Newlyweds shell out thousands of dollars for all the fixings of a traditional wedding: the dress, the venue, the food — the list goes on and on. According to Southern Bride Magazine, the average wedding in North Carolina now adds up to approximately $30,000. With costs on the rise, more couples are opting out of traditional high-cost nuptials and saying, “I do” to elopements. So it’s no surprise Charity Parrish has found success with Charlotte-based The Elopement Co., which offers a variety of all-inclusive elopement packages.
Parrish, 36, launched the company in November 2016 after living in the Queen City for about a year. With a background in information technology, her passion for photography started as a hobby and then evolved into a side business. After moving to Charlotte from Chicago, she had trouble finding work in IT again. So she turned to the wedding industry.
The idea to start a business focused on elopements and micro-weddings — nuptials with 20 or fewer guests — came from a fellow photographer who mused that it would be fun to shoot courthouse weddings. Parrish visited a courthouse to catch a glimpse of the newlyweds.
“They were all dressed up, looking really pretty. I could tell they were happy, but they were just taking pictures with their phones, and that kind of broke my heart,” Parrish says. “I thought, ‘I can make this better.’”
That’s exactly what she set out to do with The Elopement Co. She created four packages that range in price: elopements, micro-weddings, courthouse weddings and adventure elopements. The package pricing depends on travel involved and weekday versus weekend celebrations. The cheapest option, a photography-only package at the courthouse, starts at $500, while the most expensive option, an adventure elopement outside the U.S., is $7,500.
She’s one of a handful of individuals in the state to structure elopement photography like this. Elope Asheville, a similar business with a team of photographers and officiants, also offers elopement packages ranging from $350 to $800.
Parrish says her most popular option is the elopement package, which includes officiant services; up to five hours of consultation; two hours of photography; more than 100 hand-edited images; flower arrangements for two, which she creates herself; cupcakes for as many as seven people, which she outsources; and access to preferred vendors lists. For elopements within a one-hour radius of her headquarters in Charlotte, the package costs $1,800 to $2,000; outside the Charlotte region, the cost is $2,200 to $2,400.
Shortly after founding her business, Parrish received a call from reporters with ABC’s Good Morning America who wanted to interview her for a segment on elopements. The publicity boosted her business by attracting couples from all over the nation.
Parrish has handled between 22 and 47 weddings annually during her three years in business. She says she’s earned an average of $55,000 per year due to her relatively low startup costs: She’s been using the same camera she purchased when she first started her hobby and launched The Elopement Co. from her house before moving to a Charlotte co-working space.
Parrish has become somewhat of a renaissance woman as the sole employee, taking on the roles of wedding planner, florist, consultant, witness and photographer. She taught herself photography and learned to create floral arrangements from her grandmother. She’s learned the rest of the coordinating along the way. “My goal is to handle as much of it for the couple as I can.”
Charlotteans Adam and Chanelle Lockwood, who got married Jan. 12, say they were shocked at the ease of the planning process. After getting engaged in November last year, they knew a small wedding would be best for them. Chanelle, originally from South Africa, wanted an intimate ceremony with loved ones, and both wanted to save money.
“For me coming from South Africa, having my family come over was a very big deal, so we wanted to keep it very special and private to where we only had our immediate family,” Chanelle says. “It made it more special and warm, having only the important people there. You can really concentrate on the people you love the most.”
They paid $1,800 for a micro-wedding package, so 18 friends and family members could attend. Including the $500 to rent The Foundry, a Charlotte event space, their wedding cost a grand total of $2,300.
Parrish’s goal is to establish business hubs in major cities nationally from which she can work. She’s also writing a book about elopements with the hope of helping more couples realize there are options outside traditional weddings.
“Some people know that they want the big wedding, and I think that’s awesome. Do it,” Parrish says. “But some people are doing that because they think they’re supposed to. Those are the people I want to reach and say, ‘Hey, there’s another option.’”