“The little picture of giving back, is just as important as the big picture.” – Danielle Calhoun

April showers may bring May flowers, but it also marks the start of wedding season. A time to celebrate love and family. A time to celebrate new beginnings.

And thanks to Danielle Calhoun of Black Sheep Bride, wedding season can now be a time to celebrate love, family, new beginnings AND giving back. Danielle founded Black Sheep Bride as a way to connect couples, wedding vendors, and causes to make a difference.

Danielle works with each bride to create a unique wedding experience that supports the causes and ideals of the couple. Added bonus? Every vendor who partners with Black Sheep Bride has a give back initiative as part of their business model as well.

As this week’s WCW Spotlight, Danielle shares what inspired her to take the leap with Black Sheep Bride and why creating a way to give back in one of the most extravagant industries is so important to her.

Me: How did you come up with the idea to combine the wedding event planning business, one known to be incredibly extravagant, with a give back initiative?  

Danielle: Out of pure frustration and recognizing a opportunity to be met within the wedding world, actually. Spending so much time in the wedding life, I often saw missed chances to use wedding planning for good, whether it was leftover trashed food, wasted money, flowers, etc…. I noticed no one was really caring about the impact weddings were making, in a negative light, so I started sharing impact in a positive light and it just took off from there.

Me: Where did the name Black Sheep Bride come from?

Danielle: I came home from my first trip to Burkina Faso (West Africa) and I was talking to a wedding photographer peer about my idea to start a blog devoted to wedding stories, vendors and products that give back and she was truly concerned my concept wasn’t going to be well received. She said at the end of my informal pitch, ‘I just don’t think that the wedding industry is going to understand what you are trying to get them to follow’ and my response was ‘Then I guess I will have to be the Black Sheep’ … It has stuck ever since! We want people to break the rules, stand out, and challenge status quo by giving back and being more intentional with their wedding planning process!

Me: Before taking on this incredible mission, what did you do?

Danielle: Before Black Sheep Bride came to be, I was a wedding and portrait photographer! Prior to wedding photography I worked for Coca-Cola Refreshments for 7 years as a corporate trainer/instructional designer and sales supervisor.

Me: Has giving back always been a part of your life? Or something that developed later in life?

Danielle: When I was young I was raised fairly lower income. Most of childhood and adolescence was filled with second hand clothes, the occasional food pantry visit at a church, and Christmas gift collections from my mom’s co-workers; however, we never hurt for anything, I never had much either, but even at that young age, I was always very passionate about helping others. I was in Girl Scouts from about 6-12 and I like to believe a large majority of my character was built during those weekend service projects. So when I was old enough to make my own decisions, I fundraised to go to South Africa for 3 months and help teach in the squatter camps back in 2004 (I was 18). It ignited my passion that much further and set the path before me for adulthood.

Me: How has the bridal and wedding community reacted to you shaking up the wedding business? Do you find with brides and vendors one is more excited than the other about your initiative?  Or have you been equally embraced by both?

Danielle: At first it wasn’t well received, but I realized I was in the wrong places… I needed to get my concept out to the masses in the markets that understood my concept best, so I put my efforts in cities like Atlanta, NYC, LA, Denver, and it caught like wildfire, now those markets that didn’t want to start the trend are following behind the other markets.

Me: If someone wanted to have a Black Sheep Bride wedding, how would she (or he) go about planning one?

Danielle: Here are few simple ways to start the socially conscious wedding planning process:

  • Invest in vendors that give back to the community with their time, product or profit. You can find #VendorsThatGiveBack on our directory.
  • Incorporate fashion, gifts, or products that were fair trade, social enterprise, ethical, or charitable in nature.
  • Use a portion of their wedding planning to donate to charity of your choice.
  • Value up-cycled, locally sourced, thrifted options for your decor to help reduce waste.
  • Incorporate waste-less components into the wedding waste process. Examples: Donating leftover food, flowers, decor, composting, recycling, only using local/seasonal goods and services, etc.
  • Use your daily love story to invest in giving back to the community and world. Examples: speak up for things that matter to you, volunteer together, advocate for non-profits, etc.

Me: Taking on a business like this is all consuming. How do you balance everything – being an social entrepreneur, photographer, mom, and wife?

Danielle: With a lot of grace and the occasional breakdown. HA! Black Sheep Bride is in a super interesting phase of growth, where I am running out of hours in the day to be all things I am, thankfully, I have a support system that helps pick up the slack. Generally, I can tell when work is taking me over and I have to step away and take my kids out for a day trip or something. It’s a constant battle for balance.

Me: What is one of the most surprising things you’ve learned through this experience? What about the most rewarding?
Danielle: Most surprising thing I’ve learned…. people really aren’t educated enough to care about conscious consumerism and its very market specific. Fashion is a good example of this. Most trends in fashion are born out of LA or NYC, and then it could take months, if not years for those concepts/designs/styles to make their way into main-stream America. Starting something new, requires a lot of push back, before people start receiving it! They have to be educated over and over again on their individual importance for the idea to finally connect.

Most rewarding thing I’ve experienced…. watching the wedding vendor community Black Sheep Bride created grow and thrive in ways I never would have expected. We have a growing group of social enterprise brands and wedding professionals that have truly embraced the concept and impact their businesses have within the wedding realm and have worked soooo collaboratively together, it has left me humbled beyond belief.

Me: How have you seen your passion for social responsibility reflected in your daily life, thanks to Black Sheep Bride?

Danielle: Absolutely! Black Sheep Bride was conceived out of my passion for social responsibility and giving back, it was a natural evolution from personal life to professional pursuits. It is fun to have this personal passion catapulted to a platform/audience on such a large scale.

Me: Has being so heavily entrenched in social responsibility affected the way you raise your two boys?

Danielle: Definitely. However, my boys are still small, 5 & 7, we have already began actively talking to them about how they can impact others in little ways. Every time I go out of town to photograph a humanitarian project or talk to vendors, they know I am going to help other peoples.

Me: Through Black Sheep Bride, you work with so many different brands that support a variety of different causes. Do you have a cause that is especially close to your heart?

Danielle: I have always had a pretty significant heart for orphan relief, but I also have a passion for artisan empowerment projects (to help prevent orphans), as well as special needs programs.

Me: What is the one piece of advice you would to share with someone who wants to follow in your footsteps by of using their own unique talents and life experiences to give back?  

Danielle: Guard your heart with humility and reverence for all you’ve been given. It is incredibly common for me to hear people say they became jaded through the process of helping others, gotten burnt, or became hopeless because the global system is so flawed, but you have to step up and look at it moment by moment, person by person. The little picture of giving back, is just as important as the big picture.

Connect with Danielle and keep with up Black Sheep Bride on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.