November. In most parts of the world, it's a word synonymous to autumn, cool weather and the approximate end of a year. But in this part of the world, Kuwait to be exact, it's synonymous to flowers, cakes and Bibi Hayat.
Bibi Hayat, founder and owner of one of the most successful event planning businesses in the country, established The November Company in 2005. What started as a small boutique event planning firm has now grown to include a gift and flower shop, a bakery and a design studio.
What few of us know, however, is this wasn't always Bibi's intended path. Not at the beginning anyway. She graduated from The American University of Beirut with a degree in Early Elementary Education with an emphasis in Art and Music Therapy. She went back to Kuwait to gain work experience and had planned on going to the United States to continue her education. Instead she found herself working at Arraya Ballroom.
Working at the ballroom stirred her feelings for events, and the excitement that comes with it. "Being part of the team that opened the ballroom, learning all about conferences, banqueting, sales, targets, hospitality and management just excited me more," she says. "Immediately I signed up for some floral and chocolate making courses, as well as baking lessons in London's top culinary schools. I enjoyed it so much that I told myself let's give this career a one year trial, if things go well… then excellent, if not, you have your acceptance to your Masters!"
We all know how that turned out, don't we? Still eager to learn more, we sat with Bibi to chat more about November.
What happened as soon as you came back from London?
After London, I worked at Le Notre and with the MMC Group, and fell further in love with the whole events and hospitality world. Imagine… you get to create anything and be part of someone's most special occasions… every day!
At Le Notre, I handled the event coordination, in-house design, and would assist the banqueting team with the larger events. It was great seeing the best planners come from all over the world working on events and weddings, and really learn from them.
Everyone I worked with in Le Notre, I learned so much from, and I am honored and have the pleasure to still work with them on my own events with my clients.
How did you first start your business?
My dream for November started because of the love I had for all things beautiful, for the importance of remembering and really enjoying events and special occasions and for my love of desserts and food.
I started out by setting up small scale events, creating gift packages, and baking wonderful celebration cakes. With the encouragement and enthusiasm of others, November grew from the small scale group of like minded people to what it has become today, a complete lifestyle experience.
So where does the name come from?
November has lots of sentimental value, and most people believe that it's just because I was born in November that I named my company so. But actually I adore the weather, the change of environment and the excitement about moving from a long hot summer to a cool and festive autumn/winter season. All over the world, the weather in November is wonderful and it also happens to hold many great memories.
How hard, or easy, was it to create your own company, or in this case a complete brand?
No business is easy to start, but knowing that upfront really helps you not to be too dreamy and delusional. You need to have your facts, need to know the rules and need to know and completely understand that you will fail 1 billion times before perfecting anything! Keeping all that in mind, I was less disappointed with my failures and it helped me just push further and further.
However, even now, 7 years in, the battle isn't over. There are many ups and downs to business, financial hardships, recessions, and licensing issues… I'm sure everyone knows the difficulties involved, but you just have to smile, try to relax and think positively.
Many people might not realize that The November Company is so much more than an event planning firm. Tell us more about it…
November is a multi-service design, decor, food and beverage and gift company. We have divided the company into 4 branches; Things by November, a gift and flower boutique that offers a large range of home accessories, gorgeous gift wrapping and wonderful flower arrangements; The November Bakery, a dessert and soon to be savory shop, that provides an abundant collection of desserts, cakes, bars, biscuits and our main pride, opulent and detailed custom design special event cakes; November Events, our event and wedding planning services; and The November Design Studio, which offers retail design, home makeovers, and furniture and product development.
We are four large segments but we find a way to all run together creating a holistic approach to design decor and events.
Describe a typical day in the life of Bibi…
A day in my life is never typical or routine. It starts off at the gym (if I don't work out early in the morning, I will never find the time or energy later), then off to work, a few meetings with clients, then the team… We might be testing out some desserts, or preparing for a sampling for an event or even updating our floral arrangement mood boards for the next month… Plenty of coffees and phone calls, at least one visit from a friend or anyone who's visiting Tilal [Mall]… A run to Bazaar Interiors for fabulous inspiration from their fabrics and wallpapers… Spend some time in the gift store, some more time in the bakery, and then try to get home by 7PM max!
I also spend about an hour a day going through hundreds of Instagram accounts, magazines – Veranda is a must read – and blogs including Oh Joy!, Cannelle et Vanille, Style.com, and so many more.
What is your favorite event to organize?
My favorite events to organize would be the events where the locations are unusual or have historic or sentimental value, like family diwaniyas, old houses, gorgeous gardens and chalets.
What's your favorite color palette?
Asking anyone creative for a favorite is so hard. I think we get all philosophical about it. I change favorites weekly! I can tell you that I always love the beautiful contrast of icy blue and deep crimson red. That's always going to be gorgeous!
Where does your inspiration come from?
Inspiration comes from everyday life, from music, from old art books, from history, from talking, from a pattern on my friend's skirt – everything from jewelry to fabric to just sheer imagination. Inspiration comes from everywhere, as long as you keep your eyes and your heart open, you will be inspired.
Speaking of inspiration, who are your favorite local or international event designers?
I adore the work of Wael Al Humaidhi in Kuwait, his attention to detail and grandiose decor cannot be beat! Internationally I adore the drama and fantasy world of Preston Bailey, and the neat detailing and simplicity of Colin Cowie.
Your top 3 tips on how to have a successful event..
– Have a big heart, open mind, and great sense of humor.
– Learn the value of your art, and charge appropriately for it.
– Create a proper business plan, and sit with a financial expert to help you move forward.
We always like to ask this question: what is the best and worst thing about working in this industry?
The best thing about working in this industry is so many things; creating gorgeous events, working with so many interesting mediums like light, sound, flowers, fabric, furniture, wood, metal, glass, and of course being part of a client's memorable occasion. But that also comes with great stress and also being around a lot of emotions – weddings come with lots of drama! You gotta have a lot of humor!
Have you handled regional or international events?
We handle events in Kuwait and in the GCC.
Moving away from the topic of event planning, tell us what are your favorite shopping destinations?
Favorite destinations include Beirut, Istanbul and London. In London: VV Rouleaux for fabrics, Cole and Sons for fabric and wallpapers, and King's Road… Le Bon Marché in Paris, Bergdorf Goodman in NYC for their amazing display and artsy boutique feel as well as their amazing café – I love the décor. And I love anything Kelly Wearstler does!
What are your other hobbies?
My hobbies include collage, collecting quirky poetry books, and greeting cards, travelling, spending time with family and friends and planning events for them.
Any final words?
We are all about the heart, and taking the time to enjoy the little things as well as big special occasions with the people you love and care for the most. I truly hope that you enjoy all that we have to offer and treasure the memories we help you create.
With my experience, and my urge to be constantly inspired and challenged, I will try to continue to set a higher standard in the industry and keep on raising it year by year.
The November Company is located at Al Tilal Mall, Jahra Road, Shuwaikh, in KIPCO Tower, Kuwait City, and in Shuwaikh Market, Shuwaikh. For more information visit www.thenovembercompany.com
– Alya Al-Othman
Images Courtesy of Bibi Hayat