Last week, I found myself in heart of the beautiful Appalachian trail in the quiet town of Highlands, North Carolina, for Emergence; a highly-curated and intentional experience for wedding professionals in every vendor category.
Built with the desire to uplift the wedding industry as a whole, founders Kaytee Stice of Roots Floral Design and Samantha Leenher of Samantha Joy Events have created an experience unlike anything that I have seen before: one that satisfies a longing for authentic relationships in an intimate setting, while instilling an appreciation for the culture where each retreat takes place. It’s an environment that is sprinkled with moments of delight and forethought while encouraging all high-achievers to speak their dreams into the world through conversations that empower and restore.
All photos in this post are courtesy of Lance Nicoll Photography.
Emergence is an exclusive, invitation-only event, with each event having a cap of ~40-50 people in attendance with the hopes of fostering an atmosphere that truly allows for deliberate connection that’s deeply rooted. This autumn’s gathering took place at Flat Mountain Farm, a stunning new property with 28-acres of beauty to explore. The entire week is structured as equal parts education, relationship-building, and immersive affairs, with the educational portions being led by some of the industry’s most notable and respected educators.
I’ve shared in real-time some of the happenings from the past week during my time in Highlands and received questions about what it was like. Is it worth the investment? What was it like? As an introvert, did I recommend it? I’m so excited to share some of my thoughts and the inside scoop – a recap of sorts of what it was like with you below.
Before the event, an attendee guide and invitation to tour the properties of Old Edwards Hospitality were shared, including details pertaining to the attire inspiration for the daytime outings and the farewell dinner. Attendees were also given a list with each person’s name that was attending and details about accommodations and travel.
Being that the autumn season is filled with tones of golds, yellows, and browns, much of the week’s design and inspiration was drawn from the natural foliage, earthy textures from the wooded barn and cabins on-site, and a deep sense and feelings of home. All the stationery was designed by Emma of Em Paper Co., who is just as talented as she is beautiful and kind.
Before official registration, in-depth tours at The Farm and Half-Mile Farm (properties where I’ve photographed my own wedding clients) served as the warm-up to the afternoon’s rush of events. Upon arrival, each guest was gifted a beautiful leather journal, event guide, and stunning name display, all hand-tied in a kerchief. Inside, we were greeted with a customized itinerary and a voucher to use at the week’s conclusion, which would serve to claim an item that was being used as decor throughout the week, ranging from stunning wool blankets to gorgeous coffee table books.
Emergence limits the numbers of each type of vendor to keep the conversations dynamic and preserve a unique and diverse range of talent from each discipline; the attendee list includes multiple of each: from wedding planners and designers, filmmakers, stationers, film photographers, rental partners, venue sales managers, and more. Immediately, there were varying ice-breakers and group activities that served as fantastic conversation starters. Following dinner, we were all invited to linger by the campfire for deeper rapport and conversation. I left with some beautifully vulnerable and deep conversations that were truly a balm to my heart!
On the second day, each attendee followed their custom itinerary which was designed to create as many touchpoints with all 50 attendees as possible. I appreciated how thoughtfully-planned each moment and outing was; at larger conferences, it can be difficult to have conversations with everyone, and I felt that this was an intentional gesture to encourage a deeper sense of camaraderie. Ego has no place here, and for those concerned about the environment feeling “cliquey”, you have nothing to worry about.
The second day felt somewhat activity-heavy. Much of the day was spent absorbing and conversing about business-related topics, as well as a nature hike to the top of the property’s hill.
There were a total of four sessions with an educational piece to them spread across the two days; one led by Clark Brewer about finding your artistic voice and another by Invision Events on the importance of building a personal brand. Filmmaker Megan Pettus led a presentation that discussed some of the nuances of creating reels and the current climate of Instagram and the reels feature while also providing videography of the week.
There was a bit of downtime in the afternoon, which was dedicated time for 1:1 education or to rest before the farewell dinner. For me, I opted for quiet time to journal while my roommates took a nap. 😉
The farewell dinner came all too soon. We were greeted with a table that many of us often find ourselves creating (or, in my case, documenting) for others, and it was sweet to be given the opportunity to enjoy something beautiful ourselves. Each of us received a place setting with our name adorned on a personalized menu. It was a plated affair, each course receiving its own introduction by the head chef detailing how it was made, the ingredients, and more. After dinner’s conclusion and somewhat of an unofficial after-party that went long into the night back at the hotel, we found ourselves the next morning at breakfast reminiscing on the past days together.
Going into the final morning, I found that I hadn’t been put in a small group setting that allowed me to converse with every one of the attendees; all that to say, I am grateful and surprised by how many touchpoints I was able to have with about 95% of the people there! At breakfast, I made a point to talk with those I hadn’t yet met. Many of us, including myself, kept mentioning how much of a delight and pleasant surprise their time in Highlands was.
As a people-loving introvert, I thrive off of genuine and heartfelt conversations and intimate gatherings. I’ll be going to a 400-person conference this December, which I’ll be spending extra time (mentally) preparing for. The intimacy of Emergence, I think, is definitely more of my speed/cup of tea. There’s a special richness to these types of settings and the conversations that come forth. I’m very interested to see the differences in the pace and dynamic in December at this larger conference, to say the least.
Emergence is unquestionably an event that I intend to partake in at least once a year. Not only was Highlands an encouragement to a tired heart, it was precisely the retreat to propel the trajectory of my professional goals further.
With its investment price point, however, I want to advise that Emergence is for those looking to play the long game: it’s for those who desire a career of sustainability and those who are seeking other likeminded creatives who will come alongside them in the pursuit of excellence and purpose for their business and those they serve. All of this to say, for me, Emergence was absolutely worth it.
Thank you to Lance Nicoll for providing the photography coverage of this past week and for allowing me to share these beautiful images.