Gaby Bayona Tackles the West Coast Bridal Scene

When Gaby Bayona talks excitedly and energetically about her bridal lines, Truvelle and soon-to-be launching sister brand, Laudae, it’s hard to believe she’s only 24 years old. Recently nominated as one of Western Living’s 2016 'Designers of the Year,' and earning a spot on BC Business’ 30 Under 30 last year, Bayona has already accomplished a lot, and has no plans to slow down.

The Vancouver native was exposed to sewing for as long as she can remember: her mother, who emigrated from the Phillipines, raised Gaby while working as a seamstress in various places in Vancouver before opening her own custom dress shop. Although following in her mother’s footsteps was not the original plan for Gaby, she eventually found herself starting a bridal business of her own. What started in her apartment quickly grew into a Gastown showroom, a soon-to-be Mount Pleasant studio, and over 18 retailers across Canada, the U.S., Australia and South Africa.

I sat with Gaby on a rare quiet afternoon in Truvelle's Gastown flagship location, and we chatted about the blessing of being naive, why she took a different route from fashion school, and her hopes for expanding her bridal businesses into a West Coast empire.

Above photo: Andrea Fernandez

Your mom is a seamstress, so I imagine that was a pretty big influence for you. Tell me how it all happened.

“I would help out around the store – have always been around it since a very young age. That being said I never really wanted to do it, because it’s not cool to do what your parents do [laughs]. I was planning to study engineering, but didn’t get into the university I wanted. So I took a year off, and that’s when the ball started rolling for me in this career path – even though it was always on the back burner.”

“During that time I helped out my mom with her shop, Ellebay, helping her do admin stuff, which turned into me dealing with clients, which turned into me doing a little design, which turned into me doing custom, which turned into me doing the bulk of the business.”

At what point did you realize you wanted to branch out on your own?

“Within the third year of helping my mom, I realized I’d hit a wall with how much I could grow. That’s kind of with anything: if you’re a photographer, a writer, a dress maker, a cobbler, you can only do so much with your own two hands and I had reached that point very quickly and I wasn’t interested in stopping growth. So that’s when I started planning Truvelle.”

When did Truvelle officially launch?

“I launched it in October 2013. At first it was really small, just me in my apartment – I would have appointments in my living room, people would change in my bedroom and pay in my kitchen. I started gaining traction through Etsy and wholesale, then wholesale blew up so I stopped taking appointments in my apartment – and it just kind of grew from there.”

Did you take any schooling to further your skills as a designer?

“I realize that I was so lucky [from my mom] – it’s really hard to learn how to sew, even if you go to school. Especially in bridal, they don’t teach you how to make a gown. It’s something you really have to go out in the field to learn how to do, and I was able to learn right off the get go. I didn’t even learn how to make shirts or pants or anything, I started by learning how to make wedding dresses. But I did go to Blanche Macdonald for Fashion Merchandising.”

Me too!

"I ended up not finishing. I was also working for my mom at Ellebay, and when the final projects were due, I had to take a week off from the store to finish them, and it was so draining. I realized that I had so much other stuff I could be doing."

Was there ever an ‘aha moment’ when you felt ready to start the company?

“I was super naive; I didn’t know enough to be scared. The more we get interns and students from other fashion schools, where they instil fear, the more I’m really grateful that I just jumped into it without really knowing the full scope of what my responsibilities would be, and how much time it would take and the struggles I would have to face along the way.  I just did it without really planning. I didn’t make a business plan or anything, I just did it."

Are you someone who is self-desciplined? How do you stay motivated?

“It really helps having people working with you because suddenly you’re so accountable. When I first started, I wanted to grow but it wasn’t at the top of my list, because it was just me. But now I have a responsibility to my team to be able to provide for them and that gives me a lot of motivation, because I’m part of a bigger picture.”

How did Laudae start? What made you decide to launch a second brand?

“Earlier this year, I posted a photo of my mom in her studio, and one of my retailers reached out and said she had seen the photo and wanted to know if my mom did wholesale. That gave me the idea – so I talked to her about collaborating on a line together. My mom is a fantastic designer, she’s great at construction and really inventive with patterns. She’s got a great aesthetic, and has a really unique perspective on what brides should wear.”

So it’s a collaboration with your mom. That’s so rad.

“Yeah, Laudae has been great for two reasons: It gives my mom her own project that doesn’t mean her sewing so much or relying on custom; and by having another brand, it gives the people at Truvelle an opportunity to grow and move onto Laudae if they want. Starting another line made so much sense for continued growth because we have all the systems in place, we have a team in place, we have a space, and a designer. I just had to get a brand.”

How is a Truvelle bride different from a Laudae bride?

“If you look at Truvelle, it’s very Kinfolk-y, negative space, soft, refined. Laudae is more sexy: leg slits, tight, fitted. City wise, Laudae is very ‘L.A. babe’ whereas Truvelle is very New York.”

What is the most rewarding part of dealing with future-brides?

“I learned so much while dealing with brides just because it’s not like regular fashion where you’re just selling a t-shirt to somebody, you’re a part of this huge milestone in somebody’s life. You meet their parents, grandparents, you hear about their dreams and what they want. You have these really deep conversations and I loved that. You got to be part of such an intimate moment.”

Do you have any work rituals to help you stay focused?

“I’m really not a morning person. I love working at night, I’m such a night owl, I’m more creative and I don’t want anyone distracting me. Usually 3 or 4 times a week, I’ll work, grab dinner with a friend, then walk up to Mount Pleasant, sit at a coffee shop and work for four hours. Seeing other people work really helps me.”

You travel a lot and often. Is there anything you feel Vancouver lacks as a city?

“I’ll go to places like New York, L.A. or Paris and they’ve got so much more of an industry and more of a trained workforce. But then I remember Vancouver is so young, and I actually get stoked on how young it is. It doesn’t have everything [yet] but totally has potential. By being one of the young businesses here, it’s awesome because it’s so easy to be the first one to start something. For example, looking at my particular scenario, I get so excited thinking they’re aren’t really any other bridal companies to the same scale as ours on the West Coast.  We could be at the benchmark of what a company aspires to be, and that feels very cool.”

Where do you see yourself in five years? What are your goals for your businesses?

“Company wide, I love following the LVMH story, I think its so cool that they’re able to manage so many brands under one umbrella with each brand being autonomous from each other but still together. I want to have multiple brands underneath my belt. Once you do something once, it’s easy enough to reproduce the system, you just need a different designer and a different brand. Starting Truvelle was really hard, starting Laudae was a bit easier, and I’m sure starting the next brand will be even easier.”

To learn more about Gaby's brands, visit truvelle.com or laudae.com or follow them on Instagram: @truvellebridal, @laudaebride

Meagan Albrechtson