Elizabeth Priya Kumar, Founder & CEO of Premini Events
Meet Elizabeth Priya Kumar, Founder and CEO of Premini Events, an award-winning full service event planning and creative agency based in New York. Priya has grown her company and brand, and is nationally recognized as a wedding lifestyle expert for the South Asian market. From luxury weddings, to birthday extravaganzas and corporate events, Priya has done it all and was named ‘Planner of the Year’ by the International Live Events Association. She is bold, thoughtful, and shares her journey of grit, entrepreneurship and love.
“I didn’t grow up in a typical Indian household. I grew up in a town where the Gujaratis hung out with the Gujaratis, the Punjabis hung out with the Punjabis, and everyone had a clique. My parents are from two different parts of South India and speak a blend of Kannada and Tamil. We were raised on English, grew up Christian, and my name is Elizabeth Priya, so that added another dimension.
My dad is a reverend, and about 30 years ago, he started an Asian Indian Christian church in New Jersey. Back then, there were separate churches for various South Indian communities such as Tamil, Telugu and Malayali communities. My dad questioned why there couldn't be one church for immigrants from the subcontinent, so he created an inclusive worship community that wasn't segmented by language. The church combined traditions from back home, with an American twist, like coffee hour with Indian samosas and dosas, or talent night with classical dance, but also break dancing. He started with five families, and they now serve over 250 families.
My mom is very open-minded. She was the president of a women’s rights organization in India for the United Nations. She has led peace marches and traveled the world speaking about women’s advancements. She is now a social worker/psychotherapist working specifically in mental health.”
“Although my parents were liberal, we had a role to play, given our presence in the church. It wasn’t always easy to be in the spotlight as the reverend’s daughter. We sang in the church choir, emceed services, and little did I know this would set the stage for event planning. Being a reverend’s daughter prepared me for what I do now. It’s given me the confidence to speak in front of crowds and deliver.
One thing I most appreciate about my parents is that they spent a lot of time on emotional development for me and my siblings. Every Tuesday was family conference night and we would discuss what’s going on in everyone’s lives. We’d talk about emotional challenges and what issues we were facing. My parents have always been affectionate, always giving us hugs and kisses. They were both emotionally involved in our lives and built a great foundation of openness and love.
Most Indian families don’t focus on emotional development, and I’ve seen this come out in Indian young adults. Many Indian young adults have a hard time knowing who they are. They are stuck in two worlds of trying to please parents and keeping up with appearances. They might go down a path of heavy drinking, partying and lashing out which to some might be seen as a lack of emotional development. Issues of judgement, failure and shame are often never discussed. A lot of Indian parents focus on education and money above all else. My parents on the other hand never put importance on money - it was all about heart and giving back. They wouldn’t just ask about how our day was - they’d ask about what we did for others. My parents understood that if they had emotionally strong and level headed children, the rest would work itself out.”
Perseverance Through Life’s Hurdles
“My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was in 9th grade, which was so hard on us. I wanted to escape and started going down a wrong path. I cut school all the time and started dating different guys. To be honest, I was lost. So my parents put me in an all-girls, Catholic school, and all of a sudden, I turned myself around, focused on being responsible and started getting straight A’s (we’re really products of our environment!).
In my senior year, I applied to the pharmacy program at St. John’s and got into their 6 year doctorate program. But as I went through the program, my body didn’t react well to the stress. I got violent kidney infections and was repeatedly hospitalized. This happened 9 times during my freshman year, 7 times my sophomore year and I was on antibiotics for my entire junior year. The stress was just killing me. Sometimes, I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed for days and dropped to 87 pounds.
In that moment, I realized that if God doesn’t want something to happen to you, you’ll start seeing signals — and this was one of them. I left the program and my parents threw a fit. I had to stand my ground. I was built for something bigger than pharmacy. They were super upset but I moved home and took a semester off. I then transferred to a local university, completed 21 credits a semester and graduated with honors and a degree in marketing and events. Oddly enough, the minute I left the program, I never got sick again.”
“At the time, my uncle was a VP at Avaya, so he got me a position on their PR/events team. I ended up loving events. It was a super social and a fast paced business which matched really well with my personality. I decided that from the ages of 22 to 30, I’d work on getting events experience in different industries to build my skill set, and by the time I got to 30, I’d just pick the industry I liked and go from there.
But when I was 26, my brother and sister asked me if I had considered starting my own events business. I was like ‘no way,’ but they kept telling me that I could be the Indian Martha Stewart. So I decided to go for it. I named my business ‘Premini’ after my brother and sister’s middle names (Prem and Padmini). Also, Prem means love and Mini means little, and I figured a little love goes a long way. They are my best friends and my biggest supporters. Most wedding planners name their companies after themselves, but I didn’t want the company to be about me - it’s all about my clients.”
“Premini launched in 2010, and we now do luxury weddings and events all over the world. There are a ton of wedding planners out there, but I focus on relatable luxury. My brides might have a million dollar wedding, but they are super down to earth, kind and incredibly humble. They are the type to carry a YSL bag and still eat chicken and rice at the end of the night. Ha!
Starting out was hard because I didn’t grow up Hindu and that was my biggest client base. I didn’t know ANY of the typical Hindu customs, not even what a mandap was. So I planned friends’ weddings for free and networked like crazy. My biggest asset was being able to listen. I’d sit with a client and ask them what they wanted. They would tell me a play by play of exactly what would happen in each ritual, and then I’d go Google to figure out what it all meant! Now I can tell you all the differences between a Tamil, Malayali, Gujarati, Punjabi or any other type of Indian wedding - or how to blend rituals, which is more often the case.”
Real Talk from a Wedding Mastermind
“Premini took off because people were able to trust my passion and my creativity. My clients are like my family. For example, I’ll text my brides just to check in on how their days are going. I see it as more than just a business relationship. Some of my closest friends are my former brides. There are a ton of Indian wedding planners out there, but I focus on making a relationship beyond the wedding.
I’ve also learned that it’s totally okay to return someone’s money or say no if they are not a good fit with our working style. We do twenty weddings a year, and invest 600-800 hours before each wedding. As my client, I want to be your best friend and give you my all. You’re talking to me or my team every day, and the goal is to put on a production that’s going to blow your mind. The love and energy has to be amazing on both ends so that a healthy vibe is created to produce magic.
As far as the future, we are working on opening an office in a warmer climate (either LA or Miami) to serve the winter wedding market (NY bridal season is typically April - October). Another important focus for me is to develop my brand as a lifestyle expert in the South Asian community. I want to be Oprah. I’m starting to write a book about the behind the scenes life of being a wedding planner and also explore avenues on how to empower women on accomplishing their dreams.”
Reflecting on Love
“This year was one of the most challenging years I’ve gone through professionally and personally. I went through a terrible breakup in the heat of bridal season. My heart was shattered and to be honest I’m in the worst business for a breakup. To put my game face on and be happy for someone else who is in love and getting married - while trying to never show any weakness is so hard. We had a wedding the week of my breakup, and I had to leave multiple times throughout the day to go cry in the bathroom.
Now that I’m out of the relationship, I can confidently say that I have made peace with what happened. We are two people who wanted different things. I took healthy steps to better myself and lead a healthier life by moving into a beautiful new apartment in NYC, signing up for a trainer and relying on friends and family for their unconditional love and support. I’m in a much better place now. I can officially say I am over it! I’ve entered a happy space and am radiating positivity - and that's all thanks to God.”
“I now know the meaning of investing in myself which has manifested in so much self-love. You cannot love someone else fully unless you love yourself and I can confidently say I know the real meaning of love now.”
“A couple weeks ago, our parents called to say that we had to have a family conference to talk about something urgent. So my brother, sister and I rushed home, and they sat us down and said, ‘We have three accomplished, beautiful, amazing, good looking children, so why aren’t any of you married?’ We couldn’t believe this was the urgent matter they’d called us about! So our answer was ‘Mom and Dad, you raised three amazing kids, and now we are meeting people who are just in it to win it. It’s very hard to meet someone who’s actually kind and honest with their intentions. You didn’t raise us to be sharks - instead, we are nice people who want to lift up others. So when the time is right, God will align the stars.’”
I’m back on the dating scene now, and a huge part of what I’m looking for is someone who will respect my hustle and has a kind heart. To be in a successful relationship I think both parties need to be givers. Men are sometimes intimidated by a strong woman who can hold her own. I often think, ‘What can a man do for me that I can’t do myself?’ I don’t need a man for money or a great apartment or friends or family because I have all those things and I am very content with my life. I want someone who is a bonus to my already happy life who I can go on adventures with, and will inspire me to be the best version of myself. I now know the meaning of investing in myself which has manifested in so much self-love. You cannot love someone else fully unless you love yourself and I can confidently say I know the real meaning of love now.”
“I try to go to church every Sunday. If I can’t be right with God, then how can I be right with the world? I also de-stress by spending time with my friends and family and listening to music. I’ve started investing in myself and now have a personal trainer, which has been great. Oh, and good glass of Cabernet is amazing!”
On STARTING YOUR OWN BUSINESS…
“Don’t start a business if you’re not passionate about it and not going to hustle. With my business, I’m ‘on’ all the time. You’ve got to go all in.”