In My ‘Element’: The 2018 WIPA Design Challenge


When my friend – and WIPA Board Member – Vanessa Michelle asked me to join the challenge last April, my first reaction was No. Way.  I knew the other designers were veterans in an industry I had only joined a few years ago. I tried to get out of it, but my excuse was unconvincing: “I don’t care,” Vanessa said.  I had no choice. That’s the thing about good friends and strong women… they’re always pushing you to do more and get out of your comfort zone.

For those of you who don’t know, the WIPA (Wedding International Professionals Association) Design Challenge happens once a year.  For every Challenge, WIPA invites four designers to create a dinner “table,” or in our case, a quadrant of the room at AV Irvine for 28 people.  Each year has a different theme, and 2018 was The Four Elements – Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. The featured designers are incredibly creative, and their work is often over the top!  

After I hung up with Vanessa, I called my friend Nicole Austin of Shawna Yamamoto Event Design, who also has a habit of pushing me past my comfort zones.  She was IN because, well, it’s a competition. I love her fighting spirit so much. Another day for approval from Shawna and we were off on our creative adventure.  

Soon after, Nicole called and told me to sit down.  Rightfully so. Shawna, who had a slight obsession with mannequins at the time, wanted to use them in our design. Their idea was incredible… and embraced my original design board which I had ditched because I thought it was too weird.  We would create an embodiment of Mother Earth through the mannequins. It was cool in theory, but freaked me out because, well... I HATE mannequins. Nicole told me to trust her, and I did because I always do, she’s that amazing.

Next thing I know, I’m in the Shawna Yamamoto Event Design warehouse with their crew, face to face (and more) with the mannequins – gluing leaves, moss and gold leaf EVERYWHERE.  Talk about literally facing your fears and getting out of your comfort zone.

To keep with the Mother Earth vibe, we tried to include every element our beloved Earth has to offer.  We used wood tables and backdrop, driftwood to create a hanging garden of Buddha nut shells, florals and berries, even balsa wood paper for our menus from Heidi Davidson Design. The backdrop sign – the sign for the element Earth – was cut from wood by Simplistic Soirees.  Copper and gold metals were represented in the chargers and flatware from Bright Event Rentals and in the gorgeous new napkin holders from Tin Parade Party Goods. The balsa wood menus were tied to the napkin rings with leather ribbon. Leafy greens were everywhere, including all over our mannequins, who were also covered with moss, copper and gold leaf to create the feel that Mother Earth was growing over them. The linens and velvet napkins from BBJ Linens were soft and comforting, much like Mother Earth.  Each guest at our table received an open geode at their place setting. Scrolls with calligraphy from Heidi Davidson Design featured words inspired by Mother Earth – Strength, Stability, Goddess, Healer, Growth, Nurturing, Sustenance, Prosperity, Mother – and were placed on the gorgeous glassware provided by Bright Rentals.

The competition was FIERCE!  Michelle Garibay Events, Soiree Floral Design and Balloonzilla created a breezy, beautiful look for Air. Nahid’s Global Events and Lovesome Blossoms created actual Fire with their hot design.  Aly Anne Events and Honeycomb Affair made a stunning wave with their Water creation. It’s so fun to see what the wedding pros create when there are no limits!

It was a fabulous day and we were so honored to be included alongside three of the top designers in Southern California!  Not only was the design and set-up fun, but the event was truly incredible! WIPA presented a panel of publishers and publishees to discuss the challenges of planning a real wedding while trying to get your work to the masses.  Interesting conversation, wonderful people and DELICIOUS food from 24 Carrots were in abundance. AV Irvine was amazing to work with too. Any time a venue tells us, “go ahead, use our existing beams to do whatever you wish”... ummm, yes, please!

Side note:  Earth wins! Our trophy is this gorgeous painting from Live Wedding Art, who painted the entire room while the event was happening.  How amazing is that?

Moral of the story is, do the things that scare you. Push past your comfort zones.  Let your friends challenge you. Chances are, they already see the strength inside you that you didn’t know existed until you do the thing you’re totally freaked out to do.

What do you think of all the designs?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.


Special thanks to Nicole Austin and Shawna Yamamoto of Shawna Yamamoto Event Design, Heidi Davidson of Heidi Davidson Design, Ryan Larson of Tin Parade Party Goods, the entire crew at Bright Event Rentals, BBJ Linens, 24 Carrots Catering and AV Irvine, Loreen Sarkis of Sarkis Studios for the gorgeous photos and WIPA for this amazing community and your fun and educational events!

Karen Sieger