Image: Sophie Creed and Fritz / Credit: Through the woods we ran

Something old, something new: the changing face of Cardiff’s wedding industry

Small businesses are finding more ethical and affordable options to help people celebrate their special day

Planning a wedding is no small feat, and it is not a cheap one, either — the wedding industry in Wales is a multi-million pound operation.

“It is a really important industry in Wales,” Eva Lekaj from Cardiff boutique Timeless Elegance Bridal said.

Small businesses in the industry were hit hard by the pandemic, when many weddings had to be put on hold due to lockdown measures. The rising cost of living and the greater demand have also changed where, how and why bridal parties spend their money.

I visited some of the independent businesses in Cardiff’s wedding industry to learn more about how they have adapted to the changes and trends which have taken place over the last few years.

Diamonds are a girl’s best friend?

Image: Jonathan David Jewellers / Credit: Megan Ballantyne

Jonathan David is a family-run business and the oldest independent jewellers in Cardiff, which dates back to 1896. It relies on a loyal customer base, and often people make their first contact with the shop when they come in to buy engagement rings or wedding bands. 

“A customer’s journey with us usually starts with a gentleman or partner coming to pick an engagement ring,” Sarah Taylor, sales assistant at Jonathan David said. 

“So if they buy their engagement ring it does tend that they come back to us to buy their wedding bands. 

“And because we are a small business we tend to get repeat customers once that journey has started.” 

Like almost all small businesses, Jonathan David noticed their business changing as a result of the cost-of-living crisis, but they have also noticed a trend of consumers making more ethical choices when choosing their engagement rings.

“This year, more than any year, lab-grown diamonds have become very popular for us because people are concerned about the ethics of mined diamonds and because they are at a price point which is more attractive than mined diamonds,” Sarah said.

“What we have also seen is quite a lot of ethically and cost-conscious people are looking at pre-owned. But I would say this year lab-growns and pre-owned have been much more popular than any others.” 

Lovespoons… ‘one of the oldest Welsh traditions

Image: Ceri Hytt from Castle Welsh Crafts / Credit: Megan Ballantyne

Just a five minute walk away, craftspeople are keeping up a Welsh tradition even older than this jewellers, if perhaps a little less grand — the crafting and carving of lovespoons. 

“It’s one of the oldest Welsh traditions,” Ceri Hytt from Castle Welsh Crafts said. 

“Peasantry men or sailors who didn’t have that much money but were really well-skilled would carve a love spoon as an engagement present or a token of affection for their loved one.

“Each symbol they carved would have a specific meaning. So if they carved a dragon they wanted to protect her, if they carved a love heart they loved her, if they carved wedding bells they wanted to marry her.” 

If they carved a dragon they wanted to protect her, if they carved a love heart they loved her, if they carved wedding bells they wanted to marry her.

Ceri Hytt, Castle Welsh Crafts

Nowadays, lovespoons are still strongly connected to Welsh wedding traditions. 
“Most people who buy them get them for weddings, engagements and anniversaries. They are a very popular gift for weddings these days.”

Say yes to the dress

Image: Sophie Creed / Credit: Through the woods we ran

Just down the road from Castle Welsh Crafts, I went to visit E and W Couture, set up by Sophie Creed in 2014. The boutique is tucked away on a first floor unit in Castle Street, with gorgeous views over Cardiff Castle, and when I arrive Sophie is hard at work sewing a dress in one of her two workrooms. 

“I started E and W Couture back in 2014,” she said. “Just for the alternative bride, so we do a lot of non-traditional wedding dresses, a lot of separates. We get brides who travel from all over the world and we stock all over the world. Everything is made here in our boutique in our two workrooms.” 

The brand also draws from Welsh heritage for its designs — the brand’s Hiraeth Collection was inspired by the Welsh landscape.

“The inspiration from the collection came from my years of living here and the beautiful landscape it has to offer. The collection was shot in Portmeirion for extra Welsh heritage.”

The boutique is also home to a beloved mini Dachshund called Fritz.

Sophie has noticed the cost of living changing her customers’ choices. While winter weddings used to be quite unpopular, Sophie told me that “there are definitely a lot more recently”. 

“I think it is becoming a lot more popular not only because it is cheaper over winter. I think also after Covid people went on to get married in the winter because a lot of the dates were booked up in summer. So last year was busier, but there are still a lot more than there used to be, definitely.”

Image: (Left) E and W’s most popular dress, ‘Idris,’ / Credit: SJ Webb Photography;
Image: (Right) E and W Couture / Credit: Through the woods we ran

Eva Lekaj from Timeless Elegance Boutique, which “caters for the modern bride” and can be found in the High Street Arcade, has also noticed an increase of interest in winter weddings, and trends growing around these changing patterns. 

“We get a lot of winter weddings. Trends this year are long sleeves and high necks. Think Sofia Richie old money vibes.” 

We get a lot of winter weddings. Trends this year are long sleeves and high necks. Think Sofia Richie old money vibes.

Eva Lekaj, Timeless Elegance Bridal

Weekday weddings also seem to be rising in popularity here in Wales.

“So many people have midweek weddings now compared to a few years ago — that could well be a cost-of-living thing. I seem to shoot half my weddings from Monday to Thursday now,” said Keri Lovell, a Cardiff-based wedding photographer.

Sophie also notes that new brides are less likely to get fully bespoke gowns, and more likely to adapt from the styles already in stock at her boutique.

As with their ring choices, Welsh bridal parties appear to also be prioritising making ethical choices for their gowns. 

Sophie said: “We get fabric from a company which is one of the only ones in the world that have their fabrics V-labelled — so the European Vegetarian Union has labelled them vegan.”

Sophie also thinks a focus on fabric is driving wider consumer trends. 

“I think the trend is more towards fabrics than styles at the moment. I’ve always worked really hard on finding really unique fabrics.

“Our cuts are quite simple, we use really simple silhouettes but I think the fabrics that we use put us out there a little bit more.” 

The knock-on effects of Covid have also driven brides to support local independent businesses more. Although the wedding industry was hit hard during the pandemic, Sophie thinks it has driven more people to buy their dresses locally.

“I know there were a lot of issues with shipments during Covid with dresses coming from further afield, so I think it has really pushed people to find something that was made more locally as well as ethically.”

The big day

Image: Rosedew Farm / Credit: Keri Lovell

Wedding celebrations in Wales have also been becoming less and less traditional over the last few years.

“The ‘first look’ is really popular now,” Keri Lovell said of the moment when a bride and groom first see each other on the big day.

“This was largely an American tradition, but it is now really popular here. I’m also enjoying the bride making speeches more often, as opposed to the traditional groom only!

“I’ve also seen lots of ‘best women’ instead of best men and men in the bridal party too, which is amazing!”

I’ve also seen lots of ‘best women’ instead of best men and men in the bridal party too, which is amazing!

Keri Lovell, wedding photographer

Although the rising cost-of-living and effects of Covid-19 have changed the face of the industry, Keri finds that Welsh weddings are still extravagant affairs.

“People still want to have an amazing day and I don’t see many opting for shorter weddings, like during Covid —  the whole shebang is still happening!”