Article by Natasha King
What does a civil engineer and a self-taught bespoke bridal designer have in common? Absolutely everything, because they are actually one and the same person. Meet Barbadian Jaye Applewaite who for the last five years has been elating blushing brides, with her stunning handmade custom-designed wedding dresses, one stitch at a time.
Jaye’s exquisite designs, attention to detail and impeccable craftsmanship has her on the “What To Wear” list of the bridal scene in and outside of Barbados. Her creations have been featured on major bridal blogs and in publications such as Muna Luchi, The Coordinated Bride, Style Me Pretty and The Knot. You know you’ve made it big as a designer when you reach “knock off” status. Which is exactly what happened when a photo of local celebrity, singer Nikkita went viral wearing a Jaye Applewaite design on her wedding day. The photo can now be found on websites across Asia selling a cheaper, lower quality, mass produced version of Jaye’s design.
What makes Jaye’s journey to bridal gown fashionista status so interesting is how it all started. She wasn’t making dresses for her dolls as a kid growing up nor did she attend fashion school. “I’m actually a qualified civil engineer. I attended the University of Waterloo in Canada. I graduated with honours and distinction and worked for a bit there before returning to Barbados and got what would be considered a “good job.” It would be a few years later when the construction industry in Barbados started to feel the impact of the global recession and Jaye was placed on part-time status with her job, that she started to question if this was her life’s purpose. “I realized I didn’t really feel fulfilled. With a young son at daycare during the day I had time to think about things like, am I really enjoying my life? Is this what I really want to be doing? I decided to use my free time and do something creative.” In an attempt to “get the creative juices flowing,” Jaye started making jewelry and flower headbands. “It was fun just being able to create something, sell it to someone and have them be so excited about it. Clients would send me photos from an event and say “oh my goodness this crown was so nice, or the necklace was everything!” that really got me excited, it gave me a taste for entrepreneurship – selling my products and being a creative. I never felt like that for engineering. It wasn’t that engineering was terrible or that I didn’t have a great boss. I just didn’t feel like it was what I should be doing. But creating these pieces felt like something I had to do, it was really soul fulfilling.”
After being called back to work full-time, Jaye continued to make her jewelry and headpieces on the side and found herself getting a lot of requests from brides. But it was only when she got a call from her friend Toni Thorne telling her to “bring your jewelry, your headbands and come” take part in her popular local fashion show “Pompasette”, that the winds of change would start to blow Jaye in a completely new direction professionally. With just a few days to get ready for the fashion show Jaye had to figure out what her models would wear to accent her pieces. Rather than pair her collection with another designer’s apparel she decided to create the clothing herself. Realizing that she had the most fun and felt the most fulfilled working with brides to create pieces for their special day, she decided to do something bridal inspired. Jaye went full steam ahead, sketched the dresses, called on two friends to help (one who could sew really well) and they pulled it all together in just three days while working their full-time jobs.
On the day of the show, a very pregnant (with baby number two) Jaye arrived with her team just in time to hear her name being called, she got the models dressed and on the runway in quick time. Not only were the accessories well received but the dresses were a massive hit. So much so that people started referring to her as a bridal designer and a bride approached her after the show and asked her to make her dress for her wedding. Despite the fact that her friend who actually did the sewing for the show would not be able to assist this time around (her busy medical practice certainly would not allow for such), Jaye said yes to the eager bride’s request! “I couldn’t sew, so I gave her a super discounted price just in case it didn’t work out perfectly, she would have only paid a little for it. I just charged her for the fabric $500 and took a leap of faith. I went to the bookstore, bought a sewing book and made the dress, which came out perfectly. She was a curvaceous bride and I was a little nervous, but it fit to a T and she loved it and it all began from there.” Jaye got further confirmation that she was onto something when she was asked by a wedding planner to feature the pieces from the fashion show in a magazine called Bride Life.
Countless brides, magazine features and photoshoots later, the self-taught bridal designer has reached guru status. If you had asked her when she first started as an engineer if she would be doing anything else, she would have said no, but Jaye, who has been unapologetically fearless in her career shift, couldn’t be happier with her professional pivot. “It all happened so organically, I had invested so much in engineering and schooling, so much in science. I saw myself being an engineer until retirement age, but when I made the decision to leave my job, I knew it was going to be something amazing, you can’t leave an engineering salary to just hang out.” Jaye got some inspiration to “go for it” from her younger sister who was accepted into Harvard Medical School and changed her mind just weeks before she was set to fly up to school and start her studies. She decided to go to fashion school instead and is now a top designer with the international sports brand Adidas in Germany. “I was inspired by her to not feel afraid, to not do this engineering thing and do my art. I also had two kids and I knew I had to step up to the plate to make things work. People were like are you going to leave your good engineering job and become a seamstress? And I said hell yes. The only good job is the one that fills your soul and with that you are able to put your heart and passion into it and make it work. No matter what it is you can build it into something great.”
And that is exactly what Jaye did. Jaye has two bridal lines, Bliss Bride for the more conservative traditional bride and Jay Applewaite which she describes as sexy, elegant and romantic. She chooses the fabrics with much care and gets the best she can find from all over the world. At the core of both lines, is Jaye’s penchant for delivering soft and dreamy dresses that allow the bride to feel beautiful and give a true reflection of themselves and everything they dreamed they would be on their wedding day. “I want them to feel sexy, elegant and gorgeous. So far, I feel like I have accomplished that each and every time. Each dress is created with special attention to all the details and overall design.” With just 25% of her clientele coming from Barbados the other 75% are from the region and the U.S. Some of them she’s never met in person and most of them have found her on Instagram. Everything is done virtually; the brides send an email with their measurements and ideas before the consultation, and they receive a preliminary quote. During the consultation they discuss everything from the bride’s personal style and their bridal style to the theme of the wedding and any other important details. Once the consultation is completed everything is finalized and Jaye gets to work on creating a wedding gown of the bride’s dreams. Some fly in for fittings or fly her to them. Jaye has even travelled to dress some of her brides on their wedding day. On completion the dresses are beautifully packaged and shipped to her brides that are off island. Apart from a few of her brides having to get a few inches taken in due to losing weight before the big day Jaye’s track record for fitting her brides perfectly is fantastic.
To date Jaye has not had one unsatisfied bride and she makes no more than 12 to 15 dresses a year. Engineering’s loss has certainly been the bridal industry’s gain. Jaye has made an art form out of ensuring brides slay on their wedding day. She is not the Bajan Vera Wang, she is definitely the bridal world’s Jaye Applewaite!