Eye for Design
Lauren Wilbun creates one-of-a-kind experiences through her al fresco dining business, Collective Law.
After Lauren Wilbun (aka Law) graduated from Johnson & Wales University in 2015, she interned at Gigi’s Cupcakes. While she loved baking and pastries, the 2 am wake-up calls led to the realization that she was in the wrong field. Even after a total career change, ironically, these days her alarm is usually set for 2:30 am.
“If I have a picnic session at 6 am, I need to leave the studio by 5 am, start prepping the charcuterie boards by 4 am, pack the items for the picnic by 3:30 am. So, 2:30 am is when my alarm goes off. It’s funny, though; sunrise picnics are for sure my favorite. I just love the mornings, it’s a fresh start.”
As the saying goes: Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life. Perhaps for Wilbun, that’s how this 2:30 am wake-up call differs from the ones of the past.
Wilbun did not go straight from pastry to picnics, it was a winding road that nods to her businesses’ namesake.
In 2018 she graduated from UNC Wilmington with hopes of going into interior design. After working in the interior design field, she then became the wedding day-of planner and venue coordinator for The Barn at Rock Creek in Leland. Upon finally finding a career she genuinely loved, the universe (of course) had other plans.
“During COVID, weddings came to a halt,” Wilbun says. “I sat still for about three months then birthed the idea of Collective Law, doing charcuterie boards and picnics. There’s a ton of those businesses on the West Coast, but no one here was doing it. I put my own spin on it. I have a background in food, interior and events. I combined it all.”
With no manual for how to learn a picnic business, she just figured out things as she went along.
Today, Collective Law’s picnics come styled beachside. There are antique wicker tables and delicate linens in neutral patterns juxtaposed by colorful fresh flowers. Candles set the mood, and plush pillows serve as seats. The showstopper is the overflowing charcuterie board of cheese, fresh fruit and cured meats.
These aren’t your average picnic. They feel special, curated, well styled and, of course, Instagram-worthy. Wilbun’s eye for design has led to larger events for picnic-patrons-turned-clients.
Picnic options include an hour-and-a-half sunrise or sunset session. Each is decorated by Wilbun herself and comes equipped with everything one would need. To-go boards are also available for events and get-togethers.
“Collective Law was one of those businesses that did well during COVID,” Wilbun says. “It was private, it was new and I’ve really enjoyed it. I’ve always loved hosting and planning parties for friends and family. Coming from the wedding industry, I have such a history with vendors, photographers, florists and rental companies. They’ve encouraged me and helped me along the way. It’s been really great.”
In the beginning Wilbun was operating out of her home in Leland, then Mayfaire contacted her about renting a space. In July 2021 Collective Law moved into its own studio equipped with a full kitchen and appointment-only storefront.
Along the walls, there are dozens of pillows in subtle colors and patterns. An umbrella with orange and fringe accents is propped above a wooden picnic table built by her dad. Draped linens, unique candle holders and vases filled with pampas grass are stylishly displayed about.
“My inventory has absolutely grown, but 60 percent of the stuff I have now I already had,” Wilbun says. “Most are antiques or vintage.”
She purchases new decor from everyday retailers but notes that some items find her in the process. She points to two oversized throw pillows, “I saw these at T.J. Maxx and practically ran to check-out. I had to have them.”
Much the way Wilbun’s picnics are styled her unique taste, so are her charcuterie boards.
She calls them “American style” due to the hearty portions and nontraditional provisions. Her favorites include black pepper Toscano, merlot-infused cheese and Manchego. Pre-ordering from retailers keeps items continuously stocked, which is smart considering she’s averaging one picnic per weekday and three picnics a day on weekends.
“Thank goodness for culinary school,” Wilbun says. “It taught me how to be efficient, and I learned so much I use in my everyday life. My first lab at Johnson and Wales was on hot and cold desserts,” she says. “We wrote a paper on Muda (a Japanese term for futility); it entails taking the least steps as possible and creating the least amount of trash. I use that every day. If it’s not efficient and doesn’t work for my business, it’s cut.”
While Wilbun has practiced Muda in some areas, she’s expanded in others. A collaboration with Northwest Land and Cattle brings her picnics to the farm. A wooden table with two benches, provisions and plenty of decor sets the scene.
“It’s a totally different clientele than the beach clients,” Wilbun says. “These people want the wild and tall grass; they love it on the cornfield.”
Her clients’ events range from engagement sessions to a girlfriends’ picnic or anniversary date. Collective Law has also expanded into event styling, providing grazing boards and all the decor. Everything one sees behind the business is exclusively created by Wilbun, with the exception of part-time help for larger picnics.
“It’s been crazy to think about the clients I’ve worked for,” Wilbun says. “They’ll send me an address, and I don’t think about it that much, and I get there and it’s a beautiful home on the waterway. I can’t believe this is my client, it’s so surreal. I’m very humble, I take it for what it is. A lot of people don’t know who the face of Collective Law is and I like that. My product speaks for itself.”
Collective Law is growing by the day. Wilbun has tested the waters by hosting events in the storefront. An engagement client recently turned into a booking for a 100-person wedding in 2022. With her wheels turning, she sees the future as exciting and full of ideas.
Branded items could turn into a storefront, and she’s toyed with the thought of opening the studio for grab-and-go boards. With every item down to mini boards and to-go boxes customized, it’s an almost pre-determined path. For now, Wilbun remains humble in the success of her business, even as similar ones pop up in the area.
“I started Collective Law in 2020, and now it’s full-blown,” she says. “It’s very exciting. I walk into my studio every day thinking, ‘Who gave me the keys to this place?’”
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