Los Angeles-based Deborah Kattler Kupetz worked in clothing manufacturing for a decade-plus before heading back to school to earn double master’s in social work and gerontology. Now, her focus has shifted to greening the event-planning business, a gap she felt needed to be filled in the Southern California area.
Five years in, Kattler Kupetz is consistently relied upon to plan and execute green-focused events — everything from professional functions to birthdays and bar and bat mitzvahs — in the LA area and beyond. Kattler Kupetz’s “Second Day Events” concept, in particular, is of green interest: using the materials from one event to power a separate event on a later date.
“The green space is not necessarily a profit-driven opportunity,” Kattler Kupetz admits. “The nature of my business is to reduce, reuse and recycle. There are so many ways I can make an event a little easier on the earth. There are all kinds of things we can do, and people appreciate it, because it feels different.”
JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and today we’re so excited to have with us Deborah Kattler Kupetz from Los Angeles, California. Deborah is living proof that not only green is good, but green is also glamorous. Welcome to Green is Good, Deborah.
DEBORAH KATTLER KUPETZ: Thank you. I’m excited to be here.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: Deborah, instead of Mike and I taking the next half hour to read your amazing bio, it’s more fun for us to always at first ask our guests to share their journey with our listeners, both here in the United States and around the world, because there are so many young people out there that want to be the next Deborah, that want to follow in your footsteps and learn how you got to where you are today. Can you please share with our listeners, before we get going, how you even came to this place, how you evolved professionally, educationally, and personally?
DEBORAH KATTLER KUPETZ: Yes, I would be happy to. I’ll start by saying I’m having an unexpected career. It was not at all what I ever expected to be doing. I’ve started life as a clothing manufacturer and I did that for over a decade. I worked 24/7, loved the industry, loved that world, thought that that would be my life completely. Then for all sorts of things, economic changes across the country, stores closing, the market getting smaller, people going offshore, I kind of looked around saw that this may not be the career that was going to last my entire life. So I went back to school at night and I got a Master’s in Social Work and a Master’s in Gerontology simply because I thought they were really interesting. I didn’t know anything about those areas. They seemed the total opposite of what I had spent all my time doing, and at the same time I got introduced to volunteerism, which may sound crazy to some people, but it was something I had never even considered when I was working.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: Explain what you did with regards to volunteerism and what you’ve created in that journey because that, itself, is so important.
DEBORAH KATTLER KUPETZ: I got involved in a program that was kind of like look and understand the civics of Los Angeles, and I really didn’t know anything about that. I didn’t really know about local government. I wasn’t interested at all, and every time I was in this program called the New Leaders Project from the Jewish Federation, it was completely random that I even signed up for that. I thought it was fascinating, and through that I had the opportunity to be involved in intercommunity dialogues and something totally different from what I had been doing in clothing. This was of course all after work, but I just found it very compelling, and through that I had the opportunity to get involved and be the founder of a literacy project in Los Angeles that is one of the largest existing literacy projects in L.A. today. That was just a stunning opportunity. Then I was able to become a strategist for Mayor Riordon when he was in Los Angeles when he founded the Los Angeles Literacy Corps. It was a really vibrant kind of addition to what I had been doing with work, and so my work life kind of migrated. But even though my work life was migrating, I still had a trend eye. I was an early adopter. I was just very aware of staying before they hit the mainstream. I got involved with a couple of Internet companies, which I loved and I was very passionate about. They had to do with philanthropy. I just kind of began melding all of my interests and my passions, so I really wasn’t sure where they were going. I was doing consulting. I was starting a family, and then I had a personal event in my life, and I knew when I was planning this event, that I wanted it to be a green event. At that time, this was around 2005, there were very few green resources. The country was already becoming eco-conscious when this was starting around 2005, but I quickly realized that for what I was planning, there was still a gap, specifically in the event planning business. It was an opportunity.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: What kind of event was it?
DEBORAH KATTLER KUPETZ: It was actually my daughter’s B’nai mitzvah, and it was just a really exciting time, and it was totally a private, personal passion. It was just something that I knew that I wanted to do green. I just knew that I wanted it to be green, and so I had the time and the opportunity to really indulge myself and create all sorts of things that didn’t currently exist to make that happen, from invitations to tablecloths to décor to our food to just millions of things. I really did a deep examination of every aspect of how an event can be created. It was very satisfying and very personally fulfilling. People obviously had a great time, and I combined the elements that were important to me at that time, which was social action, a sense of community, and then the environment. Afterwards, a couple of friends asked me if I would help them with their events, and I really thought that was so funny. I was also kind of offended because I thought, “What do you think I am? A stupid party planner? I’m not going to help you. I did my event; you do your event.” It was kind of funny because I really saw that for them, it was a complete struggle. It wasn’t something that was joyous. It wasn’t uplifting or exciting, and after they kept asking, I really thought, “OK, I’ll give you a hand.” I was able to hit their mark and just take it so much further and just really go far with it. I ended up doing 30 events after that, just the first year.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: Is this all in 2005?
DEBORAH KATTLER KUPETZ: 2005 was my big research year, where I put everything together. This event happened in 2006, and in 2006 I did all those events.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: When did you actually launch? For our listeners out there, this is what Deborah does now. She has a wonderful website that Mike and I are on, www.dkkevents.com. When did you then decide, “Wait a second, there is nobody else doing this?”
DEBORAH KATTLER KUPETZ: After the second event. I just felt like I’m crazy about this, I find an endless source of creativity and an endless well of collaboration. The people that I work with bring me what their vision is, and sometimes know what they want, if it’s a 50th birthday, a 60th, a 70th, a wedding, sometimes it will be an organization’s event. I have an idea, and then we ferment together and then it just becomes so much more. If they allow me to really take it all the way, it can be something that really creates not only a memory for their audience or whoever they’re trying to impact, but it can really create a shift in how people perceive things. It’s a physical way of representing yourself and creating a memory.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: I’m on your website here, which is beautiful. For everybody again, dkkevents.com. It’s a beautiful website. I love how you sum it up because being environmentally friendly doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice style. Right now, this is 2011, people call you for all types of events big and small and for all different types of occasions?
DEBORAH KATTLER KUPETZ: Yes, and I do consulting also and I travel, so that part is very exciting too. I love that. I love to strategize. I love the big vision, but, of course, I’m all about the detail and the execution.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: Let’s talk about this. There’s a lot to get to with regards to what goes into an event. Everything seems easy on the outside, but, of course, like every other industry, once you start rolling up your sleeves and taking back the curtain, there’s a lot that goes into it. Talk about Second Day Events. What does that mean? What do you mean by that?
DEBORAH KATTLER KUPETZ: Second Day Events, I started this in 2007, and this was because I have a lot of high-end clients that do a lot of high-end events.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: What does that mean, though? What does high-end clients mean? Hollywood, or what is high-end?
DEBORAH KATTLER KUPETZ: It means people with resources for their celebration. Maybe they’re not limited by a particular budget. We would do really incredible installations and create really beautiful events. I started to feel that maybe there was another opportunity, all this work, all this effort. Events can have weeks, months, hours going into them, and they’re over in like four hours. So, I wondered if there was another way of looking at this, so that’s when I started Second Day Events, which is an event that makes use of the setup, the décor, and all the other services involved in planning a larger affair and reusing some or most of these components for a second philanthropic celebration. For instance, with one family that I’ve been working with for a long time, they did a big private event on the night before Mother’s Day. The next day we flipped it, and we had about 1,800 people that were foster families over for an alternative Mother’s Day event. We actually created that tradition, and they’ve been doing that every year since then. It’s a really powerful opportunity, and sometimes what’s magnificent is if you look at photos from the first event, of course, that’s a fabulous bash and it’s really beautiful. But then you look at the population that’s there the next day, a completely different population enjoying that same environment, and it’s really powerful and it’s really profound.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: Therein lies how your journey ties together everything that you’ve learned along the way, social action, environmentalism, and building community because your events have facets of all of those.
DEBORAH KATTLER KUPETZ: Yeah. It’s just as easy to add aspects of social action or thinking of others or twinning your event or celebration with people from somewhere else that have an opportunity that you can kind of help them with in a way that’s not just a token. It can really have a deeper ripple effect.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: Mike and I are new potential clients, and we want to throw a party. We’re a new client of DKK. Again, for our listeners out there, it’s dkkevents.com to hire Deborah and her great services to green your event, not only in California, but she said she travels. It can be anywhere else. Also, she consults and travels, so dkkevents.com. We’re a new client. How do you plan a green event, Deborah?
DEBORAH KATTLER KUPETZ: First of all, I think it’s great that you’re interested in a green event because at least half the people that work with me have no idea they’re interested in a green event at first. They come to me because they saw something that I did that was cool. We have a conversation about what it is that you’re celebrating, who the people are that you’re bringing together, what it is that you want to impact or celebrate, and then we’ll start looking at all the elements. Are we going to do invitations that are electronic? Are we going to reuse material that has a special aspect of you involved with it to invite or engage your guests? Do you want to do something instead of gifts that would just be much more interesting, like help people contribute to a green conservancy near you? Do you want to celebrate your birthday with someone in another part of the world who’s celebrating a birthday, and you’re actually paying for their birthday celebration because they’re not in a position to do that? Do we want to do a locavores menu, where all the food is coming within a ten-mile radius? Do we want to cook together? There are thousands of things. How do we want to decorate it? Are we going to use hangers or cork? Maybe you’re a basketball player, so we’re going to have all sorts of things collected and then sent off to some boys’ camp somewhere, where they are in dire need of sports equipment, on and on and on. I do a very deep analysis of every single element, and we see how far we can go. Also, how many times can we expend the dollar? How far can that one dollar go, so it’s kind of not like one single use of a dollar where it just stops?
JOHN SHEGERIAN: Like you just said, sometimes you recycle the whole event to have a whole other amazing purpose the next day, the next week, the next month.
DEBORAH KATTLER KUPETZ: It could be. If we’re going to rent X, Y and Z for the party, what if we purchase something and then donate it to a shelter afterwards? Would that make sense? Kind of look around and see what are the other things in your life that you care about that we can fold into the celebration. It’s not about being too serious in any way because I love to have fun, and I think that the more personality you inject, the more surprising it is. Truly, the more fun it is. That’s where people begin to break down and experience life more and are more open to receiving your message at your party or celebrating with you. You kind of switch the energy around.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: What you’re doing is amazing. We’ve never had anybody like you on our show before, and this is just amazing. Talk a little bit about the specific things that make an event green. Is it just the organic food? As you said, it could be the whole set that you’ve done, it could be the artwork, it could be the setting itself. If someone calls you after this show, they hear you in New York, are you able to put on a green event in New York or Chicago or Miami, or by that matter, in Shanghai? Is this something you’re comfortable with?
DEBORAH KATTLER KUPETZ: Yes, I can. Like I said, it’s not like the world is made for this yet, but I do think that lots of things are moving in this direction. If anything, it just takes a lot of research, which I’m crazy about. I just find it really interesting. I love to see what’s available. A lot of times there are things that exist but just are not well promoted because the green space is not necessarily a profit-driven opportunity. People ask if being green is more expensive sometimes. It isn’t necessarily so, but the nature of my business is to reduce, reuse, and recycle. There are lots of areas where green costs a little bit more, such as organic foods, but people realize the quality is greater, and that’s where the difference in price. As far as materials, you can almost always find more interesting materials sometimes in different locations. It isn’t just one constant across the board, but of course, there are bamboo plates that are available internationally now, and they’re a fabulous product.
MIKE BRADY: Deborah, when you begin the conversation with somebody that engages your service, and you start planning what is it you want to celebrate, what is it you want to accomplish, and then you lead them into the green conversation. Do you find sometimes that your clients, while they had sought you out without thinking green initially, find that they’re bragging to their guests and the people that come to their celebration about besides this being a really cool party, we’re very environmentally friendly? Do you find that’s part of the traction afterwards?
DEBORAH KATTLER KUPETZ: Absolutely. I think that it’s part of the discovery. Just like people that don’t want to be vegetarian but maybe they stop eating meat a couple times a week, this really is a journey. People absolutely are excited. I’m very respectful of people that are not on this page. I wasn’t always on this page, and I didn’t have any awareness at all. There are some people that are always kind of conscious in this way. I definitely was not one of those people, so I really enjoyed my process making completely relate to someone who’s not here and really isn’t interested in certain things. I feel like there are so many invisible ways I can make their event a little bit easier on the Earth, a little bit more respectful of all sorts of other things, and I can do this in invisible ways to them if they don’t want to be very overt about it. For the people that are more comfortable being overt, there’s all different kinds of things that we can do, and I think the guests really enjoy it too. They appreciate it because it feels different. It has a different impact.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: Deborah, we’re on your website. I’m just going to read to our listeners a little bit how many things you really cover, from graphics and invitations to blueprinting, program design, talent and entertainment, food and beverage, set design, lighting design, staging and rigging and recycling and security and rental. What goes into these events is incredible. Can you talk about a couple things, though? Talk about what is an alt event, first of all? We want to understand that, and we want our listeners to understand what’s an alt event.
DEBORAH KATTLER KUPETZ: OK. An alt event was really something that I started to do at Second Day Events, and that was very exciting. An alt event was when I realized that I could take any kind of holiday or any kind of opportunity, and turn it into something more and something different. I do something alt Father’s Day, alt Mother’s Day, and what that is is really just an opportunity to kind of take any kind of day and enhance it with a philanthropic angle or give it a deeper dimension. Instead of something just being the commercial ownership of Thanksgiving or the commercial ownership of you name any holiday, and it’s so commercial. Alt really gives you an opportunity to own it yourself, and do something that’s communal-based and something connected with philanthropy. If you want an alt birthday, I think to me, it really means that we’re taking a deeper look into what birthday means, and I’m going to have an alternative birthday, and here’s what’s alternative about it. I’m doing this for the community, I’m taking this social action, and these are just the basic tenets of an alt event.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: That is just amazing. We’re down to the last couple of minutes or so. Share with our listeners a little bit some of the amazing events that you’ve had over the last years that you’re the most proud of, just some highlights.
DEBORAH KATTLER KUPETZ: I would say that there was an event that we did that was a studio head’s celebration, and we made all the décor out of canned goods. When we finished, it was really extraordinary because of the way that the lights flashed on the silver of the cans. When we donated the cans afterward to the food bank, it was their singularly largest canned donation that they had ever had in the history of the food bank. I think that that was really powerful. That was something. Then, for one event, we created really exquisite paper bag flowers that afterwards we had people beg us to pay for them to use as art installations in their homes. Something that was event décor that was made out of a recycled product to begin with and is just going to continue to be reused as event décor was then installed in people’s homes as design art. I got a big kick out of that. We go into production on these every year, and the same thing keeps happening, so that’s kind of fun.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: Deborah, we’re down to the last minute or so. You’re always welcome to come back on Green is Good because your story and journey are just amazing, as is your business model. What is in store and what are the next steps for DKK Events? Where are you going to take this amazing business?
DEBORAH KATTLER KUPETZ: I think what’s next for me is the expansion of Second Day Events and the branded alt events. These events are celebrated in a conscientious and untraditional way. I’m really passionate about that, and just kind of getting that into the vernacular so that people consider, when they’re doing something, to do an alt event. I’m really passionate about the opportunities that technology bring too, so that people can realize and utilize things in different channels than maybe the traditional rental way, that they get to provide things for the events that they have. It might be another system that we can devise that can help people extend their opportunities for celebration. We’ll have a lot more fantastic experiences with great clients.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: That is just wonderful. Like I said, we’re at the end for today, but this is just going to be continuing conversation. You’re always welcome back here. For our listeners, please go and hire Deborah to do your next event. Wherever you are, in California or in the United States or around the world, she consults, she travels. Go to www.dkkevents.com. Deborah Kattler Kupetz, you are a passionate environmental visionary and leader, and truly living proof that green is good.
DEBORAH KATTLER KUPETZ: Thank you so much, Mike and John. I look forward to celebrating with you soon.