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The idea came about back in 2010, when Khalil felt overwhelmed helping plan her sister Leila's wedding. Although the siblings worked together at Leila's bridal publicity firm, Be Inspired PR, they were still at a loss when it came to putting together their own event. "If it’s this difficult for my sister, who is very well-connected and in PR and has relationships with designers and planners, what is it like for the average couple?" she said. "I was shocked at how little resources there were." Khalil, who studied entrepreneurship at USC, set up a domain name Lover.ly — inspired by My Fair Lady — with a note that said "Coming soon. We’re going to be changing the wedding industry."
The site has since grown to 15 full-time employees, and features inspiration and tips for every wedding event from the rehearsal dinner to the post-wedding brunch. Loverly also runs a shop with commerce ideas powered by searches from the site’s users, who tend to be women (89% of users are female) between 25 and 34 — half of whom are engaged brides-to-be. This summer, Khalil published The Loverly Wedding Planner, a comprehensive workbook that breaks down planning milestones with examples from real couples.
Khalil talked to Racked about bridal trends, how she got her idea off the ground, changes in the wedding industry over the three and a half years since she started the company, and what, if anything, will replace the mason jar in terms of reception decor.
How did you get your name out there when you started Loverly?
Coming from the PR bridal world, I knew that building a brand was very, very important. What I learned with working with my sister was that the times were changing, it wasn’t like having your ad in a traditional magazine was most important.
What was really important was building a social media presence and an influencer network. That’s where we focused on finding really great content partners like the wedding bloggers that we work with, building our presence on social media, putting out content and hanging out online where our brides are. They’re on Instagram, they’re on Facebook, they’re on Pinterest. We want to be where they are. That’s really how we began this, sort of a grassroots effort. Loverly still hasn’t spent anything on marketing. It’s all been organic growth in the last three years.
How is Loverly different from other wedding planning tools out there like Pinterest?
We’re big fans of Pinterest. We use it as a platform to share inspiration with our audience. The big difference is we’re going really deep into this category. We write editorial content three to five times a day. We also have products that are custom to us that you can purchase on Loverly. We use data on what people are clicking, searching, and sharing across social media to write original content and to curate content. I would say Pinterest is the top of the funnel and we go all the way down, through offering you guidance on registry and wedding websites and that sort of thing.
Of the data you gathered, has there been any wedding dress style that’s really been popular with your users?
The thing about bridal is that they’re all evolving trends. However, they don’t evolve as quickly as you would see in couture fashion or fast fashion. There are two trends that are happening in the last six to 12 months.
The first thing I would say would be separates. Crop top wedding gowns have been super popular, the two pieces are more casual, they’re a little more fun.
"I would say Pinterest is the top of the funnel and we go all the way down, through offering you guidance on registry and wedding websites."
The other thing I would say is brides opting for pantsuits or bridal jumpsuits for wedding-related events, or bridesmaids wearing pantsuits. I was actually in a wedding in February where all the bridesmaids wore cute little jumpsuits.
What about decor? What’s the new mason jar?
First of all, everyone still loves mason jars. I’ve heard people say that they’re sick of them, but when you’re newly engaged, it’s new to you.
A really big trend is unique cake cutters, so laser cut cake toppers are really popular. Brides and grooms getting cute little custom sayings put on the the top of the cake, then you keep them afterwards and use them as decor in your home.
Is there something surprising that brides are searching on Loverly?
One of the things that I think is really interesting that is one of our number one search terms is "playlist for your wedding." Getting ideas for cake cutting songs or first dance songs or father-daughter dance songs or songs to walk down the aisle to. People want songs that are really special to them, that are timeless, but they also want it to be current. That’s something people struggle with, so we have playlists that we update all the time.
Do you use data you’ve learned from these searches to power your e-commerce shop? What are the best sellers in the shop?
Definitely. When we launched commerce, we looked at what was trending as far as colors and more global trends. We partnered with a couple brands that align with our aesthetic and used color and style data to launch those collections.
The other thing that we integrated into our commerce offering is engagement mugs. I was on my own personal Instagram browsing and I saw so many of my friends getting engaged, I saw that people were using Instagram to announce their engagement. What we thought was, "wouldn’t it be cute if we made little gifting mugs with cute little sayings that brides could use to announce their engagements?" And one of our top sellers to date is this cute little mug that says "Does this ring make me look engaged" and it points to your left hand.
You have all these tools online, why did you decide to go old-school and have a paper book?
One of the things about wedding planning is it’s still very much a tactile, offline experience. We wanted to have our product extend from digital to offline in a way that we know brides are consuming content still. We also wanted to be a little interactive. The book is available digitally, and the digital version links to different parts of the site and has a whole glossary of amazing resources from some of our partner wedding websites and bloggers.
I still love to write things down, there’s something really nice about checking things off a list. We wanted to have a great gift you could give any engaged couple, a bride or a groom. It’s kind of like a coffee table book, but it’s interactive with a workbook element to it. It’s a great thing to bring to your appointments with your wedding vendors to keep organized. It’s a print-friendly guide you can take with you anywhere.
I know you wrote a whole book, but is there one piece of advice that really sticks out when you’re planning a wedding?
"It’s not all about Barbie and Ken-looking couples. There are all sorts of couples and we want to be accepting of all of them."
I think the most important thing that I want all couples to know, and it’s a theme that we stress throughout the book and something that we’re passionate about here at Loverly, is that your wedding day is really about you and your significant other and your family coming together. If your flowers don’t end up being the exact color you want, or the lighting wasn’t exactly right, don’t sweat the small stuff. Enjoy the day.
What has changed most in the wedding industry since you started?
I think the most exciting, ground-breaking development is equality. All couples can get married now, which is something at Loverly that we are very, very excited about. It’s about time. We’ve always been very inclusive in the way that we tell our stories and content. It’s not all about Barbie and Ken-looking couples. There are all sorts of couples and we want to be accepting of all of them.
I think the focus on personalization and experience has also been another trend. Couples care more about their guest experiences and creating something that everyone can enjoy. We’re seeing fewer guests invited to the wedding and brides spending more per guest, [instead of] having 500 people at the wedding.
Another trend: 70% of couples are already living together. So when it comes to registries and thinking about what they want as gifts, a lot them [aren't] focused on getting a mixer. They’re more focused on experiences, whether having their friends and family actually contribute to their wedding costs, or registering for their honeymoon or even for a major life purchase, like a down payment on a home. We address this in the book as well. I know it’s a little harder for moms and dads and previous generations to grasp that. But the reality is, you’re already living together and you don’t need more stuff.
What’s your favorite thing about running your own business?
The good thing and the bad thing about running a business is that it’s hard. While I think a lot of people glamorize the fact that you’re running your own business and make it seem like it’s super awesome, the reality is is that 50% of the time it’s great, 50% of the time it’s really hard. But that challenging part is really what creates the big reward. Seeing the product launch, seeing it evolve, seeing how over time we’ve impacted real brides, it’s really rewarding.
What’s next for Loverly?
The book release is our big splash for the summer. We are focused on an updated version of the site in the next couple weeks, it’s going to be a lot more mobile-friendly. We’re seeing a lot of brides planning on the go, so we’re really optimizing the site for that. We’re always listening, and I would say every quarter we roll out something fun and new. This quarter it’s our book, and we’ve got some other things in the works for January 2016!