We spoke with Chanda Daniels of A Monique Affair about her deep connection to her grandma, the theme of hard work in her life, and leading the way as a black queer woman in the wedding industry.
Liz: Can you tell us a bit about your background? What was growing up like for you?
Chanda: I grew up being raised by my grandmother, "Granny," who had the house where all the kids went to get a hot meal! She was always cooking and entertaining. She was always at home, her number was everyone's "emergency" number, and she influenced me to graduate from high school. But little did she know, she was planting the seed for me to become an event planner…
Liz: Your grandma sounds wonderful. How was she planting the seed?
Chanda: I wanted to be like her. She found joy in making dinner and setting a fancy table with Sunday china and having everyone over. She didn't like being in the spotlight, but she loved how everyone felt after they left...I didn't know that then, but that's what I loved and love to this day!
Liz: Yes, she sounds like the heart of the community. So what was your transition into adulthood after high school like?
Chanda: Oh wow, it was hard! I had my own job when I was 16 and had my own money and savings and was very hard-headed. I was so ready to grow up! I had my daughter, Chloe, when I was 19, and I felt that saved me from having a harder time because it forced me to become more responsible real quick! I didn't do all the clubbing, etc. growing up or even in high school because I was always working. That has been the common thing it seems in my life — "always working." (laughs)
Liz: What kind of jobs did you have as a young adult?
Chanda: My first job was at Lucky's (a grocery store) at 16, and I was there for 10 years!!
Chanda: I know. (laughs)
Liz: So what was the path like from Lucky's, as a young mom, to A Monique Affair?
Chanda: After Lucky's I had a few other retail jobs, then I hit it big getting hired at Andronico's Market (a gourmet market) in the corporate office in the IT department. And in 1999, I decided to really think about what made me happy, and it was planning parties. So I started on that path. I always say that I was blessed to have a Granny who helped me so much with Chloe and had jobs that paid for childcare and had amazing benefits, which allowed me the freedom to start a business. I knew earlier on that I did not want Chloe to work all the time, so I wanted to show her how to have her own business! See, my mom owned her own beauty shop, and that also really encouraged me to have my own business! And in the midst of everything—realizing who I was, and coming to terms with it, and coming out to my family—but really in all situations—I've been lucky to not have it as bad as others! FYI, I was at Andronicos for 10 years, too. (laughs)
Liz: Okay, so you started your own business while working at Andronicos? And when did you leave to go full time?
Chanda: Yes!! I went full-time in 2012 when I was at a job I didn't like and in my last semester of school.
Liz: Congratulations, that's amazing. And you mentioned coming out — what was that process like for you?
Chanda: As I said earlier, I feel I've had it easier than most people! Chloe's father didn't create drama...my Granny didn't care, she loved me unconditionally. But my mother—we didn't talk for six months!!! We started talking again when I broke down and wrote her this letter about what I envisioned being a parent means. It really hurt my feelings when we didn't talk, but I'm sure she had to process her own feelings around it.
Liz: Thank you for sharing that. So today is Woke Wednesday. Do you consider yourself feminist, woke, or otherwise a social justice advocate?
Chanda: All of the above!!! I feel as a lesbian and woman of color, I have so many areas that I have to advocate for! In the everyday world and in the wedding industry! I've had so many planners come up and say that they wish they knew me when they started because there was never anyone of color that they could relate to!! And that make me feel sad and amazed at the same time!
Liz: Yeah, it seems like you are really a leader in the industry, in many respects for many people. How do you incorporate your values into your business?
Chanda: I incorporate my values of inclusivity (is that a word) into my business from my team to my clients. I decided to focus on weddings for the LGBT community, as well as making sure all of my brides’ of color weddings are featured on blogs.
Liz: Oh I love that. Will you say more about ensuring brides of color are featured on blogs?
Chanda: We have to see each other to know what's possible! And that also means being seen in the industry!! I made sure to submit my weddings to blogs who feature classic and timeless weddings for LGBT couples and Brides of color!!
Liz: Absolutely. How would you like to see the industry shift and change?
Chanda: I would love to see the industry change by making it about WEDDINGS so we can remove all the specialty markets. Weddings are about LOVE, and that's what we should focus on! And not all planners are skinny white young girls! We need a list of wedding planners over 40; those are the ones who should be honored. (laughs) It's not an easy industry, and you have to know your stuff, and you can't do that being an overnight Instagram star.
Liz: Oh, could you make that list? (laughs) But yes, I agree that a seasoned entrepreneur and professional should be celebrated, rather than just focusing on the flavor of the moment, etc.
Liz: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Chanda: I would like to add that I absolutely love what you and Catalyst are doing because you give space for all love to be celebrated—not just "featured," but truly celebrated! And a place for planners like myself to feel proud to be featured and highlighted!! And if you ever create that list, I'd love to be on it! xoxo
Liz: Aw, thank you, Chanda. Well thank you for being a pioneer in this industry and for doing so with so much grace and heart. I think we will create that list. (laughs) With your guidance!
Chanda: Yassss!!! Let's do it!