Since founding her namesake company nearly a decade ago, Emily Clarke has risen through the ranks of Dallas event planners. A skilled designer, savvy planner and all-around consummate creative, she thrives on bringing clients’ visions to life, from luxe destination weddings to over-the-top corporate events.
But Clarke believes in boundaries and isn’t afraid to say no. Her husband, Walter, and daughters Lincoln, 10, and Mae, 8, come first. Often, when duty calls and Clarke has to jet off to a faraway fête, they come with. It’s a lesson she’s learned over time and shares with other working parents whenever possible.
“I want people who are wanting to run a business with a family to know: Don’t wait too long to integrate your children in an appropriate, professional way,” says Clarke. “It’s important for them to see you loving what you do.”
NorthTexasChild: How have you balanced motherhood with growing a business? Emily Clarke: Not well, at first. I thought I had a lot to prove and didn’t want to be seen as a mom with a “hobby.” I had to sort some stuff out. I’m lucky I have great mentors. I’m also a big believer in therapy.
NTC: And now? EC: Now, I don’t base my pride and worth on what other people think. What defines me as a business owner is how I treat people and how the people who work for me feel. I want to be present. When I got over that whole “mom with a hobby” thing, I started including my children in my business.
NTC: Do you have a strong support system? EC: Would you like to meet the army? We’ve had an incredible nanny for eight years. My husband is incredible. I have an amazing group of friends None of this is possible without everyone.
NTC: Your plate is full. How do you take care of yourself? EC: I turn my mind off when I play tennis. I try to do something active every day.
NTC: How do you and Walter stay connected? EC: We both love to travel; it doesn’t hurt if the time zones are off, too. We laugh that sometimes I have to get out of the city for people to leave me alone. We also play tennis together. Having grace for each other when a season is really busy is something we’ve gotten better at in our marriage.
“I’d describe myself as an emotional designer. I love reading people.”
NTC: How were you introduced to event planning? EC: I worked for an event rental company and fell in love. After that, I worked for wedding planners and designers, which was an interesting way to learn the business. God surrounded me with generous people who gave me a chance before I had a portfolio—and here I am.
NTC: What has owning a business taught you? EC: The best thing about owning your own business is if you want to change something, you can. I’ve learned the more fluid and flexible I can be, the better. I’m also brave enough now to say what I want to do. I’ve found the confidence to say, “No, this is my company. This is what we’re about.”
NTC: Is there a project you’re most proud of? EC: This year, there was an industry conference in Baja Mar. They chose me to be the designer. It was a challenge to design for peers and people that know design so well. It tested me and challenged us as a team. My entire team moved to the Bahamas for 10 days and I took my daughter and niece.
NTC: What are your strengths? EC: Design. I can see a space before a space exists. I love transformation and visual storytelling. I’m also really good with color and cohesion. I’d describe myself as an emotional designer. I love reading people.
NTC: Have you always been creative? EC: I’ve always been entrepreneurial. My mom is an interior designer and my dad is an entrepreneur. In some ways I feel like the two worlds kind of met. My mom would talk about the color of the wall; she appreciated that stuff. And my grandmother was really big on celebrations. I came from a combination of those things.
NTC: Who or what inspires you? EC: My grandfather inspires me to problem-solve. He always had a family business and was such a believer in never giving up, working harder and figuring things out. Creatively, I take a ton of inspiration from travel. I love going to a city and getting lost. I love hotels; I think they’re fascinating. And paint. People joke that I’m a color addict.
“I love going to a city and getting lost. I love hotels; I think they’re fascinating. And paint.”
NTC: Where do you find inspiration locally? EC: I like The Joule. I think it’s interesting how they came in and conformed to a space. Forty Five Ten is incredible. I go on drives and look at historic homes a lot. That’s something I used to do with my mom.
NTC: How do you describe your design aesthetic at home? EC: Eclectic and cozy but modern with appropriate pops of color. I think I have a fun and whimsical style.
NTC: What’s your favorite trend in event decor right now? EC: Color and pattern is back with a vengeance, and I love that. I really like illustrations mixed with decor. And I love juxtaposition. It’s cool to see something unexpected.
NTC: Trend you’re happy to see go? EC: Rustic…
NTC: Do your kids always have over-the-top birthday parties? EC: They did when they were little. Lincoln is really into baking, so this year for her birthday party we created The Great British Baking Show. We literally had ovens in the backyard and challenges and timers. Now, I own more random bakingware than anyone ever should.
NTC: Do you have a hard time turning the event planner off? EC: When the kids were little and my business was starting out, I felt pressured to make their parties really good. I’ve learned that’s just not what kids think of a birthday. They’ll walk into big installs and they’re not that impressed.
NTC: Do you have a mantra? EC: I have a mantra for myself every year. Last year’s mantra was “trust the process.” That continues. This year’s is “collaboration over credit.” I’m tired of social media driving this credit culture. As creative people, we can learn so much from each other.
Hails from Abilene
Lives in Greenway Parks, Dallas
Significant other Walter Clarke, senior vice president and director of FP&A at HilltopHoldings
Alma mater Texas Christian University
Early career Social worker for Child Protective Services
Current career Creative director and founder of Emily Clarke Events
Favorite destinations for art Laura Rathe Fine Art, Dallas Museum of Art
Most-visited restaurants Wheelhouse, Sasseta, Mirador, Shinsei Restaurant, Parigi
Top spots for shopping Saint Bernard, Scout Design Studio
Favorite color “Every color but especially anything neon.”