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Let me start by saying, this is not a letter about closing down APW. The media world has been rife with those letters of late—and if you’re interested in the state of independent feminist media, they’re good reads. Start with Tavi Gevinson’s letter about choosing to close Rookie, and then read Grace Bonney’s letter about closing Design*Sponge. But this is not that letter. Not at all.
This is a letter about how 2019 could have ended at APW with the sale of the business, or shuttering the whole damn thing, but instead ended with me more excited about my job than I’ve been in years.
Independent media may be perpetually on life support, but when my dad died last year, I learned that I’m a great hospice nurse.
Please accept my shine
Last year, as we continued to thrive while multiple wedding publications closed, several companies approached us, interested in various kinds of deals. Some of them I realized very early on I didn’t want. If the company I built, and my work as a (female) CEO was not going to be valued, I wasn’t interested in continuing the conversations.
But by late 2018 we were involved in a serious conversation about possibly selling the company. And as the New Year dawned, I thought that 2019 might mark a drastic change in our business.
Then get back to business
I spent the first quarter of the year head down, focused on revising my first book (out now!), updating it to reflect the current wedding industry (that book is approaching the 100,000-copies-sold mark, so some parts of media are still doing just fine). When I’d agreed to this book project, the plan was just to slap a new cover on it. After some thought, my publishers asked me if I’d do a very light update on the book. Think: new preface, a few new sidebars. And then I got the contract, which asked for me to re-write 25% of the book, in three months.
Back in 2011, I’d written the whole thing in three months while running APW on the side. But APW was smaller and simpler then, as was, frankly, my life. At the beginning of January, I was staring down the barrel of a huge project I hadn’t intended to take on. The first three months of the year saw me huddled up in The Wing in San Francisco, hammering away at my keyboard.
The Reality Is, Sometimes You Lose
Then one day, sitting at The Wing in early March, we got a call that our display ad agency had shuttered… that morning. We frantically spent the morning pulling strings to get the site moved to another display ad agency (this is the kind of thing that causes layoffs at media companies, because banner ads are so key to revenue, but funnily enough, we had another agency lined up and ready, so twenty-four hours later we were actually making more money than before). No sooner did we finally sit down to lunch with members of our past and current team, who happened to be in from New York, than we got an email from the company that had been in talks to buy APW, abruptly calling things off.
And that was that.
The first lesson was that sometimes things you’re wishing for don’t happen, full stop. My horoscope that week was, I shit you not, “Learn to live with disappointment, Aries. It won’t kill you.”
Every Day Above Ground Is A Blessing
The second lesson emerged much more slowly, over many months of introspection. That lesson was that you don’t want to work with people who won’t treat you well. Beyond that, I ultimately realized I probably shouldn’t have been having these conversations about selling the business in the first place. At least, not then.
When I’d started them, my dad had just died, our offices had just been broken into, everything in my personal and professional life was in disarray, and selling the company seemed like an easy out. But when it didn’t happen, I slowly realized that I had all kinds of projects I still wanted to build under the APW brand. I just wanted to build cool things with great people, and I wasn’t done just yet. None of that is to say that I’d never want to sell APW, to the right buyer and at the right time… but 2019 wasn’t it.
Freedom, cut me loose
And then June rolled around, and I learned very suddenly that Maddie, my second in command for the last six-plus years, was leaving the company. After the death of my dad just nine months prior, facing another enormous transition often felt like more than I could manage. My summer at work was one of the hardest periods of my life. In some ways, my body is still recovering from that shock and stress.
Weirdly, my summer at play was wonderful, to the extent that anything can be wonderful under that level of stress. The best choices that I made this year were taking time away from all of the intensity that was playing out in my professional life to just spend time with my family. We spent ten days in Mexico, and I returned with a brain that felt clear of the fog of stress. We celebrated our ten year anniversary in Palm Springs, in a joyful celebration of family that we badly needed. And then we headed off to a family reunion in New Mexico, where I was able to soak in some broader family connections, on the anniversary of my dad’s death.
In September, I started this new season of my professional life at The Huddle, a small and high-powered womxn’s business retreat. On the most baseline level, it gave me a chance to finally feel all of my feelings. One of the things people don’t tell you to expect when you’re a boss is how you will need to put your feelings almost entirely aside. It’s not appropriate for you to burden your employees with your deeper feelings. Frustration? Sure. Anything much deeper than that? Off-limits. And that means that in hard periods you will carry around a huge weight of emotions, while trying to make space for your employees’ feelings. You are a facilitator of feelings, not an expresser of them.
The tears we cry let us know that we alive
But in Sonoma at The Huddle, I was finally in a group of womxn who were all bosses (not like cute “Be Boss” mugs on Etsy, but actual bosses of employees). So I spent some time sobbing by the pool while Liz handed me tissues one by one and just said, “Keep crying, you’re good.” I came inside completely covered in snot and tears and Susan told me, “You look like you need reminding that you’re a badass bitch.” And when I put “Forgive everyone, don’t be angry” on my goal list, my new friend Rachel was like, “You can take that right the hell off the list.” And I did.
I came back to the office with a whole new outlook on life (getting months of emotion out of your system will do that to a person). I dove into a new season, with an amazing team (and amazing new hires), a great project management system, and a ton of new ideas.
I got my cup up to the heavens
We have so much coming in 2020. I have a new book coming out. We have videos underway. We’re (shhh) working on a podcast for 2020. We’re moving into new, bigger offices down the hall. And we’re so so glad to be here, doing the work.
2019 didn’t look anything like I thought it would. It’s a year I’m glad I never have to live through again. But it also brought me to such a profoundly grateful place in my business that I can’t complain.
(Just kidding, I totally can and will complain. But damn if I’m not going to enjoy that drink at tonight’s holiday party.)
The Best of APW 2019
And with that, I bring you the best of APW 2019. Every year, I reserve one day just to go back through and look at everything we published that year. And while I, personally, had a really difficult year (nobody tells you that the year after you suffer a traumatic loss is also going to be pretty awful), I’m really proud of what we put out into the world this year. Starting first, with this epic wedding table in a forest.
It’s hard to beat this wedding. It has the longest wedding table we’ve ever seen, winding through the middle of the forest. It’s full of gay pride. And it looks like it should have been published in Vogue. But it was published on APW ( Take that, Anna!).
We had a ten year anniversary party this year (I find the term vow renewal weird, and didn’t use it, because our vows are not up for renewal, but you know, we did a THING). It was one of the high points of my year. We published it in two parts: our Jewish ritual at Giant Rock, and our over the top evening anniversary party. After so much pain in our lives recently, that joy was so important and needed for us. More parties, please!
This Moroccan Jewish wedding stole my Jewish heart.
A queer San Francisco wedding that honored the couples’ immigrant families.
And amazing body positive Texas wedding (with buried booze).
This gender nonconforming wedding is everything.
Were you looking for a lux, pink Indian Wedding? I bet you were. We gotchu.
A super glam body positive, elegant Settle wedding that pops up in my dreams.
We all covet the feathered capelet at this creative Bodega Bay wedding.
I don’t know what I loved more: the black and white polka-dot wedding dress, or the Jewish Deli venue.
This Tel Aviv wedding is so beyond glamorous.
On having a Jewish wedding the same day Charlottesville happened, and the slow process of picking up the shards.
How never inconveniencing anyone while wedding planning will fuck up your mental health.
Can I ghost my bridesmaids and get new ones before the wedding? (One of my favorite pieces of advice we’ve published in a minute.)
Can my newfound independence survive my second marriage? A beautiful, thought-provoking essay.
We rounded up the best wedding cake trends of the year and y’all, this shit is bonkers. And beautiful. While we were at it, we rounded up the best centerpieces, and (surprise!) they don’t all involve delicate and perishable flowers.
We helped my friend Gina design her plus size wedding dress from start to finish. This is how it went (and the gorgeous final product.) Plus, her killer joyful wedding… that’s me with the bottle of whisky, and breaking it down on the dance-floor.
Related: why it took so long for my gender nonconforming kid to get to be a flower kid (and how much he loved it when it happened).
My fiancx almost died, and our wedding party happened without us (spoiler: They have new wedding(s) planned!!!).
There are not enough good plus-sized wedding dresses on the market, full stop. We’re super proud of the plus-sized wedding dress line we designed in collaboration with Lace & Liberty, and we rounded up a bunch of other great plus-sized wedding dress choices.
How we’ve managed to keep joy in our marriage with so much tragedy. Thoughts from me, from the trenches.
Whatever. We all want to know. How often are you really having sex?
I’m a feminist killjoy, and my husband loves it. (And is that enough?)
My fiancx says it’s him or my (amazing) parents. And the life update on what happened after we published this article.
Life & Careers
I make twice as much as my husband (I wrote this a few years ago anonymously. When I realized that, I decided to republish it with my name on it, and explore why that is the ONE thing I felt like I had to publish on APW without my name).
How feminist are we really? Are we all just pretending we have egalitarian partnerships, when really it’s something… else? Thoughts from my crisis of motherhood in my son’s seventh year of life.
We still miss longtime Digital Director Najva over here (though she’s off at a fancy new job at Quartz). Don’t worry, we still have big life chats on the phone. But back in January, I got to give Najva a taste of her own medicine, by making her brag about herself on her personal website. She may not have liked it, but look at the kick-ass job it got her. It’s the post I’ve sent so many girlfriends this year, while I insisted that yes, they really did have to build a website and brag about themselves. This post was sponsored by Squarespace, but when I text it to people it comes straight from the heart.
We talk a lot about red-flags around marriage and finances. We wanted to write about green-flags. Here is what earning less than your partner probably should look like.
Stuff We’re Just Proud Of
We launched an APW Studio site, for all of the brand work we’ve created over the years. It took forever to put together, and we probably should have done it many years ago, but we’re really proud it’s finally done and out in the world. If you want to walk down APW memory lane, check it out.
These embellished veils are the best DIY we’ve done in a long (long) time. In fact, they were so good I went on to embellish a lot more veils, and bring back a lot of neon tulle from Mexico, to hand sew even more. I’m not sure where it’s all going, but the veils look damn amazing on our studio walls.
We introduced horoscopes based around the themes of (wedding) planning and relationships this year, and loved working on the project.
I worked with Anna Sheffield‘s team to design a custom ring with a stone I inherited from my grandmother. I wear it every day, and it’s one of the most beautiful and meaningful things I own. If you’re thinking of getting a family stone re-set: do it.
Related: The time we styled wedding dresses with color blocking and enormous crowns (still so much yes).
That time we discovered wedding tarot (months later, we’re still really into it).
When doctors won’t take you seriously because you’re a woman (I wish this hit less close to home. I wish I wasn’t always scared I was getting dangerously sub-par medical care because of my gender).