Interviews with working individuals most affected by the world’s current state.
“My name is JD, I am 45 years young.”
Q. Can you share what you do professionally, JD?
I am the owner of JDEventz, a special events planning company based in Chicago. My birth name is Zankhana Desai, so you can see why I like to go with JD (also why ‘events’ ends with a ‘Z’).
I have been in the events industry for three decades, both working in Chicago and Mumbai. My passion has always been for South Asian Weddings, but I curate all types of events for all types of people and occasions.
I feel blessed to be planning events at some of Chicago’s finest venues, starting with hosting Bollywood Parties at the House of Blues back in the 90’s, and now at the iconic Navy Pier Grand Ball Room, Crystal Gardens, Loews Hotels, and Palmer House Hilton to name a few.
Q. What is the scope of your work (duties, responsibilities, day in the life)?
South Asian Weddings have so many intricate pieces while working with interesting personalities, so my role is always a balance of coordinating and counseling.
On any typical weekday, I spend quite a bit of my time traveling to tour different locations throughout the suburbs and city, as well as for tastings and vendor meetings. There are so many tangents that have to be perfectly tailored for each couple to fit within budget and timelines.
South Asian Weddings unfold over several days, with so many moving parts. At the beginning we all come together to decide on the type of wedding, both in regards to vision and size. Also, there are more and more mixed couples these days, so being able to honor and represent each side becomes very important.
The theme of the wedding will guide decisions around location, dates, food, music and more. Each couple is unique so it’s always amazing to see how they all navigate their own twists and turns. You can learn a lot about a couple through all the planning, tastings, phone calls and emails bringing everything all together.
Q. What do you like best about the work you do?
I love being part of the couple’s special day. Knowing that when they think back to the wedding day, you were there to bring it all to life.
I am very much people person, I truly love being around all the guests and vendors. It’s an effervescent-energy that comes together beautifully on the wedding day.
South Asian wedding planning is a highly competitive space, but I have a relatively large team of 20 people on my staff which sets us apart from the rest. Many hands on deck is key to have successful events.
Q. Can you please describe what a South Asian wedding typically consists of?
A typical Indian wedding unfolds over 3-5 days. There are separate events for each side leading up to the Sangeet where both families come together. The Sangeet is less formal and is filled with bright colors, music, and dances performed by both sides. It’s kind of like a welcome dinner.
You have Haldi ceremony and small puja at home for the bride and groom. Haldi is where bride and groom get turmeric put on them to make their skin glow. The purpose of these smaller ceremonies is to clear all obstacles for the wedding day.
The wedding itself is an incredible affair steeped in tradition, religion, and family. It starts out with groom’s procession called the bharat. Here, the groom comes in on a horse surrounded by his friends and family dancing. When he reaches the venue, the bride’s parents greet him and walk him to the Mandap where the ceremony takes place.
The pandiji guides the couple through various vows and rituals burning a fire that represents their transition into marriage. The reception that follows is a grand event, where the celebrations continue well into the night.
Q. How has your work been affected by the COVID-19 most recently?
Covid-19 has spun everything out of control in this industry. My second wedding of 2020 was scheduled for March 21st, which is when wedding season usually begins. And that’s when the lockdown was issued.
That wedding was close to a 400 person wedding. The bride and groom to-be continued getting cancellations from guests and it just wasn’t looking good. We were down to 200 and the numbers kept dropping until it was inevitably postponed.
They were both in healthcare, so they understood the seriousness of the pandemic.
I’ve had to reschedule all of my March-July weddings so far, with no definitive end of the pandemic in sight.
South Asian weddings are commonly in the four-hundred plus guest count, and generally include a lot of out-of-town guests, so cancelling an event without having a new date to move to is incredibly frustrating.
It’s an emotional decision. As the planner, you try to assure the client that everything going to be ok, but you really don’t know.
This takes a huge emotional toll for my couples, not being able to really envision how their wedding will unfold.
I have rebooked the same weddings twice now with no guarantees. Which means I’m doubling the work, with no income.
I don’t get paid until that wedding happens, so the longer the wedding is postponed or changed, the longer I’m not getting paid. Still, I’m putting in the labor needed for the event to be held in the future. That is the frustration.
Q. How have these changes affected you personally?
Last year was already a slower year for the wedding industry, so we were all looking forward to 2020. Now, this year is going to be a true financial test.
Since the summer season basically accounts for my whole years’ income, it is difficult to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
Despite this, it is so important that through it all you remain focused on making sure the clients are feeling secure about moving forward.
Sometimes, I wonder whose job it is to make sure I’m doing ok.
But all hopes are towards getting back to normal as soon as possible, and it’s been great to see how accommodating and flexible people are being on all sides.
There really is a sense that we’re all in this together.
Q. When did the gravity of this situation hit you?
The week of March 23. When I found out a major hotel’s staff was furloughed, and the decorator’s sales team were all sent home. That’s when I had a real panic attack.
I had lost my mom in September 2018. She was in the hospital for 6 weeks, and I remember this feeling of the ground falling away beneath my feet, and here it was again.
There are moments when it feels surreal, like we’ll all just wake up and be back to normal. But then you look at your phone or hear the tv, it’s all too real.
It’s heartbreaking to me to see so many people losing their loved ones, and can’t even be at the hospital or funeral.
We were all with my mom when she was in the hospital and that helped our grieving process a lot.
My dad is in India right now, so I worry about him a lot, too.
My older sister works with me as my lead planner, and we are both working through our own anxiety, just awaiting the day when we can take our first meeting in person.
Q. What resources are in place to help you and your staff do your jobs?
As a sole proprietor with 1099 (independently contracted) employees, there are very few resources to support us during this time.
I’m hoping for an emergency loan, but it’s hard to get a read on where my business lands for a loan right now. Again the biggest issue here is uncertainty.
Fortunately, most of my staff do this part-time, so they have other sources of income at their full-time positions.
Q. What are your predictions for your small business this summer? How about fall?
Wedding season starts from April to September. We are looking to hopefully start back up in August. Fall may be our “new” wedding season.
Many couples are even considering dates through the holidays.
I think things will get busy, though, there are only so many weekends to host weddings.
So far, it does look like 2021 will be a busy year.
Q. How are you helping clients manage their anxiety and uncertainty? How about for yourself?
Communication is key right now, even if it’s just to let your couples know you’ve got them in your thoughts, and are ready to get to work as soon as you can.
Having that feeling of hope to hold on to is so important right now, and that includes for me. So, I try to take the time out while I can and go for walks, meditate, and whatever gives me peace of mind.
Q. What tips do you have for those working in the wedding industry during this time?
I’d share what has been helping me: We are all in this together.
My hope is for everyone to continue to help each other out, and work as a team to get our industry back on track.
Feel free to leave JD a comment below!