Interview with Rita Chu...
The bridal industry rakes in billions of dollars a year, with a whopping average of one million brides hailing from Canada alone. For anyone walking down the aisle, the preparation for the big day can be frustrating and exhausting – not to mention costly. And honestly, there are very few people that actually have the creative dexterity of Martha Stewart.
This is where business partners Stephanie Wong and Rita Chu come in. With the use of innovative and economical wedding ideas and designs, Wong and Chu have helped hundreds of brides and grooms plan the perfect wedding, and now they’re sharing their expertise.
The story begins many years ago, when Wong and Chu met in high school and instantly formed a bond. Before their company was formed, Wong was on the other end of things – as a bride about to embark on her own big day. When the process of planning her wedding proved to be exasperating, and resources scant, Wong decided to take matters into her own hands. She designed her own invitations and decorations, which were a big hit. With the positive feedback, Wong made another life-altering decision, and formed her company, Stephita Invitations. The company produces delicately handcrafted, customized wedding invitations. Chu jumped on board as her partner.
The young entrepreneurs found the start-up road bumpy, but persevered. “The hardest part is trying to accommodate the huge amount of orders coming in, and the work load that goes with it. The wedding industry is pretty seasonal, so about 80 per cent of the orders will come in and have to be filled within a few months. During this busy time we often have to pull a lot of late nights and we definitely find ourselves working six, sometimes seven days of the week,” Chu says. “Part of this work is making sure we are always changing and improving our product line and business in general. We design new lines of invitations every single year, sometimes even twice a year, and we are always trying to increase the range of products we have to offer.”
The hard work and long hours paid off, though, and soon Stephita Invitations found their way into mailboxes across Canada, with the company expanding business to the United States as well. The growth of the company has been astounding, and Chu expects to work on over five hundred weddings this year. “We are really pleased with the amount of referrals we have received, and the brides really seem to appreciate our quality of work.”
But this was just the beginning. “We work with brides every day, and they all seemed to be really impressed by all the new ideas we brought out every year,” Chu explains. “So we thought, let’s start a website and have a supplementary publication to display all of our ideas.”
After some brainstorming, sister company Inspired Brides hit the market in January of this year. Inspired Brides is primarily web-based, and provides free wedding projects and ideas with step-by-step instructions. Because most brides tend to have trouble sticking to a budget, Wong and Chu focused on sharing ideas and connecting brides and professionals. Inspired Brides also publishes a supplemental magazine about four times a year. One of the best things about the website (besides its exquisite Inspired Ideas section) is its utilization of the internet medium: it instantly unites wedding professionals with brides through its Talk forum, where anything from wedding favours, honeymoon plans, and reception music is discussed with fellow brides and industry insiders. There’s also a section for venting, in case the wedding planning is getting the best of its participants.
“For the magazine, the hardest part of starting up is setting a budget and plan, and sticking to it,” Chu reveals. “There are a lot of little issues and expenses that pop up that you may or may not have planned for and you really have to try to avoid making any impulsive decisions, such as deciding how many pages to run, and the quantity of magazines to run.” But despite the complications of jumping into a new vehicle, the endeavour proved to be just as fun as it was informative. “This project is different from Stephita Invitations. There is a lot of freedom working with Inspired Brides; we create ideas that we think would appeal to all types of brides. We continually find ourselves working with other people within the industry, and we learned a lot of new things.”
With hundreds of ideas under their belts, how do Wong and Chu supplement their endless project ideas? “Most of our ideas [for Stephita Invitations] were ideas that we have gathered over the years while working with brides. We usually start with some kind of theme – for example, the tuxedo theme (pictured above) – and the ideas just seem to come to us from there. We would start with the tuxedo and create a matching top hat, and go with the colour scheme black-and-white from the entire layout.” Keeping things relevant and contemporary, of course, is also a concern. “We get inspirations from all over; we do a lot of research online about what’s popular now, and what’s going to be popular in the future. Most of our designs are a mix of our own ideas, other ideas from the internet, and our own brides’ ideas.”
Chu has some advice for young entrepreneurs ready to start their own company: “There are a lot of ups and downs of starting your own business. In the beginning, it will take a lot of hard work, long hours, financial risk (you may end up making next to nothing in the first year) and patience. However, if you can manage to stick to it your hard work will be repaid. It is also definitely easier to start a business with a partner so that you don’t have to cope with every situation by yourself. “
The next few years are sure to keep Wong and Chu busy. “Our attention is mainly focused on increasing the traffic to the site and getting greater exposure to Inspired Brides,” Chu says. “We would love to gain a national sponsor the website (a company focused on D-I-Y projects and products) that could help the site reach a lot more of the brides and help supply materials for projects so that we could be creating them everyday.”
For Wong and Chu, the perfect wedding starts with a little inspiration. ¤ C.Ho.
For all your wedding needs (like cool ideas and projects, local resources, useful forum advice, and tons of great give-aways), visit www.inspiredbrides.com. The next issue of Inspired Brides magazine will hit your nearest bridal show in September 2006. Visit the website for more information.