It is August of 2016 and I arrive with my maid of honour at a two-storey home in St Thomas—this is the studio but it looks simply like any other middle-class Barbadian home. The front door swings wide, a pile of children’s shoes are in the hall. Inside, we meet up with designer Jaye Applewaite. She hugs everyone, makes sure everyone is comfortable, and chats incessantly while retrieving my dress from her work table. It is the final fitting. We are excited. Will I like the final result? I’ve told her my ideas, my special requests. Will it look like I envisioned?
Her studio feels like home; perhaps that is because it is. Her dresses feel like magic and that too might simply be because they are. I’m stepping into my bespoke Jaye Applewaite dress. It is enormous and yet lightweight—the yards and yards of white tulle billow around my feet, tiny white butterflies are hand-sewn into the skirt, the train pools on the floor behind me.
“This is what every bride should feel,” she says. “This is how I want them all to feel on their wedding day.” This is what it is like to be dressed for your wedding by Jaye Applewaite. “I never learned how to sew,” she says. The statement is a casually dropped bomb, and she shrugs with the nonchalance of an artist unaware of her talent. “My friend Alexis Campbell is a designer and my sister Kaye is a fashion designer working for Adidas, but I was never into sewing,” she adds.
That might seem odd for a young designer who is now nearing the top of her game in Caribbean bridal fashion, but for Jaye this is stated simply as a matter of fact. Formally trained as a civil engineer, Jaye was unhappy with her job and after a year of self-doubt and “unacceptable brokenness”, she decided nothing could be worse than where she was at the time. “I started making accessories and they sold really well, and suddenly I had a little money and I liked what I was doing and I was happy.”
This first taste of entrepreneurship whet her appetite and soon she launched her accessories line. From there, she started designing wedding dresses and working with photographers to get them snapped. Jaye’s dresses have a unique quality and she credits that to her passion for her country and the inspiration that living on an island gives her.“My dresses reflect the relaxed but luxurious and feminine feel I want to see in a destination wedding,”she says.The imported lace she uses reflects that desire.“I get my fabrics from all over the world, even as far as India, because I want each dress to be unique.”
Her bespoke wedding dresses are popular not only with local brides, but with international clients as well. Her showing at New York Fashion Week was well received and has led to new avenues and contacts in the fashion industry. “I just got a WhatsApp from a supplier in India,” she says as we talk. “I wouldn’t have been getting these contacts before I did that fashion show, so I appreciate the opportunities I’ve gotten.”
“I knew I was good with my hands and I knew I wasn’t happy in engineering. And when I watched other people do it, sewing didn’t look very complicated or intimidating; I figured I could do it….I taught myself the styles I like. So I know I cannot do tailored pants. I could go learn how to do that but that’s not what I do, so I turned to bridal fashion and started to make dresses I liked.”
At first, she made dresses for fashion shoots. Then as people saw her work she started getting orders from brides. “At first it was a little bit and I had my kids running around in my work space because I was working all hours, but now I’m on a schedule and I only work from 9 a.m. until 2:30 p.m., then I go collect my kids. I think it is important to have that work-life balance.”
Jaye’s sons are sometimes with her if she has to attend a photoshoot after work hours, but when she started she says they used to be in the studio much more than they are now. “Now I don’t work on weekends or evenings or do night work. The first year for me was a hustle, but after a while you realise the kind of lifestyle you want.”
These days, with her new schedule, she says she can be a better mum and focus on her work during the scheduled hours and on her children in the evenings and on weekends. “I love my work but I also love my kids and I am committed to doing both as best as I can,” Jaye adds. One thing she says people don’t realise about her is how much she laughs. “I’m never serious about anything! I’m always laughing but I’ve also grown up in the last two years so I know what I want. Although I’m laughing I’m also not prepared to waste my time.”
For the future, Jaye says she hopes her brand will be international and that more brides will get the opportunity to feel magical, feminine and perfect on their wedding day.