“Be nice, you don’t want to be known as the bitchy girl.” Simple words, yet so true, from The Around The Way co-founder Ariel DeLaRosa, who is celebrating her 26th birthday today! Many girls would be freaking out at this point, however Ariel is handling this birthday like a boss and couldn’t be any happier. Like many Chicagoans, this thorough bred Around The Way Girl has a hustler’s spirit and won’t stop until she and her family are livin’ good. She’s another example of life taking you in many different directions. With a degree in fashion business and a minor in marketing communications from Columbia College Chicago, she landed herself a job she would have never imagined and still continues to surprise herself with different endeavors. The universe has a lot in store for this down to Mars girl.
What do you do currently?
Currently I work for Drish Couture Events. It is a luxury full service wedding planning company but we’ve been in the niche market for 2 or 3 years. It started 8 years ago and did a lot of American and Indian weddings, but now we mainly do Indian and Pakistani weddings. I also work at Tavern, which is a late night sports bar that I’ve been working at for 4 and half years, two or three days out of the week.
Do you get hit on by weirdos working at a sports bar?
[Laughs] I get hit on by weirdos working at a sports bar all the time. I could look like shit and would still get hit on. Now I feel too old to where it’s starting to get offensive. It just isn’t the same as when I was 22 or 21 [years old] when it was just guys “flirting” with me, now it’s more annoying. At the weddings I even kinda get hit on. The aunties and uncles will be like, hey you need to meet my son…well, I guess that’s more like putting on than hitting on. Never mind that’s a different case then [laughs]. Sometimes the groomsmen can get a bit flirty since I’m with them all the time and I’m like, shoo, get your life.
For someone that’s not Indian, how did you get into such a random field?
So senior year I had this internship with Latino Fashion Week and two of my classes were geared towards event planning as well. I helped with student gallery openings and for a non-profit fundraiser for the Northern Illinois Food Bank. I really liked that semester but I was also super stressed and tired. I had 18 credit hours, these three big events I was planning, and then I was still working at Tavern two or three days a week. At the end I realized how much I loved event planning and the process.
By the time I started my second semester of senior year I knew I had to start avidly looking for a job. One of my senior classes was a “Prepping you for a job” blah, blah, blah, class. We had an assignment where we had to get in touch with someone you would want to work with in your field. I got in touch with someone in a PR agency and her assistant would pretty much never connect us, until one day we finally set a date where I could follow her and ask her questions. She was super busy but thought it would be pretty cool.
But, my professor was one of those dumb ass professors who didn’t believe anyone was doing the assignment, so she contacted all the people that we chose for our project. That kinda ruined the relationship I worked hard to build with the person I chose to work with because at that point she was annoyed. She was basically like, my assistant has hit me up a couple of times, now this lady hits me up, I’m just gonna stop. Now I’m like, what the fuck! This was a job opportunity I did want.
So I pretty much told my professor that besides this potential job opportunity you also ruined this project and now I don’t know who to interview. This one girl in my class was like “one of my good friends works for this wedding planning company and she’s been there for a couple of years.” So I followed her at a wedding and it was cool because she was our age and doing it big, and she’s still killing it. I never thought I would be doing wedding planning and all of my event planning professors always said never get into weddings. I actually really liked it but the company wasn’t hiring and I would have had to start as an intern. So that’s when I went on Facebook and followed a few wedding planning companies. Throughout the semester I would volunteer with various companies when needed. I followed Drish, saw that she was hiring, and I knew it was an Indian wedding company but I was like, how hard could it be, really ignorant about it. I didn’t do any research on Indian weddings, I just sent my resumé and portfolio and got a phone interview with Drish’s best friend who was HR at the time. Then I met with Drish a couple days later and we really hit it off. I was honest during my interview. I didn’t sell myself like I just wanted the job, I sold it like how I’m gonna make her business better.
Well you fit right in since you look Indian. Have you been mistaken as one while at work?
YES. I got my nose pierced in the beginning of the year and it sucks because it’s something I’ve always wanted for a long time and now I work at a job where I can have it since all Indian women wear nose rings, plus my boss has one. For them it’s cultural for me it’s just something I thought was cute. But I feel like the second I tell clients I’m not Indian they lose a little trust in me. Drish always defends me though. I refer to her as my boss where she refers to me as her partner. I also get mistaken for this Indian actress a lot. Everyone is always like, has anyone ever told you you look like Katrina Kaif? Drish wants to sell me as a celebrity look alike [laughs].
What does your day as wedding planner look like?
It’s very different how the last two years have worked. Every morning Monday-Friday I send and reply to emails, pretty much. So right now about 85% of our summer clients, and we’re at about a dozen clients and still getting more, are requesting full service package. That means we help them with every single step of the wedding planning process: planning their venue, negotiating all contracts, finding hotels since a lot of their family comes into town, budgeting DJs, photographers, invitations, florists, decorators and comparing quotes…so many things. Our meetings are throughout the week with the client and the services they want to work with. Sometimes it’s hard, sometimes it’s easy, we try to stick with the same preferred vendors.
On the wedding day, it’s a very very long day because in America you are condensing 3 days of events that they would do in India, into one. The Saturday event is usually the longest, it’s a sixteen hour day. It’s a 9:00 a.m. start time and we have to arrive at the venue two hours before to set up and have programs ready. We have to make sure everyone is on time, we check on the bride, we encourage couples to take pictures before the wedding while the makeup is nice and also coordinate their first look. From the time the groom enters at 9:00 a.m.til lunch at about 12:00 p.m. is so hectic. A lot of our clients are Hindu and I’m not so I don’t know what the priest is saying so I have to really pay attention to every detail to estimate the timings on things, like when the bride enters or telling the caterers to hold off lunch because the ceremony is going longer than intended. I’m getting better at it though. After that we prep for cocktail hour: placing all the place cards, making sure the ballroom setup is nice, making sure the couple is in their second look and ready for photos. I would say by the time the reception starts there is a weight lifted off your shoulders. The morning part is always hectic since there’s so much family involved and I don’t understand what’s going on [laughs].
What made you want to start a blog?
I always felt like I had a en-en…I can’t say this word… en-tre-pre-neurial, entrepreneurial mindset. When I started Columbia College I got into fashion business because I thought I wanted to open a store, then I was like, retail sucks. From there I didn’t know what kind of business I wanted to open but then Rebecca and I talked about a PR agency kinda thing, but that’s a lot of work to just start out of the blue. I think blogging would be a good segue into that hopefully for the future, like event marketing PR, and have a cool blog too. I just have a lot of ideas and not a lot of hobbies so I needed somewhere to write what I’m thinking. I was always told I should start writing more.
In your mind what is The Around The Way?
So it’s me and Rebecca, two down to earth girls born and raised in Chicago. We have so much love for our city and our blog is gonna show you what we love about the city, the city gems. At the same time, we are so proud of all the women who have been in our lives throughout kindergarten, high school, college, everywhere. These women are doing all these amazing things like starting their own business or working top corporate jobs. So I see it as a girl power, Chicago-centric, smart and funny kind of blog.
Why would you rather take the independent route than go corporate?
This is a good question. I go back and forth with this. Drish actually sent me this photo where there’s a laptop on a bed, and the bed is all made up, and there’s a quote that says, “there’s nothing more glamorous than a schedule I choose for myself. #BossBabe.” So I guess that’s a lot of it. I can’t do a 9-5 at an office. For one, I’m not a morning person so realistically I’m a 10:00 a.m-6:00 p.m. person and I don’t think I could sell that [laughs]. Like I said, I knew I always wanted to work for myself eventually. Some days when it’s hard to work at home I will be like, shit, this would be easier if I worked at a stupid office. But then I think about it and a lot of my friends who do work at offices, they just kinda dilly dally most of their day. They’ll have four hours of real work that they could cram in but have to be there for eight. I would rather waste four hours on my couch knowing that it was my decision than at someone’s office. Also, I’m working for a small company. I’m the only full time employee. My opinion is completely trusted by Drish.
What are some of the ups and downs of going independent?
Definitely motivation. I usually get ten emails a day and I’m like, merp. I’m gonna go grocery shopping, I’m gonna watch 30 Rock for an hour, then I’ll eat lunch. Then it’ll be 3:00 p.m. and I’m like, oh, I should reply to those emails! It’s nothing urgent to us because we know we can get it done but then I forget we are dealing with brides. No one ever freaks out on us though, everyone trusts us. But yeah, motivation. The plus side is my schedule is free game, other than the wedding months. I spoke to my sister the other day and she was like, “you’re so lucky you get to go to Target during the day, it’s a madhouse after work hours” [laughs].
Working two jobs sounds like it sucks, does it get overwhelming?
Technically Mondays are my day off but sometimes it doesn’t work like that. It never gets too overwhelming but during the wedding season, yes. I would have a meeting, then a 16 hour wedding and then have to go to Tavern the next day for 12 hours. Both of my bosses, Drish and at Tavern, are really cool and understanding. I can get tired but it’s not that bad.
Tell the world about your friendship with Rebecca? (LOL!)
Rebecca is one of the kindest, most down to earth girls I have ever met. I wouldn’t say from the second we met we were the best of friends, it took the infamous 2010 New Years for our friendship to click. We would see each other at parties, and obviously at AKIRA. I would shop at the shoe store where she worked, and she would shop at the clothing store where I worked and we were always nice to each other. But what really set it off was that New Years Eve, which by the way was the best New Years ever. Besides nursing my drunk ass back to health, what I really liked was that she was with her brother and sister that night and I was like, Oh my God, this girl is super close with her brother and sister. My brother and sister mean the world to me! Then we got drunk. But since then she’s been someone I can confide in. I’m not someone who is very in-tune with my emotions and she’s someone that’s been very patient with me. She’s always down for me. We’ve had our fights and we’ve had our moments but at the end of the day, she’s blood. My mom loves her and that means a lot to me.
Where would you like to see the future of The Around The Way?
I keep seeing blogs where different bloggers collaborate on one blog together, I would kinda like it like that. I would just like it to get bigger I guess. I would like it if someone were to say hey, we’ll pay you to post something about this… As long as it’s something along the lines of what we believe in. I like how it is, I would like for it to get to a point where we also have businesses.
Is this what you imagined yourself doing at this age?
I guess by the time this article comes out I’ll be crying because I’ll be turning 26, but if you were to ask me in high school what I would be doing at 26 I would say, oh I’m gonna be a ballet dancer! Then by age 20 I got realistic and knew that wasn’t going to make me any money plus I didn’t have the body or the talent naturally. So I took time off school after high school for like a year and a half. I worked full time so I could save money to pay for school. When I went back to school I was like, I can open up a store, since I worked at AKIRA, but that changed. Then in my junior year of college I was 23-years-old and I was like, I’m gonna work at a PR and Marketing agency after college and be such a boss with a roof top pool. I don’t have any of that. But I’m very happy work wise where I am. It’s not what I imagined but I wouldn’t want to do anything else right now.
What advice would you give to girls who want to go the independent route or start their own blog?
If you’re type A personality, don’t go independent. Every day is going to be different. No two days are the same. Everything is a learning experience. A couple months ago Drish was trying to go over expenses and anything I spent for the company. I threw away the receipts, I didn’t know. For starting a blog, do your research prior. Sometimes I feel like Rebecca and I dove in, which there is nothing wrong with it, but we were just like, we’re gonna get a WordPress. We talked about it for a long time but did not know what to expect with the formatting, the glitches and things like that. Also we blog together, I couldn’t imagine doing this alone. But yeah, with blogging, do your research, attend seminars and network to get your name out there. And be nice, you don’t want to be known as the bitchy girl.
Where in Chicago are you from and what was life like growing up as a city girl?
Until high school I lived on Hoyne and Thomas, in Wicker Park, basically Division and Damen. That was before Wicker Park had anything it has now. That yoga studio on Division and Damen used to be a laundromat. That diner around there use to be an old school VCR shop, everything was completely different. It was being gentrified but not to the extent now. We were still riding our bikes with all the Puerto Rican kids and hanging out at the park. After that our neighborhood was getting gentrified and my parents split up. My dad moved to West Town for a while and now he’s in the suburbs, but my mom moved to Logan Square. When I was in high school Logan Square was completely different, it wasn’t anything I was used to. There were a lot of gangs on the block, my sister and I used to always get harassed by all the little hoodrat girls until one of the gang leaders told them to stop because we were the girls that were “going to make something out of themselves” [laughs]. That’s literally what he said. They called my dog ugly once. It was completely different. Now if I told a white person what Logan Square used to be they would be like, what really?! I mean yeah! We were on Gangland [laughs]. I didn’t think about how cool it was growing up in the city until I got to college and people from Naperville were saying they’re from Chicago.
What advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?
I knew you were going to ask this and I’ve literally been thinking about it all week like, what advice WOULD I give my 20-year-old self? Two things: one, at 20, I was just entering college. I had went to school for a year, knew I wasn’t going to be a ballet major, then quit for a year and was working like 60 hours a week at AKIRA. It was good because I saved up money for school by then. I would tell myself you don’t have to know what you want to do and don’t think you have to graduate college by 22. That’s insane to know exactly what you’re going to do by 22. Take a year off, travel, do what you want. Two, you’re going to have so many friends. You’re meeting everyone on the planet and you are all besties because you get drunk together. Learn who is really in your circle. Out of the 20 girls you go out with every week, who are the three people you call and can hang out with instead of just party. Clutch on to them and drop everyone else because when that friendship fails you’ll be like, ugh she’s a bitch, she’s this and that, but really it’s because you didn’t inspire each other and weren’t meant to be.
Name your favorite thing about Chicago.
I love that there is always something to do. There is so much going on and the city is so big, and there are so many galleries and museums and restaurants. You can never be bored and if you are you’re just a boring person and you don’t deserve to be in Chicago. There are some cities where there is literally nothing to do, like Oak Park. Another thing is that we’re all friendly. Everyone loves Chicago. Every city I’ve been to I got love for being from Chicago.
See what Ariel is up to on Instagram @arieldelarosa88 and be sure to follow the blog page as well @thearoundtheway