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Vancouver millennial taking bridal fashion industry by storm
Gaby Bayona has the kind of effortless personal chic few women can pull off in a cozy oversized sweater and eccentric face-shaped earrings, which is what she was wearing during CTV’s behind-the-scenes tour of her East Vancouver headquarters.
Make no mistake – this is a woman with not only a strong personal style, but the kind of confidence and eye for trends that have made her a taste-maker and trend-setter rather than a follower. Armed with her instincts and a background in dressmaking, she’s building a global name for herself in the competitive bridal fashion industry.
"My mom was a seamstress but also a single mother, so I spent my entire upbringing helping her sew -- not by choice,” Bayona said with a laugh.
She spent her high school years helping at her mother’s custom dress shop in New Westminster’s bridal district. A failed attempt to get into UBC’s Sauder School of Business left Bayona feeling adrift and making and designing grad dresses in her mom’s shop while she considered her future.
"One day, we had a bride come in and saw one of our grad dresses and was like 'Woah, that's amazing. I want it for my wedding'” Bayona said. “That was kind of an ‘ah-hah moment’ when we realized brides were moving away from the cookie-cutter satin ballgown or the fitted rouche—you know that look."
Bayona found herself working 14 hour days, seven days a week to keep up with the custom orders that began flooding their store – to the point where she was sleeping on the floor between dresses.
“I just took a moment to think because it wasn't the life I wanted for myself. You can only do so much with your own two hands and it scared me when I was like 19, 20 years old.”
With brashness and confidence unbound by a traditional business education, Bayona decided to design a line of gowns and list them on the online marketplace, Etsy, with the dresses made to order in Vancouver’s Gastwown neighbourhood.
"It was just a lot of trial and error and a lot of like Google research – hah! I was really fortunate with having some peers that were able to give me a little bit of advice here or there,” she said. “I really didn't think it would come to this scale."
Less than five years after launching Truvelle online, Bayona has launched a second “sexier” line, Laudae, with plans for a third.
Her company recently expanded to an airy 10,000-square-foot, multi-level space that houses the design, production and business heartquarters in Mount Pleasant. Her staff has steadily grown to two dozen, each of whom are specially trained in the meticulous and specialized dressmaking required for pricey, delicate fabrics and form-hugging or free-flowing designs.
While Bayona handles all the business concerns and some of the design, the most important member of the team is arguably someone else – Bayona’s mother.
Merly Bayona is the creative genius behind the gowns, making sure each fabric drapes just so and that delicate lace and distinctive beading don’t compete with off-white satin or layers of tulle. Having begun sewing at just 13 years old in the Philippines, the fourth-generation seamstress brings a breadth of knowledge on how to properly structure and execute each design, while her daughter pushes her boundaries suggesting innovative fabrics and colours.
"We work together all the time – but before I go to sleep I have to draw in my head what I'm going to do the following day," Merly said. “Otherwise, I cannot sleep.”
When asked what she thinks about her daughter launching a brand that churns out more than 1,800 gowns per year carried across more than 50 boutiques worldwide, Merly replied immediately: “She's done so much better than I could’ve dreamed. I cannot even imagine how I raise my daughter [like this]. She's a really good girl and she's really smart and really did it right."
Bayona credits social media with allowing her to grow her business so quickly and help promote her vision for chic, modern brides directly to the women themselves on visual platforms such as Pinterest and Instagram.
"It's a pretty great time to be a small business because of social media. You're able to show it's a young company with people who are like you and you're able to reach audiences you never would've been able to reach before as a small business," she said.
The business is comparatively small for now, but with Bayona’s chutzpah and business chops learned on the job, the budding fashion maven is keen to keep growing and pushing the envelope.
“It's amazing how much you can learn and how much you can get if you just ask -- and I've definitely used that over the years."