It all started with a simple movement three years ago that would change the way we think about fashion sustainability and consumption today. Thanks to the #WomenOfStyleTheory community, we have now sowed the seeds for a new fashion movement in Singapore and Indonesia with thousands of women sharing an Infinite Wardrobe and the experience of unlimited fashion freedom.
The Women Who series highlights the inspiring subscribers in our community with a story to tell. On the third part of this series, we got together with a mid-career change baker that was previously a PR Executive. Let’s see how she took the daring step forward to chase her dreams.
Meet Nursyazanna Syaira Mohammad Suhimi:
Hi Syaira, thank you for making time for this interview! A mid-career change from a Public Relations Executive to a full-time baker, and now an established bakery lady boss. Can you share with us about that journey and how Fluff Bakery came to be?
Fluff Bakery started six years ago in 2013, initially, I started off as a home baker selling my bakes through Instagram for fun because I wasn’t fulfilled working in PR. Then the baking business evolved from a fun project to raising money for my wedding.
It was easier to succeed as a business back when Instagram just started out and not many people were using it as a business platform. It was less competitive and definitely less saturated. These days, everyone is using Instagram for their businesses and it’s getting increasingly challenging to stay competitive in the digital space. We decided to diversify and start supplying to a cafe. Eventually, we managed to open our own bakery at Jalan Pisang.
Nowadays, I have a team of bakers with me so they will do the baking in the store and I focus on the research and development beyond our best-selling cupcakes–I’m experimenting with gelato and donuts, and also exploring new recipes.
What is Fluff Bakery’s philosophy?
We knew from the beginning that we didn’t want to be a chain;we wanted Fluff Bakery to be run by a close-knit family, sharing good ideas and growing together as a team, while maintaining the quality of the things we produce.
How do you come up with all these whimsical flavours?
Our inspiration for the cupcake flavours come from so many different mediums – blogs, television, cooking shows, and travelling. We tend to try different flavours from different bakeries overseas and bring it back and translate it into a cake or cupcakes for our local customers.
New cupcake flavours every week were easy to create in the early years. After 6 years, we are running out of ideas! We have more than 100 cupcakes and cake flavours now and we go on a rotational basis. This way, our customers don’t get bored, and our bakers are continually working on something different!
Was baking always your calling? How did your family react to your change in career?
It was a dream I shelved for the “normal path”– enroll in university, get a full-time job, get married and settle down, but it didn’t make me happy so I often wondered “what’s next?”The difficult part of changing careers was the conversation I had to have with my parents. It wasn’t easy for my family who are from an average background, to put me through school and university. At the end of the day, our parents only want to see us well and happy and that’s all that matters to them.
Women Who Bake: You’re a successful, self-made baker and lady boss. Is your passion for baking the driving force behind the business?
When I first started out, many people came forward and invited me to give talks about passion-made careers and mid-career change., After a while, I realised that if your decision to venture into entrepreneurship is purely based on passion, you cannot sustain it.
It may start off fueled by passion because you enjoy it but once other work elements come creeping in, it no longer becomes fun. So yes, go for what you are passionate about but find someone that you can trust to work together with and to do the things you are not good at. Find someone that complements your strengths and weaknesses. Form a ‘tag team’ to focus on your strengths, else it will be tiring having to handle everything by yourself.
In my case, I do the cooking, baking, and experimenting of flavours, my husband does the business part of Fluff bakery.
What is a regular work week like for you?
I go to the store two to three times a week. Most things can be handled from home – our staff would take photos of the cupcakes/cakes and send them to our group chat for quality check. My husband will bring home a few pieces of cake for tasting. This way, we are able to catch the flaws and mistakes while working on other things such as menu planning, communicating with the kitchen head to see if some flavours work or not.
Currently, I am also working on coming out with a gelato line, so after work hours, I will go back to the bakery to work on it with the right equipment. We’re excited to branch out beyond baking so that’s something exciting for the team.
You used to have a bakery in Malaysia. Could you share that experience of setting up in Kuala Lumpur (KL)?
We were approached by a few Malaysians to be partners and at that point in time. We felt it was a good opportunity to open up in a new market because we wanted to see how it was like to expand overseas. The bakery was situated in an affluent neighbourhood and there were many other enterprising businesses around. It was fun when you worked hard for something and you see it come to life–you have to experience the satisfaction of seeing your baby grow to fully understand the rewards of the entrepreneurial life. It’s not always a bed of roses, but it’s fulfilling! We stayed in KL for a year to manage the shop while waiting for our house in Singapore to be ready. With our families in Singapore, we shuttled between KL and Singapore every month.
Eventually we found it hard to manage the people, maintain the quality of our cupcakes and the business when it’s overseas. A lot of the operations required monitoring in the early days. At the same time, the rental was going up and we’re not sure if it was a good move to stay or just focus on one shop. We closed down the shop in KL, came back to Singapore, regrouped and continued. We definitely hope to open a bakery in KL, but maybe a concept that’s improved from our experiences setting up in Singapore too.
What is it like to be in a modern female today, especially as a baker and not the conventional office job?
I enjoy the flexibility of my time now compared to a conventional nine-to-five job. I’ve worked in both sectors and for me, I get more satisfaction out of doing my own thing compared to working for other people. That being said, not everyone wants to be their own boss, and not everyone aspires to be an entrepreneur. Everyone has their own skill sets, and I resonate more with doing my own thing at my own time. It’s less of a routine and more of self-discipline.
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Selamat Hari Raya from us Mr and Mrs Fluff, to all our Muslim friends! For the rest of you guys, have a great public holiday and we really do hope your Malay neighbours give you some Raya food because damn, it’s saaaah good! We will be back on 11th June, with all the cakes , cupcakes and cookies (to top up lah, we know your cookies almost gone, right!)!
Working with your spouse is an interesting experience. How is it working alongside your husband?
People think that it is all lovey-dovey working with your partner, but that is not the case. Arguments and disagreements happen. Trust what you’re good at, and trust that he knows better. Split the responsibilities and take charge in the different areas. It’s better to establish boundaries and respect each other’s role and not cross that line.
Working together means that you spend all the time together – 24 hrs, 7 days a week. Working together is good, but during arguments, I question myself again if it is worth it to quarrel about something and jeopardise the relationship; I believe it is all about compromising.
Where do you find motivation in your personal life?
With the opportunity of hiring more staff, I am a lot less busy now than I was before. I learnt to step away from the kitchen, and have more time to do other things like experimenting with new flavours and going into the realm of doing something I like for one entire week before moving on! For example, if I like pizza I end up doing it for a few weeks solely experimenting on it before moving on to the next thing.
You keep a blog where you share your recipes. How did that come about?
I like the idea of sharing knowledge with others about the inspiration behind the creations. Blogs are an outlet a lot of bakers, including myself, to learn more skills and techniques, and find inspiration from. Instagram and YouTube are also great places to share creative inspirations and find a community with people who share the same passion in the craft.
While there’s talk about people copying recipes off blogs and videos, I still stand by my belief that it’s good to exchange knowledge. Even the most successful bakers publish recipe books! It’s a sustainable way to contribute to the industry as a baker and business owner, and watch the new generation of bakers learn and evolve.
What is important for you when it comes to renting?
I try to get a box every week to make full use of my subscription. My personal style isn’t much of colours and prints. You can usually find me in neutrals with different textures but nothing printed or bold. I am slowly discovering and exploring with Style Theory by renting new styles in every box but am afraid to try. Most of the time, my personality comes out in my accessories like my bags, or my shoes.
I also rent coats and winter wear for travel as it’s smarter to rent and not buy and store them in your home for the occasional travel.
As a subscriber of Style Theory Apparel, what are some of your favourite hits about our service?
It’s definitely the convenience – no need to pick it up, wash or iron because everything is ready to wear right out of the box. I am also able to try new styles, things that I wouldn’t usually buy, if it doesn’t work out I will just return it and get a new box. Because of that, I have also become more adventurous with the things I wear! . All I have in my wardrobe is minimal, neutral colours, monochrome that I’ll pair with Style Theory pieces I rented. I’m wearing a lot more prints than before!
I believe that Style Theory is constantly evolving and my style is also constantly evolving. With Style Theory, I get to rent as my style evolves and as Style Theory evolves. That freedom to explore as my taste changes.
What is important for you when it comes to renting?
I try to get a box every week to make full use of my subscription. I also rent coats and winter wear for travel as it’s smarter to rent and not buy and store them in your home.
What’s your personal mantra?
In Malay we have this quote “Don’t scared, go jer”, which means “don’t scared, just go only”. I always ask myself “are you gonna die if you do it?” and if the answer is “no”, just go for it. Even when starting out Fluff Bakery, I evaluated what’s the worst that could happen – if it fails, then I’m back to finding another job. At the end of the day, it is all about exploring what you want in life and not weighing yourself down with fear. Taking calculated risks is part of the journey too.
What are some of your favourite off-duty activities?
I will most probably be watching TV to unwind, hanging out with family, discovering new food places, having a cuppa or just trying new activities if the timing fits my schedule.
What are some things you want to try in 2019/2020?
I want to travel more and experiment more on gelato and doughnuts recipes. I’m trying to build on whimsical flavours such as olive oil and chrysanthemum for my gelato brand – Tiger Lily.
Any advice for those considering a career change to the F&B line? Are there any hardship they should prepare for, and rewards they can look forward to?
Always do your research and find someone who complements your talents. If you do everything yourself, you will get burnt out. Always remember to start out small, but dream big and work on it. One of the lessons we learnt from our experience in KL was to not rush into ideas; take it slow, step by step. It can be as simple as supplying to a cafe first to experiment what the market is like before jumping in.
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