Career Advice From Wedding Planners Noora Al Suwaidi & Jennifer McGarrigle
How did you meet and why did you decide to go into business together?
We met at a floral presentation as I was planning the wedding of Noora’s sister. Noora came into the meeting and had such an amazing educated knowledge of flowers and design and I was so surprised. We joked that we would have to set up a business together one day, but I don’t think that either of us really believed it would happen. A year later, I got a call from Noora asking to meet and it went from there. Here we are two years later, going from strength to strength, working on major events.
Was it easy to start the business?
I don’t think that it’s ever easy to start a business. There were a lot of sleepless nights. There is quite a lot of red tape in the UAE and we wanted everything to be legitimate and correct from the start, so we did find it to be hard work, but now looking back it was so worth it, I would do it again and again I don’t regret the hard work at all.
What were some events that inspired you to work in the events industry?
Looking back as a child it would have been many of the Royal weddings. I love all the regal opulence! Many of the events that I had been invited to in Dubai before I was in the industry also inspired me, I couldn’t believe what was possible here, it really is an amazing place to work in events, I don’t think that there is anywhere else in the world that can compete with the UAE when it comes to this calibre of events.
Your style seems to be very feminine, classic andww elegant – is this accurate?
Not all the time! I love my dressing robe in the evenings, but in work and in public yes I think that we both try to be feminine and classic, I think it’s part of the job, I just don’t believe that you can tell a client that you can produce a chic and elegant wedding or event without at least making the effort to look that way yourself!
What have been some of your most memorable events so far?
We loved doing our last wedding for the Al Naboodah family in Dubai, they were the loveliest clients. They were so open to our design suggestions, so we had a blank canvas as such, we don’t always get that and it’s so fun when we do, we had total design and creative freedom! The wedding was a winter theme and we made the ballroom snow for the bridal entry, it looked stunning and the family were so happy in the end.
What was it like working on a fashion show?
That was great, exciting! We managed the show for the talented designer Jelena Bin Drai for her clothing range Duchess, the range is stunning so to be honest it was easy as the clothes really spoke for themselves. We kept the design elegant and sleek like the dresses that were being showcased. We loved the pace of the fashion show as everything is so fast and I think it was when we learned that we work well under pressure!
What is a creative element that you did recently for a wedding?
We did a beautiful English Garden Theme for an Indian wedding earlier in the year. We had the green grass and the blue of the sea in the background so we opted for a white Mandap with blush coloured flowers, white linens and romantic candles and we kept the lighting soft. We had the ceremony at sunset so the result was stunning. We do a mood board for all our events to make sure that all the elements gel.
Who would you love to host an event for?
If I could bring someone back from the past, I would have loved to do something for Prince Ranier of Monaco and Grace Kelly, imagine the opulence! In the present day I’d love to do a fashion show for Chanel, they have been to Dubai recently and the show was amazing. Now that would really be something to put in the portfolio.
Do you have any funny stories of last minute mishaps or surprises?
There are always last minute mishaps, it’s all about controlling them and catching them quickly! We had a wedding a while ago and the wedding Mandap (stage) was due to be off white and when I turned up after being in the brides room it had been built hot pink!! It was extremely stressful breaking it down and rebuilding, but looking back now it’s quite funny! Im just so glad the bride never saw it!
Working in events can be stressful – but do you get an adrenaline rush?
Yes always! It’s only afterwards that you realize how much pressure you’re under. You feel it in your legs and back. During the event we never stop, running from place to place, we don’t even break to eat. The next day I feel the results of that in my body. After a really big event I always try to have a couple of days off afterwards to try and relax (I don’t always get it though!)
What advice would you give to someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
I would say to try and get some experience in the industry first, it’s an industry that is often believed to be glamorous and fun but it’s also extremely hard work. It’s constant and has no set hours and there are times when you only sleep a few hours a week so be sure that you are doing this for the right reasons. It’s beneficial to have some kind of event management qualification. I believe that if you have a passion for design and events, then this can actually be the best job in the world because its so rewarding.
Experts tips on starting a company:
1. Look into local sponsorship versus Free Zone: Local sponsorship involves giving an Emirati partner 51 percent of your business, which would allow you the freedom to operate anywhere in the city. A Free Zone-operated business lets you operate with 100 percent ownership, but carries restrictions related to high office rental fees and location.
2. Location, location, location: Find a spot that will be most profitable to your business.
3. Visa eligibility: You need a specific visa to allow you and employees to live in the UAE.
4. Consider hiring a business consultant: Someone can be there to give you the right advice and hold your hand through the whole process (we hate paperwork, too!).
5. Look into your finances: This is key, as most banks in the UAE rarely provide loans to start-ups. Look into how much you need to get your business off the ground and consider keeping your day job.