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The Cake Decorator

Disheartened by a teaching career that was no longer rewarding, Imogen Davison harnessed her creative energies and is now “so much happier”.

Imogen Davison, Sugar Buttons Creative, Norwich

Imogen’s amazing creations came from a love of baking and a desire to escape the stresses of her teaching career.

After posting photos of her elaborately decorated cakes on Facebook, she gained an instant following and the requests came flooding in. We spoke to Imogen about fusing her art and design background with her passion for baking.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background before running your own business?  

I studied art and design from leaving school to gaining my masters at the London Institute. After a varied career from gallery work to prop and set design for TV, I moved into teaching as head of art at a high school.  

What inspired you to start Sugar Buttons – was there a pivotal moment?

I’ve always loved baking and have baked and decorated cakes for family and friends since I was about 10. Having my own children gave me even more scope for creating special cakes and as soon as I started sharing photos on Facebook, I had lots of people asking if I could make cakes for them.

If it wasn't for Facebook I don't think I'd have had to opportunity to develop my business.  

I was working part-time as head of art, but the demands of the job meant that despite only teaching three days a week, I was still doing school work every night, on my days off and most weekends. I decided to set up Sugar Buttons and make it official, to stop me from doing teaching work in every waking moment!

If I had a cake order to do on one of my days off, then I had to do that rather than ploughing through yet more paperwork.  

The decision to leave my job and focus on my business full-time was hard because I love teaching. However, the current educational system is not good for creative subjects.

I felt like I was relentlessly fighting the system to deliver a rich, creative education when the government were forcing me to spend valuable lesson time getting pupils to write what they were learning.

Everything was becoming based around irrelevant data-driven targets and not about individual students. The job that I had loved for 13 years was just not the same.  

The pivotal moment when I knew I needed to leave was hearing my little boy say: "Why is mummy always working?" I hated missing out on weekend activities because I was always working and always stressed.

Something had to give and in the end I knew it had to be my teaching career.  

What skills would you say you need to be a cake decorator?

Patience! Cake decorating professionally is not the lovely relaxing job that most people think it is. To deliver beautifully crafted cakes I spend a long time designing, preparing the cakes and making the decorations.  

Skills-wise I’d say it’s very important to be creative and have an awareness of art and design. Putting the right colours, shapes and textures together is crucial to a good design.  

I’m a perfectionist and attention to detail is very important to me. I can't bear seeing clumsy-looking cakes with badly finished decorations or smudges of icing.  

What’s the most extravagant design you’ve done to date?

My cakes are all very different and there are many I can think of that were extravagant in terms of a
design challenge. My 
Mike Wazowski cake was a real ‘wow’ cake because I made him stand up on a skinny little leg, which looked like it just wouldn't support him – but it did and he looked great.

My Harry Potter cake was another proud creation. When someone asks me to make a cake the first thing I do is Google it, look at what lots of other people have done and then try to come up with something different.

When asked to make a Harry Potter cake I wanted to steer clear of hats, scarves and glasses and find something different. I chose to focus on the seven horcruxes and made everything out of cake or sugarpaste – including a snake, tiara and even a gold goblet.  

What challenges have you encountered and how did you overcome them?

A challenge last year was producing a huge, gluten-free, vegan wedding cake. I am a coeliac myself so the gluten-free element wasn't a problem, and I've made a lot of vegan cakes too, so I was confident with the taste and texture.

The difficulties surrounded the outer icing effect. The bride wanted a ridged buttercream effect with pastel ombré colours fading from pale pink to blue. Making that cake using butter would have been fine, but dairy-free margarine is very yellow and would really affect the colours.

There were also two tiers of vegan fruit cake which needed to be iced with royal icing, but royal icing made without egg doesn’t behave in the same way. I did lots of test runs with different vegan alternatives but I still had to re-ice one of the tiers a few times.

The final cake looked great and was actually very simple in design, but no one   (other than my family, who had witnessed the tears and shouting) would have realised the work that went into it!  

What advice would you give to other aspiring entrepreneurs?

If you have something you’re passionate about and you know you’re good at, go for it! Life’s too short to spend a large portion of your week feeling unhappy or unfulfilled.  

Unless you have a huge amount of savings or a rich partner (I had neither!) , I would advise starting your business in your spare time, building it up and testing the water while still in employment. When you feel like you’re ready to take it further, then you can reduce your hours or leave completely.  

Be prepared to not be able to pay yourself for a while. I had many small-business people tell me that they didn't start paying themselves for years, but this wasn’t an option for me; I needed to pay the mortgage, feed my children etc.

I've been doing this full-time now for just over a year and no, I'm still not able to pay myself properly, but I'm getting by with the support of my lovely husband.  

Despite the fact that, financially, I’m worse off at the moment, I’m so much happier working from home .

I can organise my own hours around orders and events. I get to be here when my children get home from school and I don't have to miss sports day anymore!  

 



Melanie Luff

About the author

Melanie Luff is an in-house journalist and writes for all titles in the Dynamis stable including BusinessesForSale.com, FranchiseSales.com and PropertySales.com as well as other industry publications.

@Be_TheBoss

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