Sonal J. Shah is the most renowned, premiere celebrity expert on South Asian and Cross-Cultural weddings in the USA. Her firm has built a stellar reputation for conceiving, designing, and coordinating a long roster of meticulously choreographed, high-end South Asian weddings.
She began her career in wedding planning 14 years ago and has since planned over 1,200 weddings! She is a perfectionist, has a keen eye for detail and creates luxurious and flawless experiences for all of her couples and families. We got in touch with Sonal J. Shah, the force behind SJS Events and celebrated Advisory Board Member for the Destination Wedding Planners Congress 2019 and learnt all about how she forayed into the vast world of wedding planning.
Who was/is your inspiration for setting foot in the wedding industry?
My background is in the hospitality industry. 15 years ago, there were only a small handful of wedding planners experienced in South Asian Weddings. I wanted to use my years of knowledge gained from the hospitality industry to help the South Asian community. Planning a South Asian Wedding is a massive feat; from the multi day events, the sheer number of guests, the various religious traditions and ceremonies as well as the dynamics between countless family members who get very involved with the planning process – it literally ‘takes a village’ to execute perfection!
Who do you think from the new set of planners in recent times will make it big in the industry and why?
The new set of planners who understand that planning a wedding is not a one-person job, but a collective team effort. They also need to understand that couples and families today require much more hand holding, hence the new set of planners are necessitated to be able to cater to all their needs. Working with a great group of vendors who understand the brand you are trying to create as a planning company is also extremely vital. These are all key elements to longevity in the industry and hopefully making it big.
What do you do differently from other wedding planners?
It is our key attention to detail and being accessible to our clients. We are regularly working day and night to make sure things are absolutely perfect. Also, we have made a commitment to our clients to take on limited full-service clients, so each wedding is highly curated and the execution is always perfect.
What are some of the latest trends in the wedding business that you follow?
Customizing everything – from the chairs, the charger plates, the menu cards, down to the forks and knives. Even the dance floors are all custom designed and created because no one really uses the classic wood dance floor anymore in these high-end weddings, they all want something cool, unique and snazzy. Starting with a clean slate for the event; piping, draping and re-carpeting the entire ballroom is becoming more and more common. Our couples are looking for innovative ideas to elevate their wedding and to give a distinctive, one-of-a-kind experience to their guests.
How easy or difficult is it to keep up with changing trends in this dynamic industry?
The possibilities are endless when adding a trendy element to any wedding, but these of course come with a cost. If the couples have the budget for these ‘extra’ items, then the rest is quite manageable. The most difficult part of keeping up with the changing trends is convincing the client that these trends come with a cost, and most often than not, the costs are big dollar signs.
What are some of the benefits and challenges of hosting a destination wedding?
One of the main benefits of hosting a destination wedding is that everyone is under one resort or on one island. Typically if it’s a buyout, the entire resort consists of just the wedding party and guests, which is great! The challenges would be that some locations don’t carry the type of furniture or rental items needed. These would then have to be sourced locally in the United States and shipped.
Which was the first destination wedding you planned? What were the hardships you faced? How did you overcome them?
Our first destination wedding was in the Cayman Islands. The hardship we faced was that there were not many destination based South Asian weddings. So, we had to go out of our way to explain the food, the traditions, the timeline of events to everyone at the hotel, but also to all the local authorities. We overcame this challenge with lots of phone calls and several in person meetings.
How important are vendors when it comes to executing a wedding? Do you work with a specific set of suppliers or do you source local suppliers, if so how do you find them? Through research, recommendations or some other way?
Having the right group of vendors is crucial to executing a wedding seamlessly, from start to finish. We are open to recommendations and we also get a lot of vendors contacting us for collaborations. We assess their website, their social media, their portfolio to see if they would fit our brand of high-end weddings. Consequently, we end up working with the same group of vendors as they have proved to be very professional, are able to deliver far beyond expectations on the day of the wedding and do not hesitate to go the extra mile for our client.
What do you think of the Middle East an emerging destination for weddings?
I think it is an amazing location for destination weddings. Nowadays, more couples are looking to host their weddings in Europe and Asia, etc. They want someplace exotic and different, a destination where their guests would not have gone before and the Middle East definitely fits the bill!
Having been an integral part of the DWP Congress over the years, how do you feel being associated with DWP 2019 which is going to take place in Dubai this year?
I am so honored and beyond thrilled to be such an integral part of the DWP Congress over the years. It is such an amazing conference that brings incredible vendors from all over the world together to network, share ideas, collaborate and to learn from each other’s experiences. Each year the luxury boutique event gets bigger and better which is absolutely mind blowing! I can’t wait to see what the DWP Congress has in store for years to come and I hope to always be a part of this incredible journey.
All Photographs Courtesy: SJS Events