Growing up in the Caribbean, wedding planner JoAnne Brown was born into the world of entertaining. Her family was known to host some of the most prominent celebs and royalty of the time, including the likes of Prince Charles and Princess Margaret. It’s no surprise then that the Jamaican-born entrepreneur who now calls Cayman home has transformed her one-woman shop into a global sensation, receiving accolades like A-List Wedding Planner by Destination Weddings & Honeymoons magazine.
Her full-fledged production house, Celebrations Ltd., debuted in 1993 and is now the largest in the Caribbean, set in a 20,000-square-foot space in Cayman with an inventory of more than 300,000 décor pieces for rent. It’s this kind of scale that’s brought notoriety to the company, even impressing some of the industry’s top-name planners like Preston Bailey and Michelle Rago.
For Brown, this is more than a Cinderella story. Her passion and persistence is what helped fuel Celebrations Ltd. into the success that it is today, featured in magazines like Brides and The Knot, as well as on Travel Channel’s six-hour documentary series, “Weddings Away: Cayman Islands.” Not only is she caught on camera, Brown looked to some of the portraits from her favourite weddings over the years as a source of inspiration when compiling her latest book, Caribbean Wedding Style, set to be released later this year.
Cayman Airways Skies caught up with the planner and CEO to hear more about the evolution of both her business and the wedding industry in Cayman over the past 20 years.
How did you transform your company from home-based to a global business?
I certainly didn’t even think it was doable in the beginning. I think it was more about finding something I really enjoyed doing and also feeling like the business could make great impact on people’s lives. At the same time, there was a lot of seriously hard work and focus to get people’s attention.
What did you find lacking in the Cayman bridal market and how does Celebrations Ltd. fill that gap?
When I started, there were no wedding or event planners on the Island. That was one service I thought was lacking — someone to coordinate and pull an event together.
How have you seen the market evolve in the time since you started your business?
From being a small entity working on a couple weddings or events in a month, we have expanded into doing florals and rentals as well. The expansion has been huge; I started with myself and one other employee and now we have 38 full-time staff. We have laundry and floral departments; wedding and event planners; a design department; rentals. We kept adding, and as the Island evolved, we evolved with it.
Can you talk about your new book and what makes weddings in the Caribbean so unique?
There’s a story behind every single wedding, and I thought it would be cool to give a story behind the weddings I’ve done — which is probably in the thousands by this stage. I picked 19 of my favourites for the first book. It was my expression of my relationship and how the planning and design of the wedding went that propelled me to talk about Caribbean style. I wanted to showcase the Caribbean and the talent. This book was written by someone from the Caribbean who has been able to produce these weddings, so local talent got a bit of exposure.
What does Cayman offer couples that makes this destination truly a special one for weddings?
Weddings are so much about family, and every single wedding has its own needs. For me, Cayman is quiet, but at the same time very cosmopolitan. People can walk anywhere and do what they want, which is a huge benefit and comfort to people planning a destination wedding. Couples aren’t going to be worrying about entertaining guests all the time because they can entertain themselves. There’s so much to offer, from every type of food you can imagine (and it’s top class) to incredible beaches, hotels and private villas that are absolutely amazing.
If you could give one piece of advice to couples planning a destination wedding in Cayman, what would it be?
Think about the time of year you want to have your wedding. You can never know whether it will rain or shine anywhere, but you have to think about the timing, not so much to do with the weather but other things that affect a destination wedding (such as hotel rates, airfares, high season).
What trends are you seeing in the bridal market in Cayman for 2017 and how does this differ from what’s happening in other parts of the Caribbean?
I feel here that people are looking for more of the experience — a more customised experience — and luckily we are able as an Island to give that. From the minute you land to when you’re leaving you’re being treated to everything you can imagine. A lot of weddings happen in the rest of the Caribbean that are more cookie-cutter (and sometimes free) and that’s the difference between Cayman and the rest of the Caribbean — we are seen as more of a luxury type of wedding destination.
Author: Lane Nieset
Photographer: Martyn Poynor