PAMELA GAKENIA : IN LOVE WITH WEDDINGS
Pamela has always been a dreamer. She spent a small part of her childhood in the countryside where she lived with her grandmother. Her time after school was spent herding
Pamela has always been a dreamer. She spent a small part of her childhood in the countryside where she lived with her grandmother. Her time after school was spent herding cows and performing other typical village household chores. Her fun activities while the cows grazed included lying on her back on the lush grass, gazing up at the large expanse of blue sky and wondering what lay up there. A lone car would drive by and her yearning for the seemingly fairy-tale lives of their usually well-dressed occupants would divert her attention.
This dainty, soft-spoken wedding planner had a natural flair for art and beauty from an early age. “One of the things I desired most was dressing well,” she says with a faraway look in her eyes. And she seems to have fulfilled this desire, looking at her stylish cowl-necked red and black dress, dark stockings and black patent-leather heels.
During the last day of each school term, she would smear cow dung mixed with ash and water on the walls of her grandmother’s house, then draw different designs on them. “That marked the highlight of each end of term. I always looked forward to doing something different to beautify my grandmother’s house,” she says.
Her family later moved to Nairobi where she completed the remaining part of her primary education. After completing high school, she carried this artistic flair with her to the University of Nairobi where she studied Land Resource Management. Friends and fellow students were often impressed by the creative and tasteful décor she had put together in her room at the campus hostel. Incidentally, Pamela never thought her penchant for beauty and artistic talent could be translated into something tangible.
Prompted into action…
She completed her studies in 2005 and while still looking for a job, spent some of her time helping at friends’ weddings with décor, among other wedding-related responsibilities. Many were the times she got frustrated by the sometimes substandard quality of services given to couples who she knew had struggled to fund their weddings. It was easy for her to spot many things that could have been done differently to get a better outcome.
“One thing I noticed at most weddings was that most arrangements, including flowers, chairs and tents dressings and other décor were similar, and the only thing that brought a difference was choice of colours. I couldn’t understand why weddings needed to look the same,” she says. These little frustrations made her turn up at the wedding venues a little earlier in order to see what she could add or change to make the wedding a little different and, in her view, better. All this time, her friends, among other people, kept asking why she was not in the wedding industry business with all the talent she possessed.
A lady from her church one day asked her how much she charged for her services after she helped put together a beautiful African-themed evening party for a newly-wed couple, also from her church. Pamela considered her work a gift to the couple and wasn’t planning to charge for it. Up to this point it was a hobby and she didn’t even have an idea what she would charge if the need arose. It was this lady who gave her the idea that she could use her hobby to pay bills, something that had never occurred to her before. Already holding a job as a manager in a flower farm, it took more prompting and prayers from her friend to make her actualize the idea.
Starting the business…
A week after the conversation with her church friend, Pamela was in her office thinking how broke she was, with only ninety bob in her pocket – forty for bus fare and the balance for lunch. “I remember having this urge to use the fifty bob to buy airtime, but was too hungry as I had not eaten the whole day,” she recalls. A small voice in her kept urging her to buy airtime to use in starting her wedding business. It was too persistent to ignore so in the end she decided to forego the lunch, bought airtime and sent text messages to several friends and acquaintances to inform them about her plans to start a wedding planning business. That was the first step she made in launching what has become a successful business today.
She registered her company, Delightful Weddings, in 2008 and was determined to excel in the wedding planning business. To get more skills on the business she enrolled at the Divine School of Weddings, formerly Weddings Beautiful, East and Central Africa. She took a course on wedding planning,
paying her school fees in installments, as she couldn’t afford to pay it all at once.
Her first client was a lady she had sent a text message to, and who responded excitedly telling Pamela she wanted her to plan her wedding as she had seen the décor in her room in campus. She learnt many lessons from this first serious job and the guests, as well as the couple loved her work.
Pamela was excited as she planned to tell her friend from church that she had followed her advice and started the business. Unfortunately, this was not to be as her friend was shot dead during a carjacking incident. This devastated Pamela who had hoped her friend would be her mentor. Nonetheless, she had to gain courage and seek God’s guidance as she planned to build her business without the person who put the idea into her mind.
Every cent she made from this wedding went towards buying items she would need for her business, which included flower stands, fabrics and other accessories. At first she was only offering wedding décor but broadened her services after completing the course at Divine School.
She initially faced a lot of self-doubt, as she compared herself with established names in the industry. Her biggest challenge was lack of accessories, which she needed if she was to compete with already well-established businesses. But she needed more clients to make enough money to equip her business, and this remained a challenge for some time. “It was while soul-searching that I realised I had unique skills I could bring to the table, even without equipment and compete successfully with the big names,” says Pamela.
By 2010, Pamela’s business had grown by leaps and bounds and she was making a decent living out of it, as well as supporting a staff of four. She sees patience as the one important virtue that has helped her nurture her business to the success it is today. “I
have gone through ups and downs and wanted to give up several times but I hang in there hoping for a better day,” says Pamela.
She adds, “I can say without a doubt I have fun doing this business. I love weddings and enjoy the fact that I can contribute to the happiness of a couple on their wedding day. I also enjoy the details of planning and shopping with the bride, as well as discussing colours, flowers and other nitty-gritty that makes a wedding successful.”
Pamela has planned and done décor for close to 50 weddings since the inception of her business. Her favourite part of the wedding is when the bride walks down the aisle. “It’s always breath-taking watching the beautiful bride smile as she walks down the aisle to meet the love of her life. It’s even more gratifying to know I have been involved in the journey up to that point,” says Pamela.
One of the things that breaks her heart is to know that her industry has some unreliable service providers who let down couples on the most important day of their life. To ensure nothing goes wrong at any wedding she is involved in, Pamela has established strong working relationships with other wedding service providers, such as photographers, caterers, videographers, and security, as failure on any one of them can ruin a wedding.
Pamela advises clients operating on a tight budget not to have their weddings during peak seasons of April, August and December to save on costs, as hiring of venues and other wedding-related facilities
are usually much higher.
Does she have a wedding that really stood out? “Every wedding is different and unique in its own way,” she says. One aspect of her business she is very proud of is the new package she has introduced to assist those people who long for a wedding but circumstances such as money, time and commitment hinder them and they end up in ‘come-we-stay’ relationships. This package accommodates the needs of such couples and helps them achieve their dream of tying the knot and not remaining in an ambiguous relationship.
Wedding planning is a side job for Pamela. Her full time job is at the flower farm where she tracks shipments for export and handles the company’s accounts. She hopes to one day own a flower farm or a
ranch, which she can use as a wedding venue and honeymoon location. “I’ve always had an interest in farming and ranching, which explains why I chose the course I did at the university. Land Resource Management has a lot to do with farming,” she says.
Pamela advises parents to encourage their children’s talents from an early age, even though they may appear inconsequential at the time. “You never know where a talent will take your child,” she says. She also encourages people to love what they do, because when you love what you do, you give it your all.