The spring issue of The Knot features Andrea Pitter, founder and designer of Pantora Bridal.

In an effort to bolster underrepresented, wedding-related businesses, the Knot Worldwide is launching a fellowship program and marketplace diversity filters.

Twenty-nine percent of Black-owned small businesses and only 50 percent of Latinx-owned small businesses that apply for business loans from large banks receive approval, whereas 60 percent of white-owned small businesses do, according to data from the Brookings Institution.

Thirty fellows will be chosen for the company’s eight-month “Fellowship for Change” program, which will offer mentoring, networking, career advancement opportunities and advertising on The Knot and WeddingWire for underrepresented wedding professionals in the early stages of their careers. Debuting next month, the program is being created by WeddingPro, The Knot Worldwide’s business-to-business brand that connects small businesses with engaged couples. Candidates must be in their first five years of business, and identify as Black, African American, Latinx, Hispanic, American Indian, Asian, native Hawaiian, Other Pacific Islanders, LGBTQ, female or veterans.

On another front, underrepresented wedding professionals have the option to self-identify within The Knot Marketplace and WeddingWire vendor directory using storefront badges and diversity filters. Shoppers will be able to browse for Asian-owned, Black-owned, Hispanic or Latinix-owned, LGBTQ-owned, Native American-owned, veteran-owned and female-owned. The filters will launch next month.

Citing how diversity has always been a priority for The Knot Worldwide, Julie Mead, vice president of marketing, said, “We recognized as a company that inequality still exists industrywide, so we are committed to leveling the playing field and using our community and platform to provide education and opportunities for allyship.”

As for how the wedding industry perpetuates a fairy-tale dream that doesn’t exist for a lot of people, Mead said, “That’s something that we’ve been working to combat for quite a long time. On the business side of things, we work with leaders, meaning wedding professionals, who have made a career [of being] committed to helping to change that. We promote them and support their education on our platform in order to help change that.”

Kristen Maxwell Cooper, editor in chief of The Knot, said, “It is something that we think about a lot. We understand what the industry may seem like and how there are brands out there that may perpetuate this idea of what a wedding should be like. What we are here to do is to say, ‘A wedding should look however you think it should look to make sure it truly represents who you are as a couple, whoever you are, whoever you decide to love, however you decide to celebrate.’”

Trying to celebrate real couples is one reason The Knot moved away from featuring models on its covers to influencers and everyday people. Influencers that have platforms to tell stories about such topics as diversity, equity, inclusion and the LGBTQ community are of particular interest.

As for how many Black-owned companies are being added or will be accessible through the filter system, the executives said that number is not available yet, since the businesses have just been asked to identify themselves.

For the spring issue of The Knot magazine, Andrea Pitter, founder and designer of Pantora Bridal, is featured on the cover. She started her business at the age of 20, and it has grown from a 400-square-foot showroom to a 3,000-square-foot store. In that time, the size of the team has tripled and Pantora Bridal has connections with such retailers as Kleinfeld. Pitter will serve as a mentor to the fellowship program in order to help support other Black-owned businesses.

Cooper said, “She speaks a lot about how it’s not enough for stakeholders in the industry to showcase Black women. We also need to celebrate their thoughts, sentiments, culture and in everything we do to truly celebrate and cater to the Black community. It’s a very powerful message and one that needs to be talked about more and more. It’s not enough to showcase Black and underrepresented couples so that we are being inclusive and representative in other ways.”

Increasingly, couples including Gen-Z and couples who don’t identify as an underrepresented group are actively looking to support underrepresented businesses, according to The Knot executives. The diversity badges and filters are meant to help and encourage couples to “become allies to these communities and to help them find and hire diverse vendor teams,” they said.

The Knot executives were uncertain what percentage of the total vendors they represent.

Mead said, “What’s really important is that we are really looking to change the face of the industry over time and make sure that we are facilitating a change to create lasting positive change by making the wedding industry and our vendor community more representative of the population overall. That’s really the end goal,” adding that all of the initiatives “are in the spirit of awareness, advocacy, education and to combat the social inequalities that have been a part of our world and our industry.”

As of September, 35 percent of couples that had planned weddings between September and January have postponed their receptions. “There is a lot of optimism about the vaccine coming out and those types of things. We’re feeling optimistic as well,” Cooper said.

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