ZARA ALLAHWALA ON HER DECOR FIRM, HOT TRENDS, INSPIRATIONS AND TOP TIPS FOR COUPLES by ASJAD NAZIR The multi-billion pound wedding industry is enabling more women than ever to become business entrepreneurs and leave an impressive mark in what has been a male-dominated field for decades. Most are moving away from being hair and make-up or henna artists by expanding into other areas of the lucrative industry, and many are working mothers. One of these big-thinking female business brains is London-based Zara Allahwala, who set up the décor company Tempting Occasions. The young mother set up a company that helps make the big day of couples that extra special by creating eye-catching settings and leave guests in awe of the decor. Eastern Eye caught up with Zara to find out how she made it in the wedding industry, top tips for couples and the secrets of running a business. What made you want to work in this industry?It was all by chance. The wedding world was not where I initially aspired to be and I was headed in the complete opposite direction. I got married in September 2011 and never had much interest in events prior to this. For my wedding, I organised and planned everything perfectly to the last detail. Unfortunately, however, I was let down by a supplier my husband and I had paid an extortionate amount to. I decided then that I had to somehow involve myself in the industry and do it right. What led towards you setting up a décor company? During my final year at university, while studying law, my husband and I found out we were expecting our daughter. I was adamant to complete my degree, but I was confused as to what I could do afterward. Having just completed my final exams with a newborn baby, I decided it was the best time to venture out into self-employment and work on the idea I had to start a wedding décor company and join the events industry. How would you describe your experience working in this field? It has been a tough, but wonderful experience. Each year the company grows and I find myself willingly giving more time to it. It is difficult being a mum, wife and businesswoman, especially in an industry surprisingly dominated by men. You have to really put in a lot of time, dedication and effort, but it’s incredibly enjoyable and rewarding despite the long hours and trying to balance family time. Is it easy to strike that balance? If you love what you are doing, the commitment doesn’t feel like a burden, so you just learn to balance it all. There are days I find myself working from the second I wake up to the second I sleep. I’ll have clients messaging me at 11pm, sometimes midnight, and to put them at ease you have to respond; I just don’t have time to leave it to the next morning. Tell us about the services you provide? We provide decorations for all types of events and are happy to incorporate themes. We allow our clients to make the décor suited to their requirements, as we have a firm belief that events are very personal and so each should be unique. What is the most challenging aspect of the job? There are no sick days allowed. No matter what is going on in our personal lives, our events come first. You just can’t let a client down on their special day. They put their faith in you to make it perfect for them and allow you to be a part of it, so the responsibility is incredibly big, as each event becomes our own. What tips would you give couples selecting the right décor company? First, you need to understand your budget. Once you have decided how much you can allocate towards wedding décor, be prepared to stretch slightly in order to go for the right company. Make a list of different suppliers offering the service, so you can understand their pricing and style of work. This will help you understand what is on offer in the market and which style of décor you prefer. How important is the research process? Very important. Have a look at their work and try to find feedback of their services. Ask yourself if they have given you enough time to be able to understand your needs, and are you able to trust them to follow it through? You’ll then be able to decide from your favourite styles of work, which company can best replicate the concepts you want, and if they can actually provide what they are promising. How can a couple tell they’re hiring the right one? You know quite quickly when both a service provider and a client click. Weddings can be incredibly costly because of the responsibility and labour involved. A company needs to take that responsibility seriously and understand you as an individual as opposed to another client on their list. I’ve had a number of clients come to us who have expressed how other companies have spoken to them rudely or brashly and wanted to rush them through a booking. It is imperative to exchange ideas, and the company you go for needs to be able to work on those ideas and make them better by using their experience in the industry. The right company will work with you on your event, not just for you. Any tips for those working on a lower budget… Prioritise. Be able to list by priority what is essential and then perhaps what is supplementary. Good service providers will be able to advise you on what changes you can make to meet your budget but also maintain the concepts you have. What has been your most memorable wedding? One we did in Portsmouth in December. The families of the couple were of a religious Muslim background and the venue was filled with Christmas decorations, including a giant tree. I was sure the client wouldn’t be too happy, so called them to find out if they were aware of the festive decorations. They were shocked and expected it to be the blank canvas they hired months before. The staff at the venue didn’t want to move the items. So my team and I took on the task of transforming a Christmas-themed venue into a beautiful wedding setting, including hiding the 20-foot Christmas tree wrapped in hundreds of metres of fairy lights. The couple were happy with what we created. What inspires you creatively? I am incredibly fussy when it comes to quality, so I design and create all our stock in-house myself. I get inspiration from just about everything and everywhere. It may be an outfit, a café I had a coffee in or even the weather. I pay attention to the details. I hate the big, bold and gaudy décor styles that seem to be marring the industry. I try gearing our styles to more elegant and intricate designs. What about floral themes? Flowers are delicate by nature so should be used accordingly. I select the best quality flowers for all our floral décor and arrangements, as quality makes a difference. As long as all the colours and concepts sit well with each other, anything works. It’s easy to get it all completely wrong and so attention to detail is key. Décor wise, what are the hot trends? Anything that is new and different. So many unique and interesting things, items and designs are being introduced in décor that everyone wants what hasn’t been seen before, or as often. This makes our job challenging, but it’s better to be kept on your toes. Why do you love the job you do? The reward of a happy client. I have had clients who will dismiss everyone else and come hug me at the end of an event to let me know how satisfied they are with the experience and service. When you take a step back, and aren’t just ticking events off the calendar, you realise how important your job is, and how much trust a person puts in you, allowing you to be a part of such a special time in their lives. You start off as strangers and then become a part of the most memorable moments.