The second edition of the Kenya Wedding Awards took place this week, aimed at recognising great service providers in the wedding business and bringing industry players together. NJERI MAINA caught up with the event’s co-founder DIANA NEKESA, 30, on her journey in the field, that spans 13 years
It’s a cool midmorning, as we make our way across town, for our interview with Diana Nekesa, co-founder of Kenya Wedding Awards and owner of Galina Reflections, an event styling and planning company.
At exactly 10 minutes to midday, she calls. We are supposed to meet at noon, and Diana is simply confirming the particular room we are to be meeting in. Not only is the entrepreneur punctual, she is also down-to-earth and easy to talk to.
Diana grew up in Nairobi and attended Racecourse Primary School. She would later join Apostle Carmel Girls High School and completed in 2005, after which she proceeded to Kenya Institute of Management to pursue a course in procurement.
While in her second year there, she learnt about event management and managed to convince her parents to pay for her event training, by promising that she would do her best and was more than capable of handling both courses. Fortunately, they agreed and she joined Western College of Hospitality and Professional Studies (Wechaps), which heralded her journey into weddings and events.
This was like a dream come true, as she was quite artistic as a kid. She really loved aesthetics, be it beautiful photographs or picturesque spaces. She was in the second class of the school and was so good that she was called back to be an administrator. She would be a lecturer and school administrator for three years before striking out to forge her own path.
Diana immediately delved into the world of event and wedding planning under Galina, her company formed in 2006. She launched a digital wedding magazine five years later in 2011, that showcased different services that a couple planning a wedding would need, accompanied by some tips.
She still loved flowers with a passion and would come up with different flower arrangements through trial and error and online research. She later stopped event planning to concentrate on event styling, with her décor ideas running the gamut from simple floral arrangements to more themed set-ups.
“While I was planning weddings and corporate as well as personal events, I realised they all looked the same. Flowers were done in the same age-old City Market way.
Not that there is anything wrong with that, but I wanted to curate something different – event décor that spoke about the brand’s or person’s personality; something unique to them. Flowers that danced, with no one bouquet looking like the other,” Diana explains.
In the past six years, Galina has grown to be a force to be reckoned with in the events space, and has a flower school as well as an event styling and décor school. Diana is keen on paying it forward and ensuring events are different from each other, one flower arrangement at a time.
She holds floral and event styling workshops every two months. The workshops run for a month, in which time the students are equipped with skills on unique décor solutions even though the inspiration and the items used are the same. The students are taught how to arrange flowers, strategically place them, and how to interpret the client’s vision and give them what they want using flowers and other unique props and ideas.
Meanwhile, the entrepreneur had been mulling over the idea of introducing a platform that would bring together wedding service providers. One day, over tea with a friend and colleague, Kenneth Muchune, he verbalised his idea that was geared towards streamlining and recognising great service providers in the wedding industry, an event gala that would vet, award and bring industry players together with a view of raising standards in the business.
The idea was identical to Diana’s, and the two friends laughed about how great minds think alike, and birthed Kenya Wedding Awards, whose inaugural edition ran last year in May.
They had previously worked together on several events with Ken as the MC and Diana on décor, and had even partnered to give one lucky couple a fully catered for wedding. This, a business partnership to spur forward an industry they both loved, seemed a fitting culmination of a long friendship and the beginning of yet another journey.
Diana counts every successful event, presser and also Galina class as a win, and this was just one of the highlights in her career. “This year’s event had a higher attendance compared to last year, which was supported by industry players such as catering teams, while this year, corporates came on board.
In every career, we keep moving forward in part because of highlights in our career that replenish the energy we pour into our passion. Equipping every member in our workshops with skills that will help them flourish in their careers is always a highlight for me. Seeing people grow is humbling.
There is enough cake to go around, especially if you are skilled. Event-styling media personality Janet Mbugua’s wedding was also a major highlight for me,” she adds.
And what would she say about getting into a field with other established industry forces such as Samantha Bridal? “I like healthy competition as it pushes me to be better. I look forward to when industry players can collaborate to deliver on big projects so that corporates do not have to outsource from South Africa,” she says.
As with any industry, there are obstacles, and one of the challenges the entrepreneur has experienced in the décor business is what she finds to be unrealistic expectations from clients. “People should learn that Pinterest is an inspiration tool.
A client may want event décor that is exactly as they saw on the discovery social platform, not considering that the image maybe from another continent where there are different flowers and materials. Clients should be flexible and understand that, as much as we will do our best to bring out the idea, some materials may not be available locally,” Diana elaborates.
The other major challenge, she says, is that people do not take it as a serious career. Many believe it is an easy job with high returns, something to dabble in as you figure out what to do with your life, be it immediately after school or right after retirement.
“Event styling is hard, but a worthwhile venture. It is a niche career just like being a teacher, lawyer or doctor. Everyone, especially new entrants into the field, need to know this, so that we can all compete on a level playing field without besmirching the industry’s name,” she notes.
No matter which industry one is in, entrepreneurs largely encounter the same issues and can therefore draw strength from each other’s experiences, and for Diana, it has been a 13-year long journey packed with lessons.
“Always offer your client a unique and different solution to whatever their problem is. Whether it is a service or a product, ensure your client can choose you again if they were faced with the same problem,” she advises.
Again, the creative is a firm believer in always doing the best in everything one delves into. She feels that one should learn and hunt down the skills they think they need, preferably by getting an education, whether in the formal curriculum or through apprenticeship.
She believes that no skills or education is ever wasted, as even in her case, she applies some skills from her procurement course, such as when she’s purchasing and writing invoices for items she needs in her businesses.
Diana also preaches the importance of great customer service and communication geared towards making the client feel secure even in the middle of a crisis, especially in the middle of a crisis.
“In the course of any business, there might be unforeseen circumstances. If the tent collapses, for instance, do you cry together with the bridal party? If your client shouts at you and storms off, do you shout back and tell them good riddance?
You will need to be patient and cultivate people skills in both yourself and your team, so that you are always professional, whether faced with an unanticipated situation in the form of nasty people or environmental factors or stock outage, or just in the normal course of business. Stay on top of your business as well as your emotions,” advises the mother of one.
Her child is three and a half years old, and Diana says she purposes to spend time with her family. “I have learnt how to delegate, so I don’t have to sacrifice either the business or family,” she concludes.