Gaby Bayona is the kind of girl you hear about and instantly want to meet. At 23, she is a self-made woman out there just doing her thing, uncompromisingly. Gaby met me at Truvelle's airy Gastown showroom, who's second-floor ethereal vibes transport you much further than simply off the street. Her stunning bridal gowns line the walls, basking in the afternoon sunlight of this mid-fall morning as we sit down to talk about her journey here. Some might say she was born into it, but nothing has just been handed to her and it doesn't take long for me to realize that this girl sitting across from me hasn't finished what she started out to do, she's barely just begun.
The Big Bang
"I never thought I’d go into bridal, I wasn't even really into fashion. For the longest time, I thought I would end up in engineering. My mom’s a seamstress and also a single mother, so I grew up having to tag along with her as she couldn’t afford daycare. She worked in the bridal industry, so consequently I grew up in bridal stores helping her out. I was born into it and that’s why I never wanted to do it (laughs). I took the path I think many adolescents take: people expect you to do this thing, therefore you don’t want to do the thing, and then suddenly you find yourself doing the thing… and in my case— really liking it!
Growing up I was very shy. By Grade 12, I had improved slightly and decided to test out my newfound confidence in the worst possible way— my university application. In person I wasn’t a good student; I would sleep in and skip class a lot, but I was excellent on paper. I was Grad Council Chair, Dance Committee Chair, Student Body Executive Council, yearbook assistant, head of the school store, worked part time, and I had a 93% average— I did everything. I thought I was a shoe-in to university! I applied to UBC’s Sauder School of Business, and you know how you have two options to apply? My first option was Sauder and my second option was engineering (which I didn’t complete because I was so sure I was going into business). Then...I got a university rejection letter. In the end I found myself graduating high school with nothing to do; I had to take a year off because I had no plan B.
Plan No Plan
During that time, my mom had her own bridal shop. Since I had nothing to do I decided to help her out part time with the admin side of the business. While helping her with admin work, I was always around the shop and checking out her gowns. They were nice gowns but they weren’t…perfect, there was room for improvement. I started tweaking her designs and got a good response. Because I had so much free time on my hands, I decided to start designing myself. At the time I was designing prom dresses as that was what was relevant to me. To my surprise, they were not only well received by grads but by brides as well! This was an "aha moment" for me, and a turning point because I realized there was a market for non-traditional gowns that wasn't being met in Vancouver. Bridal doesn't have to be stale, poofy, and decadent; it can be so much more. That’s when I started really getting into it.
Over the next year I started designing more, I learned to sew, and I started making custom gowns. Within a couple of years I had reached my limit, I was often working 16 hour days, 7 days a week. When you're working with brides you can’t just tell someone “oh sorry, I don’t have enough time to finish your wedding dress”. That is not an option (laughs). So I had this moment at 20 years old, when I was like I can’t do this anymore, something needs to change. Because I was making custom dresses I only had two options, I could either raise my prices so that less people could purchase (which I didn't like)…or I had to make more. But I couldn’t make more, because it was only me! There was such an obvious market for it, so I decided to change my business model from creating and sewing custom gowns myself, to designing a set collection and having seamstresses make them in standardized sizes. Almost immediately I started laying out the plans for Truvelle which officially launched a few months later, shortly after I turned 21.
Started From The Bottom...
When I first started Truvelle, it was slow and steady. I was doing business out of my live/work studio apartment (that I couldn’t afford). People were trying on gowns in my living room, and changing in my bedroom. I got my first retailer through Etsy, so I knew wholesale was an option and then I just started hustling. I had no choice, I was broke! My client base grew, I started to get more wholesale accounts and now I have three studios, one storefront, a staff of fourteen and almost thirty-five retailers (as seen in the last photo marked by pushpins on the headquarters wall). It's been a crazy couple of years, but it's been really fun.
It helps now that I have studio hours, as I have set times to work and be on-task. I can’t dilly-dally and go on Facebook when I have people who are working for me. I have to set a good example for them.
I have a lot of people in my life that I really admire, and I also read a lot of articles about bad-ass-boss-bitches on the internet that are killing it - which inspires me as well. I’ve reached a great part in my career where I’m friends with a lot of business owners; we're all on the same page and end up mentoring each other by our day-to-day conversations as they usually revolve around our businesses.
I feel like every person answers the “most important lesson learned” question with "you can’t do it all”, but it’s the truth. Right now I’m feeling under the weather, and I’m sick because I’m literally trying to do it all. Its just that you want to say yes to everyone and everything, especially when you’re young and you’re building something. You don’t want to miss out on opportunities, but then you get run down and you can’t think straight and you’re over worked and it doesn’t help in the long run, so I keep learning to say no. Maybe one day it will stick."
Interviewed and photographed by Tianna Grey on 11.02.2015