If, like me, you live in one of the colder parts of North America, these days you might find yourself daydreaming about summer. No doubt, if you’re in love, you might even be thinking about a destination wedding. Yet have you ever thought about having your dress made by a designer who lives in paradise?
One day last year on Instagram, I came across one of the most beautiful wedding dresses I’d ever seen. And the object of my affection was the brainchild of none other than Jaye Applewaite.
Formerly an engineer who earned her degree via the University of Waterloo, today Jaye creates stunning custom-designed bridal gowns in her studio on the island of Barbados.
Last year, I got ahold of her to discuss her captivating designs.
You studied engineering in university. What prompted you to pursue that field?
You know when you grow up, people ask what you want to do and they expect you to say doctor, lawyer…? Then you get a good job. I think that’s what I just did.
I just picked one of those traditional, scientific kind of fields that people consider to be successful.
And I didn’t want to do medicine. Law never appealed to me. I did like math, I did like science, I did like physics. I enjoy [these subjects] and engineering was a good fit for me.
What is it that inspired you exactly to switch from engineering to fashion?
I think it was more like an accident to be honest. It was 2015. The world had a recession around 2010-2011. It kind of hit Barbados from 2014-2016.
I was working part time and I didn’t want to be home, twiddling my thumbs. I like to be productive.
And it was summertime in Barbados, and I decided to start a little something. I started making flower headbands and body chains. And it just whetted my appetite. Getting into creative entrepreneurship is something I’d never considered [or] even entertained before and it just opened up my eyes and my mind and my excitement to a whole new world.
Here you have people messaging you, loving what you’re creating with your hands. As small as that flower headband may be, or that body chain, it made that person’s outfit. And to me, that felt really good.
Then, later on that year there was a fashion show–the organizer messaged me, wanting to showcase my bands and body chains. I was like, “Sure, but what will the model wear?”
And she was like, “You could pair up with a bikini designer…”
And I said, “No.” I felt it was cliched and I thought about all my customers. And yes, the majority of them were girls attending the summer parties and having fun. But a couple of them were brides. And I found I had the most joy with brides, and as I started to think more about bridal [fashion] it clicked for me, “You know what? Let me get into the bridal industry.”
I was really intrigued when I was reading about you and I learned that you do not have formal design training. Can you tell me more about how you moved from headbands to dresses?
I think it came from a very naïve point of view. I think somebody who’s trained in fashion itself would be more hesitant to make such a big switch. But for me, I just tried to see where this journey is taking me.
…Going back to the fashion show, I’d created all the bodywear, the headbands and everything. And I honestly didn’t have any sewing experience.
I approached a local seamstress, told her what I needed, and we worked together to create the collection. She was doing the majority of the sewing and I was adding the designs to the pieces. [For example] she would sew a top and I would add the lace, beads, pearls, and all the bridal details.
Then the show happened. At that point in time it still didn’t occur to myself to call myself a bridal designer.
Honestly it was a dream and it had never really been done here before. The audience was wowed, and the pearls, they sparkled–everything was just looking so, so pretty. And [my designs] really stuck out because the remainder of the show was swimwear and resort wear. I was the only bridal person on the runway.
The public’s response to Jaye’s line proved to be an incredible catalyst.
After the fashion show, the reaction was very good. Mind you, I still had not really sewn anything. I did a photo shoot, and a bridal magazine also contacted me about the bridal pieces. They wanted to do an editorial.
…photos were out there presenting me as a bridal designer. So obviously, a bride approached me and she wanted a wedding dress. And inside, I’m panicking. The seamstress I worked with was very, very busy. I knew that if I said yes, I’d have to make this dress myself.
But, luckily, my mom sewed for us, and my sister is a fashion designer. Although I had never sewn before, I had seen people handle themselves around a sewing machine. So I was like, “Say yes”. And I’m like, “I”m just gonna teach myself.”
Jaye’s faith in her abilities came from a familiar place.
…Some people may see sewing as creative. [And] the design of the dress is creative, yes. But the actual getting behind the machine, making patterns, to me, is science. And me–I’m a scientist. I’m like, “I have this. It’s all math. I got this.” My mind was like, “Yeah, you can do this. You can build buildings, and bridges. You can do this!”
And so I just taught myself pattern-making and everything, and the dress fit like a glove. [The bride] was super happy. And her photo was out there…
And then, after a year, I quit engineering.
In your fashion journey, what keeps you in bridalwear as opposed to sportswear or some other type of clothing?
When it comes down to bridal wear, I’ve seen too many ill-fitting wedding dresses. I’ve just seen too much stuff I’m just not pleased with in the bridal industry. I want to continue to push the boundaries and explore bridal fashion. Because I feel that the other areas are well explored. They really are.
I just feel like bridalwear–it just sticks with me. The fantasy of it, the emotions are in it. You’re a part of that person’s big day. I just feel like you’re making an impact on that person’s life.
As opposed to like, say, a bathing suit or something they wear it to the beach, but next year they want a new bathing suit. I just feel like certain other clothing has a shorter shelf life. Bridal just–that person remembers that for the rest of their life. Those pictures go with them. And beyond. And they can speak about that day, that experience, the dress, working with me, and bridal fashion is just fulfilling.
To me that was lacking in engineering–that fulfillment. Not just creativity. It really was the fulfilment. And when I made a headband and those clients sending pictures and were so happy, and so beautiful, they got so many compliments, and I felt that good.
Now imagine me when I’m doing wedding dresses now? I’m on cloud nine for a whole week after a bride’s wedding!
And people can find your dresses online…
On my website at jayeapplewaite.com. We have a studio in St. James, Barbados.
Some people think they can come and try on dresses but it’s not like that. It truly is a bespoke wedding dress service, by appointment only. Once you contact me and get an idea of what’s going on [and] you really want to meet with me, then we can set up everything from there.
Who is a Jaye Applewaite bride? What is she like?
I think from off the bat it’s the bride who’s looking for something custom. They’ve tried on dresses and what they’re looking for it’s not out there. They want someone who listens to them and truly gives them what they want. They want good quality, good service, they want something beautiful, something that’s unique.
They are young professionals. They have a joyful life, and they’re fashionable. They’re free-spirited, they’re down to earth. Because they really are a joy to work with–my brides.
They really are kind-hearted souls looking for a beautiful wedding experience.
Speaking of the industry: What would you say to someone who wanted to get into fashion design, but they didn’t know where to start?
I feel like I was in that same position… I think you have to start before you’re ready and also have a goal for where you’re going. Because I know sometimes where you start is very far from your end goal and the gap between there discourages people. Just start and [keep in mind that] you don’t know everything. You’re not going to know everything. You just start and figure it out, and the decisions you make, make them with that end-goal in mind. Continue to learn, continue to grow.
What’s ahead for Jaye Applewaite designs?
One of my main inspirations is Vera Wang. I like how she has built an empire around different elements. I believe it is good to diversify a bit and have fun and be able to explore your different options within the industry.
Right now Jaye Applewaite as it is is focused on one on one custom designed bridal fashion, very light, bright, and airy. But I think next in the future I would like to create a separate brand or separate line and just have that catered towards a very specific look and try and get into boutiques. I think that will be exciting.
Another thing I’ve been talking about is switching to another aesthetic. I know everybody appreciates classic traditional mermaid, ball gown kind of styles.
When I look at my brides, and when I look at my work, it’s almost two separate looks going on. There’s the light airy, sheer, ethereal kind of look. And then there are the brides who go for the more traditional mermaid kind of dresses, and to me I can almost see the brand begin to separate in terms of aesthetic.
Anything is possible.
All photos are featured on Jaye’s Instagram page.