Updated: Apr 23, 2019
This week the amazing people champion Ava founder of LGBTQ Equality Weddings talks all about her journey from Lawyer to founder and the realities of running a business.
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Ava Korwin and I am a 30-something inclusivity champion. I am queer, pansexual, bisexual, any of those or all three and I am married to a CIS het man who has a 9 year old with whom I share a special bond. By day, actually, for 18 hours a day, I run LGBTQ Equality Weddings. We provide inclusivity language review services, predominantly to wedding businesses, to attempt to break down assumptions, stereotypes, and to ensure that the business is including all identities in its general business marketing. We help make a business a safe space for all potential customers whilst at the same time, adding real value to a business and helping them win diverse clients. We mainly cover LGBTQ+ inclusivity but ensure we touch on the very basics of race and mental health inclusivity too (by consulting with the formidable Nova Reid of Nu Bride), as well as tackling ableist language as we go.
That's the core of our business and once a supplier has equality proofed their main business language, we robustly recommend them on our website and social media, as well as in person. This is sincere and because we get to know our clients properly so I don't really like to call us a directory but I suppose we are of sorts because couples can come to us and search for their dream wedding team from suppliers where #youdontneedtoaskhere and by that, we mean that a couple don't need to ask, 'do you do gay weddings', or ask any question at all about whether their identity will be welcome.
You'll have to tell me to stop because i could talk all day about this work. It goes on! We offer 1:1 telephone consultancy support on all areas of inclusivity in LGBTQ+ matters with one, and almost two, very experienced recruits who have specialist trans inclusion knowledge. It's an exciting time because there are so few, probably around 10, trans specialists in this country, and we have one with us, and one joining us very soon! It's an honour to be able to work with experts and provide these services to small business owners who are so often overlooked by large diversity and inclusion consultancy firms (and charities too) - we aim to be accessible and to stay that way because we see the power in working with thousands and thousands of small businesses over a couple of large ones.
Right, I am nearly done. We also collaborate with our suppliers and so far, we have introduced two new gender-neutral wedding party card ranges, 'Will you be in my 'I Do' Crew?' and 'Will you be my Mate of Honour' for those people who don't relate to bridal party, bridesmaid, maid of honour, groomsmen, or best man. We have another incredibly exciting project in the pipeline that gives a little nod to Ben Hunte, the BBC's first LGBT correspondent - that's all I can share for now.
What inspired/motivated you to create your business?
I was a solicitor and spent 14 years in the legal industry. It actually nearly destroyed me. There was homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexism, and all kinds of prejudice everywhere I turned. Being outspoken and one to not accept this for myself or those around me (or anyone, anywhere), I challenged it, a lot. I ended up having my career destroyed for choosing ethics over personal gain and I never thought I'd come back from it. I did and that's because Equality Weddings was born. It started out as a free service alongside my 'accidental' wedding planning business - that's another story. It was designed to show couples who was inclusive to save them having to come out over and over again and especially to save them from all the stereotypes and heteronormativity that pervaded the wedding industry.
I did it for myself too. I have a lot of straight passing privilege and planning my wedding and getting married weren't great experiences for me. I was expected to be a 'bride', people assumed that I was straight because they just saw a man and a woman, I was expected to take my husband's name (if I loved him) and so on. I tried to conform and it made me miserable. My married life started out as a lie (not to my husband but through my attempt to concede to society's view of a wedding/marriage). I don't want anyone, LGBTQ+ or otherwise to start their married life, or a life of union, because marriage is not for everyone, feeling this way. I want to encourage suppliers to stop assuming and to start handing the power to the couples they work with to create a day that really is about them, so that they may start their married life as authentically as possible. I want to help inspire change.
What advice would you give others wanting to start a business?
No-one prepares you for the isolation. No-one prepares you for the overwhelm. I would say do your research. Don't just jump in. Fact gather. How do you design content, what is marketing, what laws impact me (this is crucial and luckily I knew this as a lawyer but so few businesses realise that consumer legislation impacts them, data protection legislation, equality legislation, and so on). Have a clear idea of how you will structure your days and structure in self-care. Try and work in public spaces because you will soon fall into the habit of getting up at 6am (enthusiastic and excited to be your own boss) and not move until 7pm, and still be in your pyjamas (I'd like to think you've brushed your teeth but who knows?). This isn't good for anyone's mind. Balance is key.
What have you learnt on your journey as a business owner?
Oh wow. I cannot tell you how much I have learnt. I have skills now that I never imagined I would have. I built a website and all that goes with it, I do my own marketing, I've created an E-Book, I have had lots of gender related training, I have met so many inspiring people, yourself included, and I have learnt first and foremost, in my isolation, that there are so many amazing people out there just waiting to add value to your life and business.
I have also learnt my worth. I started out as a free resource until tokenism became a problem. I then started to charge and met lots of hostility (because apparently my emotional and professional labour should be free?) so I have learnt to set boundaries, to value my time and energy and to reach out for support when I needed it.
What has been the toughest challenge being your own boss? Being in such a high position?
Getting out of the house. It's the isolation. I love my job so much and I wear so many hats; writer, reviewer, consultant, marketer, lawyer, accountant, that I sometimes don't leave the house for a week. When you get into this routine, it's hard to break it. It can also be overwhelming because you have so many jobs to do that you don't have time to properly develop your thought process and brain storm. I'd love to have an office one day where my clients can rock up, set up shop, and brain storm their ideas. I like people. I need more people in my life and I am still working on this.
What is the best thing about being your own boss?
This is easy. Creating work and opportunities for others. I don't monopolise the space I have worked hard to create. I see an opening and I go out into the world and I find someone who can compliment my work and vision, someone who might benefit from my audience, and I don't shy away because we might potentially be competitors, I invite them in, I present them to my audience, I celebrate them and together, we effect change. I was never ever able to have so much influence over curating teams like this as a lawyer. So often, the best person was not picked for the job, people were overlooked because they didn't go to the right school, or because they were not white, or because they had regional accents, or working class backgrounds, yet they were inspiring and talented and I desperately wanted to learn from them. Now I can and I do and I am not sure there's anything better than having the ability to do that.
Seven random facts about yourself
1. I used to have a forklift truck licence
2. I got a distinction at law school
3. I spent a week in the Big Brother House when I was 21
4. I could eat jar after jar of mini pickled onions
5. I helped raise £1.4 million for Save the Children
6. I trained in rape and sexual abuse counselling
7. I've skydived twice and bungee jumped once
Or via her website where you can find some great inclusive wedding items and more
To celebrate women in business I've launched a series called #FemaleBossFeature
Each week I will introduce a woman in business who will share what they do, how they do it, what they've learnt and share a piece of advice for those wanting to start their own business. To get involved please contact me here.