Event planning across cultures and traditions is a skill and an artistic calling. I spoke to Jean Rivers of Blue Llama Events in Indianapolis about how she plans events that fuse multiple cultures.
Blue Llama Events was featured in Condé Nast’s Brides Magazine, was a top pick by The Knot, featured on WeddingDay, and won a Couple’s Choice Award on Wedding Wire. So I was delighted when Jean agreed to an interview. We discussed what it means to plan cultural events, the importance of new experiences, and learning from your clients.
Meet Jean Rivers
Jean got her start in the wedding industry as a photographer.
“I actually began as a wedding photographer. My whole life, I grew up working in a dark room. I went to college, got my degree in photography, and did wedding photography. Back then, I don’t remember very many wedding planners at my events. And, I remember thinking, Oh my gosh, these people need help.
“My skillset is being very organized and design-oriented. I was a good photographer, but I felt like I could do more for people. And I am a better event planner that I was a wedding photographer.”
Jean initially began planning corporate events, something she still does with Blue Llama Events. Still, she loves planning weddings and started by building on her experience as a wedding photographer.
About Blue Llama Events
Blue Llama Events offers a wide range of services, including corporate events, private parties, wedding planning and coordination, event design, and 3D printing (so cool!).
But there’s something that makes them even more special amongst event planners.
Blue Llama Events specializes in cultural events, both weddings and corporate events fusing multiple cultures and traditions. They’ve planned events showcasing many different cultures, including Indian, Pakistani, Jewish, Persian, Egyptian, and more. And that’s why I was so excited to chat with Jean.
But first, I had to ask about the name.
“I wanted to build a fun brand,” Jean said. “A brand that was whimsical and lighthearted. I thought of that name one day, and then I told an artist that I use in Australia that ‘this is going to be the name of my company, what do you think? Could you draw us a logo up with it?’
“And the first iteration she came up with was that Lama that you see now. And I knew right away – that’s my llama. It’s like kind of how you name your kids, right?”
And I asked Jean to talk a little more about Blue Llama Events.
“We are very good at multicultural weddings. We’re open to everybody. Clients come to us to give their guests a really unique, personalized experience, and we’re with our clients the whole way through. We’re good at problem-solving. We offer a lot of value because we run the whole gamut and can fix anything that might come up.”
The fact that Jean and her team are tech-savvy, have design backgrounds, and are experts in 3D design helps them fix problems, even before they come up.
What Is A Fusion Event
In our chat, the term “fusion event” came up. Jean explains, “We specialize in fusion events where our bride and our groom come from different cultures, backgrounds, and religions.”
“We like to focus on how we bring two families together and in an event that honors the backgrounds and cultures of both families. We love to have families come together and feel like this was a great representation of both the bride and the groom’s background.”
“The majority of our cultural weddings are South Asian, specifically Hindu. But we’ve planned Jewish, Greek, Chinese, Japanese events amongst others.”
What Are The Challenges of Event Planning Across Cultures?
When I asked Jean what the challenges are when event planning across cultures, she didn’t quite agree with the term. Instead, she explained, it’s about building relationships.
“There’s been a change in how wedding planning is done now compared to ten or fifteen years ago. Back then, parents planned the wedding. Now, their children who are in their twenties and thirties are planning the wedding, and they’ve hired a planner. Those parents have had to let go of some of the reigns.”
Jean related to me how important it is to consider the older generation and to sometimes add in steps that the couple might not necessarily have done themselves. Sometimes, it’s even about what the wedding invitations look like, or navigating language barriers.
Jean explains, “a typical Hindu ceremony is like, eight to fifteen steps. There are language barriers too. So when it comes to fusion weddings, we put informative charts down on everybody’s seat. Folks that have never been to a Hindu wedding can know what’s going on through every step.”
How Do You Know What To Do When Planning An Event Across Different Cultures?
“Oh, my gosh,” Jean said. “You don’t know what to do at the beginning. I’ll never forget the first time a bride asked me to plan her Indian wedding? And I said, no, but I’d help her find somebody who knows how to do that.”
In the end, the bride insisted that Jean plan her wedding. “And, of course,” Jean said, “I did my homework, and we figured it out, but that’s how you start.”
With that ball rolling, Jean built relationships with priests and caterers and absorbed as much as she could. Now, she’s prepared for anything. “I have this giant luggage bag, and I bring it to the weddings for the priest, so he doesn’t have to carry anything. You just have to dive into it and learn all of the different aspects.”
Jean makes the point that no matter the culture, customs can be different by country, city, or even family. “I learned something new at every wedding. It’s usually a family member at rehearsal telling me, ‘but you didn’t do this.’ So we’re very flexible if those kinds of things come up.”
Do You Need To Train Vendors About Cultural Practices?
When I asked this question, Jean’s answer surprised somewhat. I learned that expertise can sometimes lead to higher fees. “If you do, multicultural events, you might be more expensive. You have that experience, and you have that knowledge; you can kind of just walk in and do your thing.”
“There are many vendors that want to get into that market and don’t have that experience. And I’ve had a lot of clients that are totally okay with that. To save some money, they’ll bring in someone, and then I’ll just walk through the process with them. We’re on-site all day so we can help the vendors with anything that’s going on and tell them what’s important for specific moments in the event.”
What Should You Do When Asked To Plan Your First Multicultural Wedding?
“Reach out to a planner that has done it,” Jean says. “All of us, especially in Indianapolis, we’re pretty close-knit in the events industry family. I think it’s best to have someone not directly involved helping you to prepare for the things that you don’t know. Because you don’t know the things that you don’t know, right?”
It might be tempting to ask your client, but Jean recommends avoiding that at first. I mean, your client came to you to make their life easier.
“You don’t want your client to ever feel like you weren’t doing your homework. I hope that they know that this might be your first event that you’re upfront about that, but you still want to make it a smooth planning process for them. That’s our job as the event planner.”
Talking About Team
Jean works with a team of three other event planners. I couldn’t resist changing the subject from Event Planning across cultures to discussing her philosophy on teamwork. But you’ll see shortly how it ties into multicultural weddings. I asked Jean how she knew it was time to grow her team.
“My team is Katie, Maddie, and Lexi. I started bringing them on about two years ago. At first, they were helping with the execution on event days. Some of our weddings are five hundred to a thousand people. So you need a team.”
“You need a lot of people to manage guests, to handle everything that’s going on with the bride, the groom, the bridal party and the family, and then all the vendors. Especially with cultural weddings, multiple events are going on in a day. We’re jumping room to room in a hotel, and there are lots of moving pieces. One person can not manage that in a day, no matter how good you are.”
“Eventually, they became so much involved with the business. The team members started taking the lead in managing events. Especially this year. Usually, we try to never schedule more than one wedding on a day, but because so many events were rescheduled this year, we ended up with a couple of dates where we had multiple weddings. So they each take the leads on those, planning them from start to finish, and they’ll be there the whole day. Then I’ll be able to go on-site and see how things are going throughout the event.”
Teamwork Over Competition
I asked Jean how they avoid stepping on each others’ toes, especially considering they both work together closely, and each takes the lead on different events.
“One of our principles is just to have fun,” Jean said. “We all like what we do. We all have backgrounds in design, and two of the team have degrees in event management.”
“I try to really instill a culture where we have fun. Because if we’re having fun, that energy projects to our clients and the bridal party. Our job is to make everybody have a successful day, so we try to make it a good experience for everybody we work with. Then we enjoy our job more.”
Event Planning Across Cultures And Traditions Is About Being Open
My takeaway from the discussion is event planning across cultures is not only about being flexible. It’s also about seeking new experiences, proactively collecting information and ideas, and, critically, asking questions.
And if you’re ever planning your own cultural fusion events, keep track of everything in ThymeBase’s event planning software!