Coffee chat: Entrepreneur Jaye Applewaite
When Jaye Applewaite was employed as a civil engineer, she dreaded going to work because she knew her job was not her ‘calling’.
Jaye really wanted to work in fashion and one day she decided to follow her passion and turn her back on engineering for good.
Two years later and Jaye is now a successful entrepreneur with a growing wedding dress design brand and plans to open her own boutique.
Yello sat down with Jaye to find out about her career change, how she juggles motherhood and her business, and what advice she has for other entrepreneurs.
Describe yourself in three words.
Creative, quirky and ambitious.
Why did you switch from engineering to designing wedding dresses?
I was getting kind of depressed with engineering because I realised that it really wasn’t for me. I knew that I had no interest in it, and it wasn’t my passion, and that was playing on my mind a lot so I knew I wanted to leave.
I’ve always loved weddings and been obsessed with them, and my plan initially was to become a wedding planner, so I took a wedding planning course at the WPIC (Wedding Planners Institute of Canada). Then designing wedding dresses sort of happened by accident.
I wanted to create a portfolio to promote the wedding planning company so I was thinking about holding a photo shoot and asking a bride to be a model. But as I was looking at all of the wedding dresses I couldn’t see anything I liked, so I thought it might be better to make my own dress.
Then at the same time, a friend of mine was having a fashion shoot and she wanted to use some accessories I’d made like body chains and flower headbands. I decided that’d be a good opportunity to do a bridal inspired show with my own dresses, and it all went from there.
The images from the show were posted on social media, and I did a photo shoot as well which led to exposure through magazines, and then brides just started to contact me.
I worked as a civil engineer while building the business for about a year. I resigned on my 29th birthday and it’s the gift that keeps on giving.
What was the hardest part about being a new entrepreneur?
In the beginning I struggled to balance my full-time job, being a mum and starting the business. When I was making my first dress for a bride I was still working as a civil engineer and nine months pregnant!
It’s definitely been a learning process because there wasn’t really anyone in this field in Barbados that I could follow or look up to as a mentor. In the beginning I was googling a lot, and reading about other people to see if I could find out more about where they came from, and what they did to be successful.
I read a lot of rags-to-riches stories from any entrepreneur in any business around the world, which showed me that everyone makes mistakes, but eventually you learn the ropes, start making good decisions, and continue to build and grow.
What’s your typical working day?
My work day starts at 9am, once the children (who are five and two) are at school, and then I usually finish at 2.30pm so that I can go and collect them.
During the day I work on dresses as well as posting on social media. I also have client meetings, media interviews, consultations and general administration to do like answering emails. Then sometimes I can be sewing late into the evening depending on if the children behave!
I keep my schedule light so that I can be happy and social and invest in self-care. It’s all about balance.
How do you come up with your dress designs?
I have a general aesthetic that I like and I put in certain details such as making it form fitting, giving the illusion of skin and pretty lace details. I like anything that is light, airy and fresh, which fits well on a modern, romantic bride. It should also be laid back, beautiful, with sparkle, and I like to use non-traditional fabrics.
When a bride comes to me she’s usually already comfortable with my style and aesthetic and is going in that direction with her dress.
Then I consult with her to find out more about her, her style, and her thoughts on the wedding like whether she’s going for a beach, bohemian, or a church wedding just so that I can understand the vibe, and from there I can start the design.
How long does it take you to make a wedding dress?
I like to take my time so from beginning to end it takes about six months. That’s kind of standard for the wedding industry and I don’t like to rush. The fabric sourcing can take a long time particularly if I’m looking for something specific.
What fabrics do you like working with?
I really like lace because I think it helps to play up some of the details of a dress.
If you make a ball gown it might not look different until you add lace and place it in certain areas so that it can accentuate curves, the neckline, or pretty details like a lace pocket.
It’s a timeless fabric and gives the dress a unique edge, and because every dress is made by hand, it really will be a dress just for you and your body.
Which fashion designers inspire you?
I like Vera Wang for her business acumen.
She’s multi-talented, does something of everything, and isn’t limited to wedding dresses. She offers perfumes, affordable and high-end wedding dresses, and ready-to-wear clothing. She inspires me because she started with wedding dresses but has really managed to branch out.
What do you do on your days off?
I relax by going to the beach or I like to treat myself to lunch. I love to read inspirational books or articles. I also like abstract or still-life painting.
What do you love about Barbados?
Easy access to wherever you want to go. The island is small but inspiring, and I like driving around a lot, experiencing the different social and physical landscapes.
Barbados is so diverse. I love the ruggedness of the north coast, the sound of the angry waves, and then in 15 minutes or less you can get to the west coast which is so different. I love the history of Oistins and then on the west the island becomes more modern.
What are your plans for the future?
I’d definitely like to expand and add more lines. I’d like to do a ready-to-wear, island-inspired, resort-type bridal line that can be stocked in high-end boutiques. It wouldn’t be a mermaid or ball gown style but something that’s more slim fitting or with sewn-in skirts.
Eventually I want my own boutique space and to start making accessories again as well. I also want to put the wedding planning course into action.
What advice would you give budding entrepreneurs?
Don’t get frightened by the gap between where you are and your dreams, just get started.
When I started I didn’t own a sewing machine, I never did a sewing course or a fashion course, I didn’t have a mannequin or a pair of sewing scissors, and I could’ve told myself that I wasn’t ready but you are ready if you have a dream.
You can get lots of free information from the Internet and then as you grow you can pay for the specific courses that you need.
Just start where you are at and move from there.