Beautiful, unique bridal gowns are something I will never tire of and I just love what Alli Mae Events has been up to with her project Joy and Back- a non-profit bridal shop that donates all net proceeds from the sale of gently used wedding gowns and accessories to cancer charities in the Manitoba area. With a love for organization, parties and celebrating from a young age, Alli found her calling in wedding and event planning after leaving home in Winnipeg to find new experiences and attend a marketing and events program in Toronto. Learn more about Joy and Back and Alli's journey through entrepreneurship while feasting your eyes on this beautiful moody glam wedding planned and coordinated by Alli Mae Events with images by Josh Dookhie Photography and gorgeous florals by Academy Florist at Pineridge Hollow.
Tell us about Joy and Back..
Joy and Back is the second division of my business and it’s very close to my heart. The original concept dates back to 2004 when The Brides’ Project launched in Toronto where I had the privilege of sitting as a board member for four years. The mission was simple; to provide every bride with the things she needs for a beautiful wedding within her budget and to support cancer charities by donating their profits. Twelve years later, The Brides’ Project has made an undeniable impact with over 1400 women finding their dream dresses each year all while supporting the cancer care community in the Ontario region. With the launch of my events business, I brought this initiative home to Winnipeg. The proceeds from the sale of our gowns are donated to Cancer Care Manitoba.
Joy and Back is dedicated to the memory of family and friends who have passed away from or have been diagnosed with cancer. It also celebrates the survivors and allows brides to share their stories and pass on a dress that would otherwise go unused after its first wear.
I find some of my clients are budget conscious and struggle with the high costs associated with a wedding. Through Joy and Back, a wedding dress becomes more than just a dress to wear once; it becomes a financial, environmental and social way for a couple to contribute on their wedding day, simply by buying and hopefully re-donating their dress.
What can your clients expect from this process?
We are a very unconventional bridal shop. We are non-profit and volunteer run offering a relaxed and pressure free environment. I prepare brides ahead of time and reinforce the message that the shop isn’t a typical bridal shop atmosphere but we have a lot of heart. We ask clients to bring one to two guests at most because our space is so limited. The intimate environment is a great opportunity to connect one on one with a bride and make a difference without any added pressure. The best part is that even if a client doesn’t buy a gown she can still be involved as a donor after her wedding day. It’s a win-win!
What led you to the decision to become an entrepreneur?
Right out of college during a work placement at a destination wedding planning company, my supervisor left to start her own wedding planning company. It was a shock to the company and her clients but I really admired her courage to leave a stable income and risk everything to make herself happy and achieve that level of professional success. I began to create my own goals after she realized hers. Sometimes a newbie needs a little push to work towards something great!
I was determined to get enough experience to start my own business and my five year plan began. I threw myself into any volunteer or contract position I could get my hands on, eager to soak up the experience and learnings along the way. I started in venue management, then moved to a nonprofit organization and then an association management company. All the while, I worked on my business plan, became certified in wedding planning through The Wedding Planners Institute of Canada and started to book one to two clients of my own per year. Five years later, I left my full time position and launched my own event planning business.
What’s the best advice you would give to someone looking to get into wedding and event planning?
Forget the idea that it is glamorous. On a wedding day, I can be found re-folding napkins, arranging chairs and dragging tables all over the place. You have to maintain a calm temperament and strong work ethic and having a background in hospitality really helps. I am never afraid to roll up my sleeves and really get to work to make sure the atmosphere and experience is perfect for my client. I encourage those new to the industry to immerse themselves in an internship experience. I learned a lot going the internship route and I credit that experience for giving me the confidence I needed to jump right into the industry. Sometimes you will be doing coffee runs for the team but sometimes you will get the opportunity to ask questions, offer to help, heck even write a blog to show a genuine interest in their work and the opportunities will start to come your way. I learned to never ever be afraid or hurt by critical feedback and it is extremely important to network. Don’t be afraid to approach someone, shake a hand firmly and smile. You never know who you might meet along the way!
What is next for Joy and Back?
Joy and Back is growing in both donations and appointments, so to accommodate the increased energy of the project we have just opened up a studio shop in the exchange at 70 Arthur Street by appointment! Up until this point we have been operating out of a family friend’s basement so it’s a big shift to move to a formal retail space. I am thrilled to see it all come to life!