This bridal designer sets herself apart with her youthful collection of natural-waist chiffon dresses€”and she's only 23.

Portrait by Carlo Ricci

“I look at fashion from a problem-solving mindset,” says Gaby Bayona. It’s not something you expect to hear from a wedding dress designer, especially not one with such a knack for romantic whimsy (rose-gold sequins and chiffon are her tools of the trade). “I ask myself, ‘what could be in the market that isn’t already in there? What do people want? What do my friends want?’”

But the Vancouver-based designer, who was named WL’s One to Watch last year, is doing something right with her business-minded approach to such an emotional industry. On top of her Gastown storefront, Bayona wholesales her brand, Truvelle, all over the world (with retailers as far away as South Africa and Australia), runs another bridal line, Laudae, with her mother, and is in the process of moving into her new 6,300-square-foot Mount Pleasant studio.

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It’s fitting that Truvelle stems from the French word trouvaille, which means “lucky accident”—Bayona didn’t plan to end up in the industry. After being rejected from UBC’s Sauder School of Business, the young entrepreneur, whose mother raised her as a single parent while working in various bridal shops, helped her mom at her own custom-gown business. “When I was designing at my mom’s bridal shop, I was mainly doing grad dresses because that’s what was relevant to me at the time,” says Bayona. “I liked light colours and flowy, natural waists, and to my surprise a lot of brides were into that.” This idea still prevails in every Truvelle collection: her most recent releases skew youthful—many feature bows, beads or heart-shaped necklines—but the off-white Brianna gown showcases a sophisticated side, too, with a plunging neckline and shimmering chiffon layer to accompany an oversized bow. 

While Bayona may think she still has a ways to go (she’d like a conglomerate of bridal companies, ideally five or six, and to start publishing bridal city guides), it’s hard to dismiss her success in relation to her young age. “It’s quite amazing to me that a 23-year-old woman can be so secure in her beliefs about what her company should be about,” says judge Danielle Papin, co-founder of Pyrrha, “especially when it’s so unconventional.” Bayona hopes to be part of the groundwork for expanding her city’s fashion and bridal community—itself still relatively young. “There are so few people doing fashion here,” she says. “It gets me excited knowing that if there are other bridal stores that pop up, I could have been the benchmark for them.”

Meet the rest of our 2016 Designers of the Year, or view previous Fashion winners.