How did Modern Rebel come to be? Was there a defining moment that made your idea a reality for this business?
Modern Rebel came to be after I started wedding planning for a friend - I had never imagined that career for myself - ever. So, when she said, “You should do this for a living,” I immediately laughed and said - “No way.” I spent a few weeks wondering why I was so against it. I was organized and liked planning events - but hated the wedding industry. As a feminist, it felt like such an exploitative and misogynistic industry - “Like, here, let’s sell you an idea of perfection and maintain traditions so that women, even empowered women, believe THIS is the greatest day of their lives and then watch it emotionally and financially drain them and their families.” I also think that I just felt it lacked imagination - like, white flowers and white linens - where was the personality in the industry? Why did femininity have to be so … boring? I was frustrated. I didn’t think it was the place for me - but because of that I thought, well, maybe other people feel this way? But the other piece was this lack of perspective the industry had and so I wanted to find a way to give back. I thought, “What if every time someone got married, someone got out of an awful relationship?” I called up the Center Against Domestic Violence and shared my idea - they were super receptive. We started there. I started helping some friends of friends and their cousins and eventually …. I quit all my jobs [I had 3 when I started the company] and now almost four years in, we will have almost 60 couples across NYC, Austin, and California, four non-profit partners, and almost $10,000 raised for local non-profits through our “love-parties”.
Can you summarize what you do for people who might not be familiar? Give us your best Twitter pitch (you can do the extended 240 character limit)
Amy: We plan, design, and coordinate love parties [our word for weddings] for couples that want to throw a kick-ass party that both reflects them + their community, and also gives back locally.
Can we have a quick bio of your team members?
Amy Shackelford: Founder / Lead Designer + Planner [she/her] • Brooklyn, NY
Amy is a middle child hailing from Orlando, Florida with a knack for disruptive leadership and a love for community engagement. She is a curious thinker and has been known to follow up whys with why-nots. She is fiercely committed to feminist causes, chocolate chips, and creating beautiful events that will make you pause even in a big city like New York. When she's not planning and designing the coolest parties around, you will find her traveling, testing a new recipe, or dancing like a fool to Shania Twain.
Ainsley Blattel: Marketing Manager, Planner + Head Coordinator [they/them] • Brooklyn, NY
Ainsley is a queer feminist from the San Francisco Bay Area whose lifelong passion is to challenge the status quo. They are a self identified hopeful romantic and spreadsheet fanatic, and always seem to be craving dark chocolate. With a background in non-profits, Ainsley believes every event is an opportunity to excite, inspire, and bring joy into people’s lives. When they aren’t coordinating for rebels in love, Ainsley is sure to be adventuring outdoors, eating something delicious, or getting crafty with glitter and googly eyes.
Chelsa Cass: Lead Planner + Designer [she/her] • Austin, TX
Chelsa (Chel-suh, or Cha Cha, not Chels-SEA) grew up along the front range of the Rocky Mountains and frequently finds herself making the drive home to soak in the magic that comes from a properly timed song intro, cracked windows, and mountain air. She finds her inspiration for style and design in music, travel, and bygone eras; but please, vintage vibes not values. This girl is all about progress, social justice, vocal feminism and animal advocacy.
Alison Jane: Rebel Operations Manager [she/her] • Brooklyn, NY
Born and raised in Pennsylvania, Alison is a city girl trapped in rural world. She loves any opportunity to venture a new city for quaint coffee shops and local eats. She makes sure everything behind the scenes runs like a well oiled machine here at Modern Rebel. If you reach out to us be on the lookout for a note from her. When she's not working you can find her spending time with her husband, children and fur babies.
Gina Jurlando: Head Coordinator [she/her] • Brooklyn, NY
Gina is a New York native, hailing from the beaches of Long Island. Before joining Modern Rebel she worked as a production designer and set dresser for film and television where she found her passion for design and coordination. She loves to create aesthetically pleasing events that fight the status quo so joining Modern Rebel was an obvious choice. When she isn't working on events you can find her explaining feminist film theory, playing with her two stinky dogs, or planning her next backpacking adventure!
Casey Moran: Head Coordinator [she/her] • Brooklyn, NY
Casey is a northeastern native who calls Brooklyn home. Before joining Modern Rebel’s team, she led and coordinated cross country bike trips with Bike & Build, a non-profit that is committed to providing affordable housing along the route. That said, mobilizing large groups of people for a good cause and a good time is near and dear to her heart. Since 2015, she’s been coordinating love-parties with Modern Rebel all across NYC and is a super-fan of non-traditional wedding choices.
Do you have a favorite Love Party that you’ve helped plan?
Ainsley: It’s hard to pick just one when we have so many rockstar rebel couples (seriously, we work with the coolest people!), but there is one that made a huge impact on me personally this year. In March, I got to work with a couple that was described during toasts by one of their kids as “Jewish power lesbians” - and it was so true! These two are literal leaders (in NYC + nationally), and their love party was EPIC. Not only were Hillary Clinton, Cynthia Nixon, and Alison Bechdel tearing it up on the dance floor, but each element of their event was so intentional and heartfelt. They sealed their vows by smashing TWO glasses under a rainbow chuppah held by their siblings, had kippah imbedded with seeds for folks to take home and plant, and made a point in their welcome speech to acknowledge and honor all our queer ancestors who worked so hard to make it possible for them to get married in the first place. I basically cried the whole time because of how beautiful and queer and full of love it all was.
Why did you decide to give back? Why do you think that it’s important for businesses to be socially conscious as well as ethical?
Amy: I think it’s a no-brainer. For-profit companies need to be investing in and working with nonprofits. It’s the only way we can truly make a larger impact in our local communities. Additionally, I think it is more imperative than ever that we call out and do something about the hugely discriminative and corrupt government - “the personal is political.” As a business owner, an American, and a feminist - I cannot simply make profit and sit by and watch America become more exclusionary. There is so much bullshit in the world and every industry can do better. We throw parties. That doesn’t mean we can’t also change the world - every bit counts.
Aside from giving donations to local non-profits, we also are working on new sustainability practices internally and externally with our couples. It’s insanity how much is wasted in this industry. I joke with friends that I’m such a buzzkill at industry events - I’m always asking, how will these flowers get repurposed after this 3 hour wedding planner dinner? Was all the packaging on the favors necessary? You can tell most industry folks aren’t paying attention - “Who cares? It was beautiful!” I just think there is a price to pay for that on our planet - and I don’t think beauty and sustainability have to be mutually exclusive. I’m lucky that our couples want to dive into that - they want new innovative ways to reduce and recycle. It’s awesome.
Why is it important for businesses like Modern Rebel to exist for people within the LGBTQ community?
Ainsley: I’ll be honest - most of my queer friends think I’m crazy for working in the wedding industry. They see weddings as a BS way for straight people to make queer folks assimilate into heteronormative society. And I get it - the industry has refused to make space for the vast and various ways queer love can look, while presenting the false narrative that marriage equality was the final frontier for LGBTQ rights. Both of those things are hurtful, harmful, and wrong.
At Modern Rebel, we understand and acknowledge the struggles LGBTQ folks have and continue to face - especially in our current political state. Marriage equality was only legalized three years ago, before which this community was overwhelmingly cast aside and condemned for all eternity. So to take a moment of time and announce our queer love out loud, whatever shape it takes, to me is more than just a beautiful wedding ceremony - it’s a radical act of resistance.
Queer love has existed forever. We at Modern Rebel recognize the strength and resiliency it has taken for LGBTQ folks to get where they are today, and we vow to do our part to continue to ensure queer success stories, celebrate LGBTQ love, and be a part of the continued fight for the basic human rights we all deserve.
Tell us some of the ways in which y’all accommodate queer people and their visions for weddings/events?
Ainsley: There are a lot of ways we accommodate queer folks, not only in their vision for their love parties but in the wedding industry at large.
First, we are very intentional about ensuring queer couples are featured on our social media channels and website. The wedding industry is still super straight + cisgendered centered, which is absolute BS. Queer folks get married all the time, and lucky for us, we get to work with a lot of them! Love is love, and we want to celebrate it.
Second, we always ask for folks’ pronouns, and share our own (just because someone calls themselves a bride doesn’t mean they’ll use she/her pronouns!). We also let our couples identify with the words that feel right for them - when filling out our forms, we ask our couples to choose “Bride”, “Groom”, or “Individual A/B” and label their wedding party with terms like “Brides Person”, “Friend of Honor”, or “Groom Squad”. When we find a gender neutral word for the person getting married, we’ll be THRILLED to add that to the mix!
Lastly, we make no assumptions in the planning process. Seriously, we mean it - none. We’re just getting to know our couples as we jump into this planning process together, and besides, our job (literally) is to help make their love-party spectacular and smooth and a super fun time. We offer guidance based on our expertise in the field, not opinions on what people should wear, how their ceremony should go, what words should be said, who they walk down the aisle with, or if there’s even an aisle at all!
For queer folks specifically, we don’t assume that they will want to fit into the heterosexual stereotype of what a wedding “should be”. The image of weddings has been painted with such strict roles, and we’ve found a lot of planners will assume that queer couples will mimic what straight folks are expected to fill. This completely erases the fact that queerness can - and DOES - exist outside of heteronormativity. As the generation of queer people who are now getting married grew up with little representation (which still strongly exists in the wedding industry), we often have to make up the rules of life as we go because we’ve never been shown how we could do it or if we could do it at all. So when we start the conversation with our couples about their day, we make sure to tell them that we’re rebels through and through, and rebels LOVE to break the rules.
We know we're all about the queer people, that's our demographic, but what other types of individuals seek out your alternative love parties?
Amy: When I was first starting, I remember reading articles on starting a business. There was a lot of emphasis on “branding.” At the time, I didn’t really get it - I thought it was some bullshit to craft a narrative to sell someone something. I didn’t have a brand. I just had a business. But over time, as Modern Rebel’s journey unfolded, I started to realize we had built a strong brand by saying openly on our website NO PLANTATION WEDDINGS and telling couples to f*ck wedding diets on our instagram! It allowed us to attract amazingly diverse and cool couples and we created a community that way - one we all desperately needed! That said - no two love parties are the same. For some of our straight couples, they want an offbeat, untraditional event. Some cis-straight women don’t feel like “brides” at all even though they’ve been sort of brainwashed since birth to obsess over weddings. Or, some have really intense families and need an ally in their planning process. A lot of our straight grooms are really excited and more involved than their partners and want to feel heard and understood. Our couples identify as religious, non-religious, come from multicultural backgrounds and have sometimes two or three languages intermixed into the ceremony, they’re feminist, environmentalists, varying socioeconomic levels, etc. - they are lawyers, doctors, tech nerds, writers, fashion industry experts, entrepreneurs, mixologists, actors, bloggers, photographers, non-profit execs, and the list goes on. They all have two things in common - 1) they’re all pretty down to earth and 2) they’re getting married first and throwing a wedding second.
What are the worst parts of the gendered/hetero-normative wedding industry that you wish would go away forever?
Chelsa: I know this is a sweet moment for many, but I really, really cringe it comes to talk about being “given away” or “handed off” to their new spouse. I am absolutely not anyone’s property up for dowry bartering. I run my life 24/7, 365 without anyone holding my hand, so no worries everyone, I think I can handle getting myself down a 20-foot walking path. Also, garter removal and tossing, please let this barbaric tradition die.
Anything else you wanna tell us about? Ready, go.
Ainsley: I still think it’s crazy that I’m doing this interview with y’all! I was a FLAVNT fan (and proud Pretty Boy!) for several years before I even worked for Modern Rebel. So when Amy mentioned she was going out to Austin, FLAVNT immediately came to mind as someone she should reach out to because, while we operate in different industries, both companies are working to disrupt the status quo in our fields. We both have a social impact element, and believe that representation matters so freakin’ much. To be talking with y’all is not something I ever imagined, and to be budding gender-bending engaged clothing partners is a literal dream come true.
Amy: Thanks so much for all y’all do ! We are such big fans. :) Also, maybe an announcement at the bottom that we’re launching DC and LA locations in the fall and that we offer balloon design + installations in NYC and Austin. Just so we keep folks up to date!
Chelsa: I wear a size M shirt “wink, wink”...