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Emily Garland aka Maid of Gingerbread — maker of spaceships, cars and train-sets — talks to Let’s Be Brief.

You will never have as many hours as you’d like to be able to focus on every aspect of the business – you just have to keep prioritising and working out what the best direction to take is.

Emily Garland: maker of spaceships. Maker of anything you want really. Years of baking experience and a passion for woodwork and construction means that what the mind conceives, Maid in Gingerbread can achieve.

Since launching Maid of Gingerbread in 2010, Emily has produced show-stopping edible centrepieces for events, weddings and displays around the UK for Bompas & Parr, Castle Howard, Harrods and Fortnum & Mason — all from her gingerbread studio in Hackney, London. And what with Great British Bake Off kicking off the same year, the British baking industry is now worth a whopping £3.6 billion according to the Bakers Federation.

So what better time for Emily’s brand of original, modern designs and intricate details, recently launched their first products: BISC KITS – baking kits for grown ups, We recently coaxed Emily to put down the baking gloves for five minutes, in order to find out more.

Q) How would you describe your brand in five words?

Fun, colourful, modern, intricate, design-led.

Q) What was your background before setting up Maid of Gingerbread?

I actually studied music originally, specialising in South-East Asian traditions, which I still play in my spare time. Career-wise, I worked for many years as an administrator, mainly in universities.

Q) How did you discover your love of Gingerbread? And how did you come by creating a business out of it?

I’ve always loved gingerbread. We used to make houses together as a family when I was growing up, but creating a business out of it happened quite by chance really. I was back home visiting my parents, found the old gingerbread house templates and decided to adapt them to make different things. Everything I made went down really well, so when I had to leave my job I decided to try to give it a proper go, and it’s all grown from there.

Q) You’ve worked with some notable brands on some incredible commissions. How important is that to your work / brand building process [and why]?
It’s been amazing to work with (and for) such well-known brands and I think it’s directly led to bigger, more exciting projects so I feel really lucky to have had those opportunities and it’s definitely helping me to grow my own brand.

Q) How have you found the process of finding clients? Do you actively approach potential clients or work by word of mouth?

It’s a combination of both really. A lot of work has come through word of mouth, and social media actually, but I also approach people I’d like to work with and am in the process of getting in touch with potential clients who I admire and would love to make Christmas installations for.

Q) Who would most like to collaborate with and why?

Camille Walala. A lot of my work is inspired by my love of patterns and bright colours and she is the queen of both those! I’m such a fan of her designs; they always cheer me up and that’s something I like to aim to do with my work too – to make things that make people smile.

Q) You’ve created a business around your passion. What has been your most exciting accomplishment so far and the most challenging?

My gingerbread landscape for Castle Howard last Christmas was simultaneously the most exciting and the most challenging. I got to collaborate with Bompas & Parr, who I’d admired for years, and I love re-creating existing buildings in gingerbread so it was a really fun project. I encountered lots of challenges throughout the build, but solving the problems is part of the enjoyment and I was so proud of the end result – installing it in the main house just before Christmas was a real highlight of the year for me.

Q) What key learning do you think you’ve taken from the process of running your own business?

That you will never have as many hours as you’d like to be able to focus on every aspect of the business – you just have to keep prioritising and working out what the best direction to take is. It can feel lonely at times if you’re running a business on your own, but I’ve learned that there is an amazing community of other people in this industry so it’s important to get out there and meet them. Collaboration and support are so valuable.

Q) What’s your vision for your brand moving forward – what should we be looking out for?

My aim is to work on larger-scale, totally bespoke pieces so keep an eye out for some seriously big gingerbread! I’m also working on new designs for my BISC KITS – baking kits for grown-ups, so those will be out soon.

Q) Your commissioned work is often based around experiential marketing and special events. What do you foresee as the current trends / culture that will impact our ideas of the industry?

I feel that there will be more and more emphasis on interactive experiences surrounding food, where it’s no longer just about sitting at a table for a dinner or an event. It’s a really exciting time to be working in as there are so many new ideas being explored when it comes to events and the popularity of niche pop-ups continues to rise, so it feels like the opportunities are endless.

Q) What do you think are the most important skills and/or qualities a creative needs in order to transition into creative entrepreneurship?

Organisation and resilience.

Q) What helps you stay organised?

I’m quite a naturally well-organised person and my years of work in admin have definitely helped. I have a big, brightly coloured spreadsheet which is a complete overview of all the bits of my business and spend the beginning of each day looking through it to what’s coming up in order to stay focused and prioritise.

Q) What was the last book that you read?

I’m just finishing Mussolini’s Island by Sarah Day. It’s an amazing piece of historical fiction set in 1939 Sicily. Fantastic writing.

Q) What’s on your current playlist?

Always a complete mixture! At the moment:
• Vula Viel (upbeat jazz with a trad West African xylophone)
• some traditional Hungarian folk dances
• Nils Frahm
• Nina Simone
• Debussy
• The Unrecorded
• Bowie

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