Amy, the founder of Modern Rebel, opens up about the victories and challenges of wedding planning, how she got started, and partnering with non-profits in her community to make a real impact in Brooklyn.
Liz: So I vividly remember the first time I met a wedding planner. She was about 25 and working for herself, and I was really blown away by the idea that 1) a wedding planner is a real job, which is so awesome, and 2) people can work for themselves at a young age. When did you first happen upon the idea of being a wedding planner, and what was that process like for you?
Amy: The idea of becoming a wedding planner was really never part of the idea at all for me. I was working multiple service industry jobs and burned out. I started helping a friend wedding plan, and it was just something I found I was good at. After spending one of our meet-ups mostly complaining about my lack of career direction, she said I should try wedding planning! I laughed in her face. Poor thing. But I just hated the idea of being a wedding planner. It felt so lame and problematic as a feminist empowered lady.
But I sat with what she pitched for a good two weeks and thought maybe there is a way to give back through events — the original idea was, what if everytime someone gets married, someone can get out of an abusive relationship? So, I cold-called the Center Against Domestic Violence (CADV) and pitched this idea and pretended I had clients and a business (I did not).
They loved my enthusiasm and passion and invited me for a meeting. That's where it began. So, it was less about "becoming a wedding planner" and more about "how can I help change the world?" Ambitious, I know. But that is how I thought about it.
Liz: Well, that's what I love about you. You are no small thinker. So did you take the meeting? How did Modern Rebel begin?
Amy: I came up with a name (A Modern Vow at the time) and got really cheap business cards and had a friend's boyfriend create a logo and simple website. My roommate's cousin agreed to take me on as a full wedding planner, and I did it for free, which I would never recommend now! But I literally knew zero about starting a business and zero about event planning.
The meeting with CADV went great, but I was so nervous! They couldn't be more lovely. They set up a tour of their shelter, and I met some kids directly affected by domestic violence. I decided to give five percent to that program specifically since it was so underfunded, and meeting those kids really moved me.
I obviously hardly made any money for CADV the first year, and I was working two other jobs, but they stuck with me. Now, Modern Rebel does all kinds of events, and we partner with three more non-profits. Clients get to pick and feel connected to their choice. We raise thousands of dollars for these non-profits every year.
Liz: That's amazing, Amy.
Amy: I'm really proud of our for-profit-for-non-profit business model. People get married, and a homeless kid gets to go to summer camp. It's pretty awesome.
Liz: So if you could define a wedding or event coordinator in a sentence or two, what would it be?
Amy: That's tough! In my opinion, an event planner/coordinator is a client's biggest cheerleader for their event. It's our job to make sure that your event reflects you, and for a wedding, that you and your partner feel celebrated. That means different things for different people. As an event planner, I need to be able to recognize what that means for you and make it possible.
Liz: What has been one of your biggest victories for a client?
Amy: I think that the wedding industry paints wedding victories as they relate to material goods. So, you found the perfect dress! The perfect ring! The perfect centerpiece! Obviously, these things are important to people. But my biggest victories have been the relational side of things: Making sure your ceremony (in a tight Brooklyn space) is wheelchair accessible for a disabled parent. Ensuring that your deaf brother can understand the ceremony (have someone signing to him) or confirming that we have translated a ceremony into Spanish for a wedding where half the guests are Spanish-speaking. All of these things are huge victories! Then, the icing on the cake is feeling like we're making an impact in our communities for sure.
Liz: Absolutely. Do you have any comical stories about wedding oops's that you had to navigate?
Amy: Ha. Of course I do! My assistants and I were calling one specific story "donut-gate" for a while.
Liz: This is gonna be good.
Amy: I had so many back-to-back weddings with donuts (they're very in right now), and so at a client's wedding, while I totally knew in my heart of hearts they were not donuts, I had a brain fart and had the band announce that the donuts were now out at the dessert table! I was literally looking at these NOT DONUTS and saying, would you like a donut? Then, the photographer's assistant came up to me and said, “Amy, those are not donuts, right? They're like muffins, right?" And I was like, "no, they're donuts!" And then my assistant and I realized: WHAT THE HECK, THESE ARE CUPCAKES. I had a grandma or two ask for some donuts, and I had to sadly tell them we only had cupcakes. I'm a very on-top-of-my-shit lady, but that was the one moment I broke. Could have been worse! You have to laugh.
Liz: That's actually hilarious. I laughed out loud and imagined a Seinfeld episode.
Amy: It was SO funny.
Liz: So in my humble opinion, wedding coordinators are like the least understood, most undervalued wedding professional that can 100 percent affect how someone experiences their wedding. Do you agree?
Amy: Absolutely. Our job is to make sure you as a couple stay in the moment together and actually get to be a guest at your own event. It's invaluable. On top of that, there's just SO much behind the scenes. We have to make sure all guests and vendors are happy. And some people are nuts! So, it's definitely not a gig I recommend for easily stressed out folks. I have learned not to take anything too personally.
Liz: What advice do you have for a couple who is on the fence about hiring a wedding planner?
Amy: Well, first I think the industry needs to do better educating around event designer versus event planner versus event coordinator. So, do some of your own research or talk to some event professionals to get a sense of what they offer and what you need. Everybody is different! Some people enjoy the planning process and just want a coordinator to make sure the day runs smoothly. So, for them, that's the right choice. For some, they're busy or just hate planning and want someone else to stay on top of it before we get to logistics. So, first figure out what you need. But my advice is that if you are planning anything with over 35 guests, a coordinator is what you need at the very least. It truly is invaluable. I have never had any clients regret paying money for that. It allows you to not have to carry a phone or watch and make sure that someone has your best interest in mind for the entirety of the event.
Liz: Absolutely. My one wedding regret is that I did not hire a coordinator. I was so stressed out! I couldn't turn my brain off.
Amy: Aw, man. I can only imagine. I will 100 percent be hiring a coordinator!!
Liz: Amen!! And on that note, is there anything else you would like to add?
Amy: Maybe the only note is that I get a lot of emails at this point from people asking to chat via phone or grab coffee to discuss how we incorporate the giving back model in our work. And I want to say a few things to people trying to incorporate that in their business: First, do it. The world needs more compassionate corporations. Secondly, if you're truly passionate about it, it won't feel gimmicky. If you're doing it for the wrong reasons, people will not be into it. And lastly, it must be essential to your branding and who you are. So, be intentional every step of the way.
Liz: That's great advice. You are definitely a trailblazer in this industry.
Amy: As are you and Catalyst. I feel so lucky that we've connected and I have amazing industry friends to support and offer support to me!
Liz: Yes, our little community in the wedding industry is full of some of the most radical people I know! Who would have thought.
Amy: Agreed. It rocks.