After working in Toronto and dreaming of moving to Paris, Trevor Jay and Jake Curl moved their custom bridal design studio Trevor Jay Bridal to a WW II airplane hangar on a hill overlooking Picton Bay.
“I started sewing 17 years ago,” says Trevor. “I quit school and got a job at a little dress shop on Yonge Street that made custom club wear and party wear. The owner took a liking to me and after six months moved me upstairs to the studio where I learned to really sew and make original dresses. We sort of evolved into bridal wear and custom evening wear. As our clients grew up, so did we, but after eight years I wanted a change. When I saw a listing on Kijiji to work with the designer Romona Keveza I didn’t think I’d get it, I had no formal fashion education, but on a whim I took a chance and I became her sample maker. Romona has clients all over the world and the dresses were gorgeous and expensive, worth up to $40,000, and we got on well. I went to New York with her, did the fashion weeks, helped her with the flagship store. After Ramona I did a brief stint as an alteration specialist with Kleinfeld in New York, which they say has the biggest selection of bridal gowns in the world. So that’s my pedigree.”
WHY THE COUNTY?
Jake explains, “We were always dreaming of getting away from it all. If we went to Paris we’d say let’s buy a crumbling old chateau. If we went on vacation to St. Martin we’d say let’s move to St. Martin, well obviously we couldn’t make such a huge life change, but we did want to get out of the city. So we bought a place on Fish Lake Road! It’s 75 acres and just had a tiny cabin, so it wasn’t meant to be a replacement for the big dreams, but when we got here we thought, Hmmm, you know maybe it could be. It’s out of the city, it’s beautiful and peaceful. And we’re still in Ontario – we can see our families and we don’t have to learn a new language! We didn’t have any connections here, I just saw this cute little cabin online and, yes, we had heard the buzz about The County and how a lot of younger people were moving here. We were so busy in Toronto, living a pretty crazy life, so an off-the-grid cabin with no running water and an outhouse sounded like a place to go and disconnect. It sounded romantic, and it was. We miss it. We still have it but we rent it out now. When we moved here fulltime we knew we couldn’t work and live in the cabin, so we bought a place down by Glenora Ferry that has a house and a little cottage on it, too, that we rent out. Trevor actually works in a rented space up at Loch Sloy Business Park.”
Trevor recalls, “We drove by one day and thought what IS that place!? It was kind of creepy but it was fascinating. Then one day we had family visiting and drove by to show them, and we decided to go into the office and find out what the heck it was all about. Jacqui Burley told us they rent space to small businesses, artists and artisans and all sorts, and as we were thinking about starting our business here, we got on the waiting list. Yes there’s a waiting list! Jacqui phoned as soon as something came free, and when we saw the space and heard the price we jumped at it. Even though it was October and we couldn’t move in until Spring, it was so affordable we took it. It’s a fantastic space. It’s a remarkable place, and very quiet when I work late at night. The wind howls through the old airplane hangars and the stars are out and it’s like another world, and there’s a lot goes on in the day. There’s a yoga studio next door, there’s the Maison de Poivre Gallery, a potter here and a fitness boot camp there and a guy who makes guitars, PEC Glass and Windows that makes amazing glass showers, Wentworth Landscapes – all kinds of things.
BUILDING THE BRIDAL BUSINESS
Trevor still works for some Toronto designers, but aims to build his business locally, working with his own brides doing his own designs. “Right now I do a lot of alterations, it’s specialist work and it gets my name out there. I don’t want to go too big. I don’t want to do collections. What I love is creating one-off designs for clients. It’s completely different to choosing number 6 or number 7 from a catalogue. I sit down with the bride and hear what she really wants. I say here are some ideas, now tell me your ideas and we work together. There is a real demand for that, for a bride to be able to get exactly what she wants, and I’ve heard some unusual requests. We’ve been asked if we can create a camouflage gown, and we said yes. Why not? If that’s your dream.
Some people bring a picture of a dress they like, but they don’t like this part, or they want the top of this one with the bottom of that one. I am very honest and we go through what will work and is good for their body shape. Custom design is what I have always done, and I love it. We’ll create something unique based on their wants and desires and their budget and it will be special for them.
I’m starting fresh here. I have to build awareness and we are getting to know people involved with special events and weddings, like Alison Westlake who has an event venue in an old church close to us, and The Cape in Picton which will be a wonderful event venue. Even The Hayloft out in Cherry Valley. I bartended there last summer, yes, you do all sorts of different things when you live in The County, and they held a really nice wedding there.”
Jake stills works for a Toronto company that caters weddings and corporate events, and manages the rentals on their cottage and cabin. They get solidly booked from May onwards. “It helps make ends meet while we’re building the business. We want to attract a local clientele and also brides from Toronto, Ottawa, everywhere. I think brides are willing to travel to get what they want, particularly to Prince Edward County which is a beautiful place to visit anyway. We are reaching out to local businesses like Bloomfield Beauty Company that attracts girl groups. We do bridal shows in January and February for people planning summer weddings and in Autumn for the winter and spring weddings. Brides like having a long time to plan! I can create a gown in a month, but that timeframe would be far too stressful for most brides. Until the next round of wedding planning we are busy making connections, meeting people, getting our name out. It’s still early days but when people find out about us they are very encouraging and enthusiastic and supportive and they spread the word.
ADVICE TO OTHERS
Trevor and Jake have good advice for anyone thinking of moving to The County. It’s advice we’ve heard before. “Smile and say hello to everybody! We both grew up in smallish towns so that’s not unusual for us. In Toronto we’d always nod to neighbours but some would just look away. Coming to somewhere like this where people are friendly is like coming home for us. And the fact The County is open and welcoming to the LGBQT community is part of what we love about it.” Jake recalls, “The town where I grew up was not accepting. It’s why I left. Even in the city we sometimes run into people who don’t like us because of who we are. But it feels welcoming and safe here. It’s a good feeling to be yourself and just get on with your work and your life.”
Trevor says there’s one thing he misses. “Takeout! You get spoiled in the city and I have to remember to plan and be more organized or I’ll go hungry when I work late into the night, because I can’t just call for food.” He considers. “It’s funny. I feel The County is maybe a little more cultured than some other small places. I don’t mean the new people, I mean everybody. Kinder. You get all sorts wherever you go, but it feels kind of worldly, as well as rural and down home here. We like it a lot.”
For startups or businesses looking to expand or re-locate to The County, you can fill out this Business Inquiry Questionnaire, and the Community Development Department will respond in 48 hours.