Sapna Magazine Archives

The Archives 2004-2020

Wedding Planners: Adding the South Asian Touch

The wedding industry is critical to South Asians. With numerous sangeets, mendhis, and receptions to arrange, it is a tough calling to prepare for each event with bravado and class. SAPNA met up with a team that pulls together weddings for South Asians in the Northeast – from the clothing designs and make up, down to the flower arrangements. The team is led by Rizwana Ahmed and Nadia Shah. Rizwana is the lead designer for the wedding arrangements, while Nadia works exclusively on clothing designs for the wedding party. We decided to follow the team through three weeks of preparing for a season of mendhis in July, as the season for weddings this year has been August.


Bridal parties want things done their way, within their budget, with the expertise of a wedding planner – but without letting go of their own ideas. In the first week, I watched Rizwana meet with the bride and her parents regarding her upcoming mendhi party. “It is difficult to accommodate the bride’s wishes within the budget provided by many South Asians. They want us to arrange a DJ, have a divan for the bride and groom, and decorate the hall as if it was a scene from Devdas – all within $1000. It is often unrealistic, and it’s important to state that out front.” This bridal party was no different, they suggested the theme of Devdas but were told the heavy cost of such an endeavor.

“The Devdas theme is overdone, everyone wants the same thing. We try to move the bridal party towards different themes based on their wants and needs. We want their guests to remember the beauty of the mendhi,” says Rizwana.

They finally decided on a more traditional “sindhi” theme, at which point the conversation shifted to Nadia’s forte. They discussed the different types of outfits possible, and on the spot Nadia incorporated the bride’s ideas with her own conceptualization of the bridal party. “We want the girls to wear bandani chooridaars in different shades, to portray solidarity within the bridal party. The guys would wear kurta shalwars in complimenting shades, with a bandani chonri to pull the bridal party together,” says Nadia.

“Themes are very important. These days the trend is toward ‘color’ themes, but many of them still want more traditional themes. That’s what makes planning the outfits so much fun – versatility based on each family,” explained Nadia.


“Dealing with Pakistani tailors is NOT easy. Especially when wedding orders come in with so late,” says Nadia as she collected her sketches for another upcoming anniversary party for the Shah family in Virginia (yep, I hired them to work on a party for me). Meanwhile Rizwana finalized the decorations for the Shah party, “What’s on my mind is the Anniversary party – it’s next week. We have the floral arrangements and the cake ready, but we need to bring in the family for a clothes fitting. It’s a surprise party, so the mother thinks that the fitting is for a family friend’s wedding.”

When the mother walked in, Nadia provided her with a seafoam green banarsi sari, “The color makes her look younger, which is exactly what we want for a 25 th wedding anniversary. Nobody wants to look old – they want everyone to compliment them on how young they look.”

The next step was dressing me up – which made me quite nervous because it was a rust lengha that I was not sure about. But, Nadia put me at ease by making my cousins get dressed up first in various outfits of their choice that Nadia had designed on her trip to Pakistan. “Her clothing is extremely versatile. She meets each person individually to get an idea of their personality, on which she bases her design. So nobody looks like a cookie cutter image of another,” says another client, Anna Alam.

Happy with our fitting session, I allowed Nadia and Rizwana to continue with their busy mendhi-season preparations.


While working on four weddings, Nadia and Rizwana had managed to pull together a seamless anniversary party to be held in Virginia. From the stage décor to the clothing design of the family, they had paid attention to the colors and cultures. The theme they had chosen was “Memories,” complete with a slideshow created by the kids. All of the couple’s sisters wore saris, while the nephews wore suits, and the nieces wore various outfits per their taste. During the party, Rizwana calmly made sure that the party went smoothly, while Nadia carried around safety pins and emergency make up, “You never know when a client is going to have a wardrobe malfunction. And I’m always prepared to prevent any such embarrassment.”


Both Nadia and Rizwana focus on tailoring each party and wedding to the needs of their clients. “The most difficult part is dealing with the budget issue. Weddings are not inexpensive endeavors, especially when they are professionally organized, and often South Asian’s forget that,” says Rizwana. “We have a flat rate that we charge for our services, not including the costs of the labor and materials. Additionally, our clients usually pay to have us fly out to Pakistan or India to get the bridal wear tailored for the brides and their families.”


    1. Try to find a South Asian wedding planner who not only does the décor, but also the clothes. American wedding planners often do not understand the constraints on desi weddings, nor the amount of bravado.
    2. Make a realistic budget. Take into consideration the fee of the wedding planner, as well as the cost of the wedding.
    3. Work with your planner to come up with innovative ideas for your wedding and the surrounding parties/sangeets. Try to stray away from planners who provide you typical themes – otherwise your wedding will be the same as the five other people getting married in your area.
    4. Make sure you get your make up TESTED! That is key. We provide a make up artist and she does a make up test not only for the bride, but any other member of the party that wishes to get their make up done. Do not trust anyone to do it the day of the event only. This is the day of your life – shine your inner self!
    5. Consider the financial restraints of your family and friends, do not require them to wear outfits that are $400 each – unless you are paying for each outfit yourself and are comfortable with that.

— Benish Shah