Writer and photographer Nina Brady sat down and talked with Allison Davis of Davis Row, an NYC wedding and event planning company, about how her dream of working in the music business led her to discover her true passion.
Nina: Hey, Allison! Thanks for taking the time to chat. Could you start by telling me a bit about your background? Where did you grow up and what was your early life like?
Allison: Sure! I grew up in the suburbs in northern New Jersey. I was lucky to have lots of opportunities and experiences that helped me figure out who I am and what I care about. I was a huge nerd and was at the library all the time. I played tons of sports, and went to New York City often — it was great.
Nina: How was high school for you, and what did you do after graduation?
Allison: I had this idea that I wanted to go to an all-girls school for high school (after being in public schools until that point), and that was not quite the right move for me. I stuck it out for two years and then transferred to a co-ed private high school, and it was absolutely amazing. After I graduated high school, I went to NYU — not exactly the standard college experience, but I wouldn't trade it for anything.
Nina: Switching schools halfway through high school takes guts and must have been hard! How was that transition for you?
Allison: It was so hard. A lot of the kids there had been attending the school for their entire lives — some all the way back to preschool. It was before I had really grown into and accepted my outgoing personality, so I didn't exactly hop right in and charm everybody [laughs]. It was totally worth it, though. Such a great school.
Nina: That sounds tough, but I bet you learned a lot from that experience. So what did you study at NYU, and why did you choose that? Did you go into it with an idea of the career path you wanted to follow after college?
Allison: I studied linguistics and sociology, but I actually wanted to be in the music industry. I wanted to manage artists and I was headed in that direction, but the music business degree at NYU required you to be a musician, which I am not. So, I just chose what was most interesting to me. Sociology is so helpful in everything. Linguistics let me indulge my inner word nerd.
Nina: So how did you wind up in the wedding and event planning business?
Allison: I kept hitting dead ends in the music industry and I was so frustrated. Then I realized that it was kind of merging with tech (right as Spotify was launching in the U.S.) and I knew I did not want to work in tech. So I did a lot of thinking, free-writing, talking to my therapist, etc., and realized that my whole reason for wanting to get into the music business was wanting to work with and bring fulfilling experiences to people. What I really wanted to do was go on tour and I was going to concerts at least once a week; I loved that experience. I also loved artist management because managers have their hands in everything to help make it happen for their clients. I realized that it’s actually very similar to planning events and weddings, and it just developed out of that realization.
Nina: That is such an interesting way to get into the wedding industry! When did you establish your business, and what was that process like for you?
Allison: Initially, I worked on events at a consulting firm, then in a logistics role at a high-volume catering company. I definitely got tossed into the deep end right away, because it's hard to really ease someone into events work — you kind of just have to get in there and do it. I loved it immediately; I’d just be standing there grinning while watching linens go on tables. I knew it was the right fit very early on, and also realized fairly quickly that there was space in the planning/production world for someone like me. I thought about it for years. Years! Then the timing started to look close enough to right (I knew it was never going to be exactly right), so I went for it and it was so hard. That was August 2017.
Nina: Congratulations on starting your business! How has the last year been?
Allison: The past year has been incredible. I'm really seeing a great response to my efforts in putting myself out there in an honest way. I decided to start near the end of a wedding season so that I could spend time getting to know new vendors, spend time with people I already knew but in a different context, building up a presence in the space, and trying to start to build my client base. It's really important to me that I create space for couples who just aren't seeing themselves in wedding media — whether that is due to how they look or who they love, or just how they want their wedding to look and feel. It's taking time to build, but I'm already starting to hear from people who are specifically mentioning that they want to meet with me because of everything I am working so hard to show. That makes it worth it!
Nina: That’s wonderful! Why do you think that is such an important focus for you? Is it because of your own experiences or due to something else?
Allison: It's 100% because of my experiences. As a black woman, it's discouraging to see black and brown people so rarely in wedding media. We definitely get married, so...?
Allison: I also have experience working on a lot of high-end weddings, and I was seeing that they could be done in so many new and interesting ways. High-end doesn't have to just be crystals. There's room for so many different styles in that space, and from different points of view!
Nina: Definitely! What advice do you have for folks who are planning their weddings?
Allison: Try to stay grounded. Remind yourself, over and over again, that the most important thing is that at the end of it all you'll be married!
Nina: Yes! So many little details to get caught up in otherwise.
Allison: Seriously. You might cry over stuff that would not be noticeable to anyone else. It happens and that's okay. As long as you keep that end result in sight, you’ll get through all the little stressors involved.
Nina: How did you come up with the name for your company? Obviously, Davis is your last name, but what inspired you to name the company Davis Row?
Allison: Good question! My family is so supportive of me, so it's kind of a nod to them, standing in a row behind me — or in front of me, to hug me, because we love lining up for hugs.
Nina: I love that! So what do you think distinguishes Davis Row from other wedding and event planning companies?
Allison: It's all in the approach. The great thing about hiring planners is that because there are lots of us, with lots of experience, you can really hire someone that you connect with. My clients consistently mention that I make them feel super comfortable and well taken care of. I’m also getting great feedback from vendors. I come from a vendor-focused world, so it has been incredibly meaningful to have venues, caterers, floral designers, photographers, and others tell me how much they enjoy working with me. I bring a calm energy that keeps people from losing it, and I also like to keep it fun. I think it's fully possible to pull off something super sophisticated and elegant while still having a great time.
Nina: So today is "Woke Wednesday." What does being "woke" mean to you, and what role does "wokeness" play in how you run your business?
Allison: To me being woke is about holding yourself accountable for how you treat people, really. It's about listening and doing what you can from where you are to help lift others. Sometimes even just having someone with more privilege hear what I'm saying and where I'm coming from goes a long way, so I try to keep that energy going.
Nina: Thank you so much for talking with me, Allison!
Allison: Thank you!