International Women's Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women around the world.
Marked annually on 8th March, on this day the world celebrates women’s achievements, raises awareness on women’s equality, and helps raise money for female-focused charities. International Women’s day helps us to identify and increase visibility of women’s achievements and help forge equality across the globe. It aims to impact positive change for women, gain worldwide awareness and combat gender bias and discrimination.
It's no secret that the exceptional talent and hard work of women all over the country help shape the wedding sector into a successful and thriving industry. It is estimated that the wedding industry in the UK is worth around £10 billion, of that the British Asian wedding industry being worth £3 billion, with the average Asian wedding thought to cost around £50,000. A combination of extravagant events, spanning numerous days with hundreds or thousands of guests in attendance.
As a young female photographer first entering the UK Asian wedding industry 10 years ago, it didn't occur to me that I would be attempting to break into a space that is traditionally dominated by males. It felt intimidating to constantly approach other photographers, network, and try to build relationships in a space that often overlooks women as being weak. A decade on and I still haven’t seen much change or growth in the industry embracing female photographers, although over the years I have got to know a few extremely talented ones, but the Asian wedding world still seems to be very lacking.
I have found over the years that a lot of my brides come to me specifically looking for a feminine touch. They’re looking for someone who can relate to them as a bride, the importance of make-up, positioning of jewellery and the arrangement of their wedding gown. Someone who understands the emotions of the day, who they can connect with and someone who is genuinely excited about all the details they have obsessed over for months. My brides tend to become good friends of mine, and so being able to relate and connect with them is extremely important to me, and I find this is what sets me apart from the sea of other male photographers in the Asian wedding industry.
With this years IWD campaign theme #CHOOSETOCHALLENGE, I stand with my fellow female entrepreneurs in the industry, breaking barriers, challenging gender stereotypes and proving that our talent, hard work and determination is continuing to push the boundaries for Asian weddings all over the world.
In honour of international women’s day this year, I have decided to feature 10 talented and inspiring women in the UK Asian wedding industry who are consistently bringing fresh, innovative ideas and have made the dreams come true for many couples all over the country.
Asian Wedding Photographer London
Founder and director of luxury wedding planning company Saheli Events, Saheli Mirpuri launched her business in 2017 as a young and ambitious 23 year old with big dreams.
“I’ve always been someone that loved planning, whether that was a family dinner, a friend’s gathering or my own birthday celebrations - I found genuine enjoyment in bringing people together and seeing how plans could go from concept to fruition.”
Having launched and run her own society in university whilst working in the nightlife industry, Saheli began her career shortly afterwards in the events industry at one of North London’s most sought after wedding venues.
“It was the summer of 2015 and the wedding season was in full swing. I had applied for a role at Meridian Grand and upon being accepted for the position, I was in the deep end of the season, meeting all the wonderful suppliers, and gaining first-hand experience of planning and coordination of weddings at the venue.”
After launching in 2017, Saheli Events grew exponentially in a short space of time, with the team growing and the weddings becoming more and more creative and elaborate.
“The industry has always been a community and always reminds me a little of Bollywood with the way everyone knows one another, but I think collaborating with so many different companies and people for each event is what makes me love this job. No two days are the same and no two weddings we plan or coordinate are the same. For us, being able to create events and weddings that bring the couple’s personality to life is something that's key, we want to create events that don’t necessarily mean you need to spend crazy amounts to have something magical, it’s about making those memories surrounded by all the people you love.”
Taking the effect of Covid19 in her stride, Saheli has continued to flourish with planning intimate weddings during difficult times, with her most recent concept for a ‘drive-thru’ socially distanced Asian wedding going viral and being featured heavily on mainstream media.
“We’ve had the pleasure of working on some really epic weddings and have been branching out into destination weddings too. We have so many plans for the future with different ideas we want to introduce and we’re looking forward to what is ahead!”
Asking her advice for female entrepreneurs new to the industry: “My biggest piece of advice for anyone starting up a business, is to be the biggest cheerleader for yourself. Starting a business, especially in an industry that has such a community feel, can be quite lonely. I’m a huge believer in networking and supporting other people’s business, so whilst being a cheerleader for yourself, support the other businesses around you.
Believe in yourself, celebrate the small wins and never stop trying to improve.”
See more from Saheli Events below
Krishma Maya Mandalia
MAYA DAHLIA CAKES
Cake artist and founder of luxury cake company Maya Dahlia Cakes, Krishma Maya Mandalia built her business from the ground up, designing cakes at some of London’s most prestigious venues.
“When I first started the business my aim was to be able to make a good living from my passion and work in a way that was flexible, because I knew I wanted to try and start a family one day.”
Leaving the corporate world behind to pursue her passion for baking, Krishma took the leap and made Maya Dahlia Cakes her full-time career in 2018 and has never looked back since.
“Strangely enough, my background is actually not baking related at all. As is the case in many Asian households, when I was growing up my parents were very keen on academics and encouraged me to study as much as possible. After getting my BSC in Psychology and a Masters at LSE, I then worked in the City for 6 years as a Reward Consultant.”
Krishma worked every spare hour outside of her 9-5 job to build a strong brand, a great reputation and a loyal client base. Now speaking as a career woman and mother, Krishma has consistently pushed the business to new heights, creating stunning cakes for the most beautiful events.
“I have had so many wonderful experiences and met so many wonderful people doing this job, not to mention seen so many amazing venues and events! Working with great people at some of the UK’s most iconic venues like NHM, Grosvenor House, Althorpe House and Blenheim Palace, has been such a joy. I have made friends for life through this job and I think I am more proud of that than the cakes themselves.
I am also proud to have been able to build something from scratch, and to be able to show this to my daughter when she is older and teach her that anything is possible.”
Asking her advice for female entrepreneurs new to the industry: “Just to work hard and stay focused on what you are doing. There is no easy route to becoming successful, and make sure you know from the outset what your idea of success actually is – is it achieving work/life balance, is it status, is it money; because everyone's definition of success is different.
In this industry it is very easy to look around at what others are doing and make comparisons, but always remember what you are aiming to achieve and what will make you happy.
Also, having a daughter, and having worked in a very corporate, male dominated environment, has made me see that as women we unfortunately still live in a world where we are not fully equal to men. We bring just as much value in every situation, but it is not always seen. If women can support one another we will all be in a better position for it in the future, and hopefully our daughters will never know what it is like to feel inferior or scared to be themselves. “
See more from Maya Dahlia Cakes below
BHARATHI SANGHANI HENNA ARTIST
Born and brought up in Mumbai, Bharathi Sanghani brought with her, her passion for Bharatanatyam, Rangoli design and henna when she settled in the UK 20 years ago.
“My background was in the sciences and I was working in IT, but my heart was always in the arts. I found working for a big firm very impersonal and felt I wanted to connect more with people directly.”
Starting out by creating henna designs on friends as a hobby, it wasn’t too long before Bharathi was asked to adorn her first bride. Things quickly grew from there and a few years later she left her role in IT to embark on her business venture full time.
“I have now been henna-ing professionally for the last 16 years and every Henna opportunity has been an experience. The journey has been a long and eventful one, it was difficult getting established initially, the internet and social media were just ramping up, the majority of brides looked at the Bridal Magazines and word of mouth to find suppliers so it took a little while to build my reputation.”
The last 16 years has seen tremendous success for the henna artist, with travel overseas, multiple media appearances and teaching at conferences across the globe. Alongside creating the most stunning henna designs, Bharathi is also passionate about providing natural henna powder and has also turned this into a business by supplying other artists her own handmade henna and henna products.
“Many of my customers are professional artists in the UK and overseas and through this I have made great lifelong friends.”
Asking her advice for female entrepreneurs new to the industry: “My only advice is to always have an intense desire to learn, no matter how much you know or have achieved. Keep that desire burning and success is sure to follow.”
See more from Bharathi Sanghani below
Graduating from the prestigious London College of Fashion, Ekta Solanki opened the doors to her bespoke design studio in 2004, specialising in luxury Asian bridal wear and accessories.
Born in Zambia, Ekta inherited her creative genes from her grandmother whose passion for making clothes rubbed off on her from a young age.
“I’ve always been a creative person, you could say it’s in my genes. My nani is my biggest inspiration. It was her obsession for fashion, style and creativity that drew me to my path in life. She loved making clothes and I think her passion rubbed off on me. I have a photograph of her from the 1940’s of her wearing a beautiful rose print dress which she had hand stitched herself from her mother’s tablecloth. I was in awe of her and how much pride and joy she took into dressing up. She loved making pretty clothes which was passed down through my mum and then onto me.”
Whilst managing the Personal Shopping department at Selfridges in London, Ekta found a huge gap in the UK market for stylish and luxurious Asian wear. Fed up herself of wearing poor quality and uncomfortable Indian clothes, she found her niche and set out to create the brand that would become a staple in the UK wedding industry today.
“I quit my position and booked a flight to Delhi, embarking on a journey to create my own collection. I had no idea what I was going to do or how I was going to achieve it, but I left determined to make a start on my label. I started by sourcing my fabrics, pattern cutters, fabric dyers, tailors and embroiderers. It was hard work, I faced a lot of challenges from being in a different country, adapting to a different culture but also being a woman and that too a foreign woman. It wasn’t easy to say the least but I was tenacious to the point of being relentless. I made a lot of mistakes but learnt from each of them. It took me years to find my feet, to understand the business, to understand the way things work in India and to be able to make it work for me.”
After numerous set-backs over quality control and delivery times, Ekta eventually set up her own atelier. She then trained her team who have proven their talent and loyalty, and have been with her for the past 12 years.
“My first collection was luxury ready to wear pieces but I soon found my niche in bridal wear. This is the core of my brand, bespoke bridal wear. I have since expanded the collection to menswear and kids wear, accessories and jewellery. Waking up every morning, doing what I love is an absolute dream. I get to make dreams come true and I get to make beautiful clothes every day.”
Ekta has been featured in a number of notable publications including GQ Magazine, Khush Magazine and Asiana Magazine. She has also won 3 international fashion awards and been featured in numerous fashion blogs including Wed Me Good, Style Me Pretty and Bridal Musings.
Asking her advice for female entrepreneurs new to the industry: Be tenacious, focused and know what your goals are. Learn from a mentor and absorb as much information and knowledge as you can. Break through glass ceilings. Being a woman gives us an advantage, we can multi-task!
See more from Ekta Solanki below
OPULENCE EVENTS/THE WELL HEELED COACH
Whilst working in the pharmaceutical sales world and planning her own wedding in 2009, Deep fell in love with the process and found her passion in planning and co-ordination. Following her wedding in August of that year, she launched her own luxury wedding planning business, Opulence Events, one month later.
“Over many years I scaled the business from working with my first ever budget of £7,000, to £250k, £500k and then £1m+ weddings and after the first few years, having given up most evenings and weekends, I left the world of pharmaceuticals to pursue entrepreneurship full time!”
As an entrepreneur starting a business from scratch, Deep worked tirelessly over the years and has since been featured in a number of publications and in mainstream media including The Sunday Times, BBC News, Hello Magazine and Daily Mail.
“Building a business is no mean feat, but consistency, determination & tenacity will get you through. I’ve been in business for almost 12 years now and the journey has not always been smooth, I find this is the case with most entrepreneurs I know.
It took years of watching how things work, building relationships, investing in myself as well as the business and of course, as with most successes, many setbacks to become a well-known name within the industry.”
Marking 10 years in the industry in 2019, Deep decided it was time to do something big, and this lead to the launch of her Facebook group ‘The Luxury Wedding Lounge’. It’s a free space for female wedding suppliers to network, support each other and learn how to scale their businesses into the luxury end of the market. The group grew rapidly over a short space of time and as the country headed into a national lockdown in 2020, Deep launched her first sales course for the wedding industry, which was followed by the launch of her membership programme.
“It’s been a whirlwind with some fast growth that saw me hit £100,000 within 11 months and continuing with upward growth into 2021. I am so grateful for this moment, for my clients and for all that I am yet to work towards achieving, it would not be possible without the support of the wonderful women in my groups. We absolutely rise together!”
Asking her advice for female entrepreneurs new to the industry: “Build relationships that mean something, networking is great and essential to business, but it’s not a matter of just taking someone’s card. True networking happens with intent to the end result, how do you want to be known to this person? What can you do for them as well as them for you? Build relationships that are made to last and genuinely help you both to achieve more. THIS is by far the one thing that has grown my business the most – genuine friendships with purpose. The two are not mutually exclusive.”
See more from Opulence Events and The Well Heeled Coach below
AMBREEN MAKE-UP ARTIST
Starting her journey in make-up at the tender age of 19 whilst still studying at university, Ambreen grew her brand to become a household name in the UK wedding industry, with her work being featured on the covers of various publications and working with some of the most iconic designers in the world of fashion.
“I was very fond of makeup from a very young age, watching my elder sisters doing their makeup and also makeup on their friends for their weddings. I then decided to pursue a makeup course on the side at a college in the evenings to teach me the basics for tv, film and clients.”
Following this, Ambreen pursued her career at MAC Cosmetics as a retail make-up artist and decided it was time to put a pause on studying to embrace make-up artistry full time. This is where her real journey began.
“My six years at Mac were some of the most valuable years of my life. I learnt so much about artistry, products and more importantly about people from all walks of life, as Mac says ‘All faces, all ages, all races’ and really, this was a life changing experience and has made me the artist I am today.”
Ambreen had always had her heart set on mainstream editorial beauty, however with the growth and increasing demand in the Asian wedding and fashion industry, she naturally progressed her career in this sector, with the business blossoming over the years.
“I loved the buzz of doing shows, catwalks and exhibitions. This gave me the opportunity to present my craft and gave me invaluable experiences. From fashion, celebrities to establishing my brand in the wedding industry, the journey has been so gratifying”
As the business expanded and the weddings became bigger and more elaborate, Ambreen built a team of artists to cover the demand which then lead to the launch of her make-up courses.
“I put together a team of artists that I had trained, but more so every single artist was someone whom I’d known. They were either family or friends, and I knew that for me to have a strong reliable passionate team I would need to know them as a person. I launched the Ambreen makeup team, where my sisters where the forefront of my business alongside some of my cousins and childhood friends who had a huge passion for makeup.”
Having had huge success in the wedding industry for over 15 years, Ambreen was approached by MAC to run a masterclass in various locations across the UK. This included venues such as Selfridges and Mac Pro, which then lead to the collection collaboration ‘The Asian Bride by Ambreen’ at the iconic Harrods in London for MAC cosmectics.
“This has to be the biggest highlight so far. My journey started with them and to have this incredible collaboration with them will always be a huge milestone in my career. The collection was launched over 20-30 stores across UK along with a video tutorial of how I created the look for the campaign. It was definitely a 'pinch me' moment because it was something I had only dreamt of as an artist.
Asking her advice for female entrepreneurs new to in the industry: I’ve always had unconditional support from my parents and family, I feel you need to have a strong backbone and support system to guide you when establishing yourself, having the unbiased real advice always comes from your loved ones. Being a female entrepreneur, I started at a very young age, you could say I was naive but everything you experience makes you stronger, focused and determined to succeed. The more time, attention you give your business the more you will see the rewards. Keep a positive mind and approach always...”
See more from Ambreen Make-up Artist below
CREME DE LA CAKES
Founded in 2012 by Karisha Pithwa, luxury cake company Crème De La Cakes has become a reputable name in the UK Asian wedding world with its original concepts, opulent cake designs and incredible attention to detail.
“I specialise in luxury, bespoke and unique cakes for every occasion. I was around 21 when i began, everything was so new and I had so much to learn - it was quite scary. I have never had an interest in baking or cooking, my mum says I
should have been born a boy! That quickly changed when I realised I could mix two of my favourite things together - desserts and art!”
Being completely self -taught, Karisha started by baking simple birthday cakes, but soon found she wanted to be creating designs that were bigger and better. After signing up to her first wedding exhibition, business began to snowball and the fire in her belly pushed her to keep going.
“My business moved super quickly, I then moved into my commercial unit which was the most exciting experience because that was MY creative space - and even now when I think about some of the designs that have left those doors, it does make me feel a little proud.”
Karisha was then approached by Channel 4 to appear on the series ‘Extreme Cake Makers’, a surreal experience and a dream come true. This then lead to being flown all over the world to create bespoke cake designs and working in some of London’s most iconic venues such as The Ritz, The Dorchester and The Landmark hotel.
Asking her advice for female entrepreneurs new to the industry: “GO FOR IT!! Believe in yourself and be original”
See more from Crème De La Cakes below
DOVES & PEACOCKS/ ASIAN BRIDE SORORITY
With a background in design and advertising, Nishma Mistry found a distinct lack of creativity in the wedding stationary market. Looking to give more personality, and a bespoke flair to events, Doves & Peacocks was born.
“10 years ago the industry was a very different place and I wanted to inject some character and personality into the many weddings and receptions I was attending. Over 8 years Doves & Peacocks grew to be known as one the most creative and exclusive brands in the Asian Wedding Industry. That was a very proud moment for me.”
Having personally helped plan the weddings of her sisters and close family, and being a part of the planning process for so many couples all over the country, Nishma really felt for brides when the pandemic hit the industry hard in 2020.
“Coming from a family of 3 sisters and having a sister-in-law I really know what it takes to
plan a wedding. So when the pandemic hit in March 2020all that kept going through my mind was what would my sister have done if she was in this situation. And where are brides going to seek help with something we all had never experienced before. That is how the 'Asian Bride Sorority' was created.”
ABS is an online community for UK brides to support and help each other navigate wedding planning through the pandemic. Nishma supports brides by providing useful resources, bringing in experts for advice and letting them know what their choices are every step of the way.
“Now with 1000 brides in the community. It has provided hope, a sense of belonging, a place to laugh, cry and rant for so many, and it has become a real sisterhood. It has connected women who have lost both their parents, but now have someone else who understands what they’re going through. It’s enabled others to feel empowered about making choices for themselves around what they want their special celebrations to be like.
In short, it’s become a close-knit network that has extended far beyond its original purpose.”
Asking her advice for female entrepreneurs new to the industry: “Some call it that gut feeling or intuition. Whatever you call it, really believe in it and go with it. Don’t let anyone tell you that the service or product you are providing should be done a certain way. Like any industry, you will meet all sorts of people and if I was talking to my younger-self I would say use your intuition and surround yourself with loving and supporting people. The industry can be a tough place and knowing who to trust is very important. Be friendly, be open, but don’t feel like you have to work with everyone.”
See more work from Doves & Peacocks and Asian Brides Sorority below
Roshni Patel, one of the founders and creatives at family owned luxury décor company Shagun Weddings, left city life in London to pursue a creative path alongside her mother.
My creative flair comes from my Mum, Geeta, who is the founder of Shagun Weddings – and really only came to light when we started the company in 2016. The company was born after my own wedding which took place in 2015. I was on my honeymoon in the Maldives when my mum called and she says to me, “Rosh, I have an idea – what do you think about us getting into the wedding business – wedding décor?” I told her to hold her horses and we would discuss when we were back! And here we are today!”
Her background in intense corporate life meant that Roshni was easily accustomed to high pressure environments that came with Asian weddings. Partnered with her mum, they make an unstoppable female duo.
Shagun Weddings specialises in bespoke décor and theming for luxury Asian weddings and events nationwide. The business has grown over the last 5 years to be a well-respected and highly sought after supplier in the wedding industry.
“Shagun Weddings is driven by 6 family members – Prakash (my dad), Geeta (my mum), Kiran (my cousin brother), Ratna (my sister in law), Jitesh (my husband) and me! We all work in the business and have pushed to where it is today. As mentioned above it was born out of my own wedding which we organised as a family. We started the business in my mum and dad’s garage, which then moved to storage units and finally to our offices and warehouse. Our business has grown quite rapidly and we have loved seeing the changes!”
Our philosophy and motto is simple: “Every wedding is our daughter’s wedding”.
Asking her advice for female entrepreneurs new to the industry: Female entrepreneurial spirit!
Over the years, and since I have been in the industry, it has been nice to see a number of females joining what has been quite a male dominated industry in the past. I have always been a firm believer that if you want to achieve something so badly, it is simply yours to get! To any female entrepreneurs who are looking to join the industry, I would like to say it is a beautiful industry packed with creative minds and ideas - it requires hard work and sometimes long hours - but the sense of accomplishment you achieve from your work in this industry is second to none. My encouraging words - Look ahead, plan and always remember you can do it!
See more from Shagun Weddings below
THE WEDDING TOUCH
With only having been in business for 18 months when the global pandemic hit the country hard, Neha Agarwal continued to scale her business, pivot and adapt, and continued to create stunning bespoke décor for her clients through challenging times.
“COVID hit the industry hard at a time when the business was relatively new, but I was ready to scale up. In that time however, I’ve adapted the business to a changing climate, particularly with intimate and small scale weddings. With light now at the end of the tunnel and with the experience of creating beautiful spaces for both intimate and large-scale events, I’m excited to create some really unique and bespoke designs for our couples this year.”
Neha was always encouraged to take a more traditional path in life, which lead her to study economics and work as a trade bonder for 6 years. Realising her passion was more creative, Neha decided it was time to start her journey as an entrepreneur.
“Feeling a sense of dissatisfaction from my job, I strongly felt it was a 'now or never' moment, and decided to take the leap from a stable job and give entrepreneurial life a go! I completed an Interior Design diploma on the side and in 2018 launched The Wedding Touch.
I have to admit, I knew very little about the wedding industry, or even of running a business for
that matter, but I just felt it was the right step to take at that point in my life. I have always been someone who threw themselves into any situation that required any planning or artistic touch and just felt a really strong urge to convert this hobby into a business.”
Turning an idea into a luxury décor company in such a short space of time, Neha prides herself on her ability to tune into her client’s vision and bring it to life. She is constantly bringing fresh ideas to the industry, innovating and pushing the boundaries of wedding décor.
“I love getting to know each couples style and personality and try to reflect their individuality into their wedding. My aim is to bring a very fresh look to Asian weddings, something which I feel we’ve begun to do with our mandaps designs, but I’ve got some big plans and even bigger dreams of the kind of décor and designs I’d love to create for couples.”
Asking her advice for female entrepreneurs new to the industry: “As an entrepreneur you can really feel a rollercoaster of emotions. So many times fear and self-doubt creep in, but remember that so many others around you have those days too.
Work hard, network with other business owners and keep reminding yourself of your goals.
Most importantly, value yourself and your work and others will too!”
See more from The Wedding Touch below
Deepa Shukle Photography
I'm Deepa, a luxury Asian wedding photographer based in the UK. I feel blessed to be able to do what I love, meet the most amazing people and create memories that my brides and grooms will cherish for a lifetime. I have a very natural approach to wedding photography, capturing the big and colourful, and the quiet and intimate with a style that is timeless, creating a legacy that will one day tell a story for future generations to come.
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