Just over a year ago, Anna Farthing hung up her business suits and launched The Sweet Boutique, following a life-long passion for baking and leaving a career in finance behind. While this was a bold move at the time, I can only assume that in the shaky aftermath of the GFC, some of Anna’s former colleagues are wishing they too could make cakes for a living.
The Sweet Boutique specializes in cupcakes, a trend that has made a big comeback, possibly fueled by a general feeling of nostalgia for anything our grandmothers used to do. As naysayers everywhere like to point out, the trouble with trends is that they come and go, taking many businesses down with them.
“People will always come back to cake,” says Anna, “so if I make the cake what people come back for, it doesn’t matter what form it is in.” For many, the cupcake trend is about the ‘cup’, for Anna, it’s more about the ‘cake’.
Anna bakes everything from scratch, using fresh and seasonal ingredients. Everything is hand-made and made by her, usually all in one day, preceding The Olive Tree Markets where she sells up to 1000 cupcakes over the course of the day. What she doesn’t sell, she donates to the local Ronald McDonald House which houses the families of sick children while they are in the hospital.
“Baking is something that people associate with their mothers, with home. I hope I never have to find out but I can only assume that for these parents, baking is the last thing on their mind. My business allows me to support these families in a small way and I just hope it lifts their spirit.”
It is when Anna was expecting her third child, and with the support of her husband, that she decided to take the plunge and start a baking business. “I started off with a stall at the kids’ school fair,” Anna recalls, “We had about 200 cupcakes. I remember selling the first cupcake on the day and being in awe that somebody had just bought something I had made! It was an amazing feeling and we ended up selling out. From there, the business just took off, much faster than I could keep up with.”
From the school playground, The Sweet Boutique was invited to join the stalls of The Olive Tree Markets, a monthly and deeply loved arts and craft market in Newcastle. On the first Saturday of the month, Anna sells upwards of 800 cupcakes she has lovingly made by hand, from her own kitchen. This represents 10 hours of baking and 8 hours of decorating, usually all done in one day. Thankfully, this is about to change thanks to the professional grade oven Anna has just had installed.
When I met Anna, I hung out in her kitchen while she baked a batch of cupcakes. I suppose I expected the same chaos as when I attempt to bake but I couldn’t have been more wrong. While we chatted, Anna kept track of what she was doing, perfectly calm and in control. Her movements and actions reflected the cool collection of someone who knows exactly what they are doing. Self-taught, she exudes calm professionalism.
“Not having professional training is one of my biggest insecurities. Everybody tells you that you should. I am sure there is some truth in it but in another sense, I have had to learn from the ground up and teach myself. It might have taken me a lot longer but as a result, I feel more confident in my abilities because I have learnt by trial and error.”
Anna’s creative approach to her business is what attracted me to interviewing her. While she is learning the business side, it is the creative process that keeps Anna going so passionately. The Sweet Boutique has just launched it’s ‘Winter Collection‘ with flavors like “Hot chocolate and Marshmallows”, “Caramel Apple” or “Hazelnut and Raspberry”. The 6 new flavors will be sold alongside her “Vanilla poached pear” cupcake and the classic “red velvet” one.
When I remarked on the use of the word “collection” being generally associated with the fashion industry, Anna’s reply expressed a thoughtful use of imagery and vocabulary as well as the need for a framework to keep herself disciplined.
“I have about 50 new flavors that I would love to put on the menu but I need to structure the creative process so that I don’t find myself test-baking until the last minute before the markets. With the winter collection, I set aside a few days and did all my test baking and got it just right.
It’s also very important to create a seasonal collection. It gives a much better quality product to my customers and is a better business model. The product is something unique, always evolving creatively and seasonally.”
© All photography by Laure de Vaugelas.
In addition to The Olive Tree Markets, Anna has recently debuted her “Friday Baking Run“, which delivers weekly orders in the Newcastle area. Each week, Anna chooses four cupcake flavors,which she then bakes, boxes and delivers to order, fresh on Friday morning.
With a business which seems the be thriving, I asked Anna whether she ever misses the suits?
“Sometimes I miss having somebody to tell me what to do and pat me on the back. I am my harshest judge and in some ways, the biggest barrier to my own success. Does that sound really silly?”
Not really, I tell her. I think it sounds pretty honest. There is nothing like working for yourself to understand self-motivation, or sometimes, lack of. So what makes it all worthwhile?
“The feeling of accomplishment that comes with saying “I did this”, the creative license and the flexibility I have. Somebody once said to me, your most positive attribute is also your greatest weakness. I have flexibility but I don’t always know how to achieve balance between work and life. I have creative license but I don’t always know when to stop being creative and focus on running a business. That balancing act is what makes it difficult but also worthwhile.”
The Sweet Boutique on Facebook.
If you are an artist or designer and have turned your passion into your livelihood, I would love to hear from you and help you get the word out there. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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