple can have a different vision of the big day from their families. It especially gets tricky on the day of the event when there are 10 family members giving you instructions on where and how things go or they expect you to communicate with everyone!

Seattle Indian Wedding Planning

How is the wedding industry in Seattle different (for better or for worse) from other cities, in the US and around the world? 

The wedding industry here in Seattle is pretty stellar. The second generation Indians have now reached the marriageable age and there's a large number of young Indians who are in 20s and early 30s. But I also feel that many people equate Seattle with East Coast states like New York in terms of Indian food, wedding planning services and fees associated with the planning process. I usually try to explain to my clients that Seattle is still a developing city when it comes to such services. But with young and second generation Indians moving to Seattle, there is a lot of potential for the Seattle Indian market to grow. It's simply a matter of a few more years.


What advice would you give local brides planning their own weddings in Seattle? 

Put aside any preconceived notions of what a wedding should be. This is your day, so make it whatever you want it to be. Also, pick your priorities. Choose what is most important to you and then plan your budget accordingly. 

Also, do get a wedding Coordinator for the day of the event. South Asians spend substantial amounts of money on the wedding venue, photographer and videographer. But when it comes to hiring a wedding planner, they become a little more economical and decide that they can handle all the details with the help of their family and friends. The majority of the time, friends and family don’t appear before the wedding when the parties begin; before that, it's just you and your fiancé. 

I will give you an example of a recent wedding which I coordinated. When I first pitched the client about the service they said something along the lines of “No thanks, we are good. We have a lot of our friends and family helping us on the day of the event, so we don't need a coordinator.” Then on the day of the event, the family had no clue about where the baraat procession should take place, how to have all the guest involved in the dance, etc. They were looking for me saying, “Shefali please guide us, we don't know what to do or where we should start the baraat!” The truth of the situation is that friends and family are busy enjoying the wedding, and they don't want to coordinate when they should be having fun! So it was just one of those incidents that comes to mind and I always remind my clients that to be stress free on your event & really enjoy, let the wedding planner handle everything...


What is your favorite way to decorate a mandap? 

My latest mandap decoration idea is fantastically marvelous. An excellent color scheme, impressive floral designing, and fabulous curtain draping all come together collectively to create a truly admirable wedding mandap.                  

Which do you prefer, an indoor ceremony or outdoor ceremony, and why? 

Although I am all for outdoor weddings here at Seattle Mandap and Events, but there are a few drawbacks. Outdoor weddings can be more expensive when you factor in the cost of a shuttle bus, tent rental, toilet rental, or electric generators. With an outdoor venue, you have to remember to have a stage for the mandap since the ground can be uneven or even uncomfortable to sit on (especially because Indian wedding ceremonies tend to last a few hours). Also, timing is truly everything. If you envision an outdoor ceremony, keep in mind the hottest part of the day is usually from 1-3 pm in the afternoon. Try and schedule your ceremony start time before that time-frame so that the sun won’t be uncomfortable for your guests. 


In your opinion, when should couples start planning their weddings? How early and why? 

My best advice is to start planning as soon as possible! Once in a rare while, the reason for an unusually long delay is completely legitimate and makes logical sense -- for example, they might be planning for the month the bride has off after she finishes medical school. Sometimes, it's a matter of coordinating around a very auspicious wedding date that the couple absolutely MUST have. Right now, I am starting to get calls for next August 2016 wedding planning, so that gives you an idea of how far in advance we are talking.

hindu ceremony

What's special about South Asian weddings? What advice would you have for others in the wedding industry?

South Asian weddings are all about enjoying the event with the ones you love. Creating memories and enjoying moments like late nights at the house laughing and chatting about childhood memories, feeling a million different emotions all at once, and living each moment of your wedding to the fullest.

Often times, people come in starry eyed, and don’t think about the business side of things. The economics of the wedding industry makes more sense at a higher price points than at a low price point. You can’t just go into it thinking “I’m just going to make some extra cash.” It’s a real time business and you have to treat it as one. And if you want others to invest in you, you have to invest in yourself.


 Seattle Mandap and Events is a member of the Happy Shaadi Seattle Vendor Network. To learn more about Shefali and the services they provide, take a look at their profile under the category of Decor and Event Design

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