Silvia Ferreira discovered her passion for creating with icing six years ago and became one of the first cake designers in her country
It was her baby’s first birthday. Sílvia, a mum for the first time, wanted to provide her son with a magical moment and to make the party an unforgettable event. She decided that the cake would be the item to start with. The birthday cakes available at bakeries and cafés were simply too common, somewhat bland and too impersonal. Rather than wallowing in disappointed, she engaged her imagination and her best amateur efforts into designing and baking an original birthday cake for her one-year-old. It was to be personalised and different. Soon after, Festa do Bolo was created.
Festa do Bolo (Cake Party) was born through Sílvia’s simple wish of wanting to make her son’s birthday party original. The name of her small company perfectly reflects the concept that Sílvia wants to embed in each cake that she sells - the cake is the pinnacle of every party. By way of the personalisation and originality of each cake, she hopes that the celebrated event and the party itself will become unforgettable.
“When I started, I had had no training whatsoever in this area, only the little experience of baking cakes at home"
Baking was not Silvia’s first contact with creativity. Before Festa do Bolo, she designed and created bracelets, necklaces and earrings that she sold to her family and friends. Yet the sudden leap to cake design took even her by somewhat of a surprise.
“When I started, I had had no training whatsoever in this area, only the little experience of baking cakes at home. I remember at an early age to very much enjoy baking cookies and my grandpa always asking me to make them. It seems he loved them! I loved to help my grandma during Christmas to bake filhoses [a Portuguese speciality] and having lots of fun playing with the dough,” Silvia said.
Modelling and creating with icing was something that Sílvia felt comfortable with. The desire to experiment and perfect her technique was crucial for the later success of her own cake design business.
“At the time when I started, roughly six years ago, there were not many cake designers in Portugal. It was a new and expanding field in the country. So it was a good timing to start my project.”
Yet while the novelty of the field in Portugal meant that there was plenty of room to grow and little initial competition to face, Sílvia also had to overcome some obstacles in order to succeed. The lack of appropriate tools for her new trade was a prominent one - “One of the obstacles I found was the lack of materials in Portugal to be able to create more perfectly. It was a little-developed sector in the country. There was only one store, which had the appropriate tools that allowed me to work in this art as most of them had to be imported.”
The lack of cake designers in Portugal, although providing a business opportunity, also meant that people were largely unaware of what cake design was and what it entailed. Her initial efforts and the promotion of her work thus had to be especially emphasised in order to help Silvia gain her first clients.
“After baking the first cakes for my son, family and friends, more and more clients started to contact me. So I decided to create a blog to be able to share my creations"
Initially she began by baking for friends and family. Slowly but surely, friends of her friends would contact her because they were impressed by the cakes they had seen at a party they attended.
“After baking the first cakes for my son, family and friends, more and more clients started to contact me. So I decided to create a blog to be able to share my creations. From that moment on, my clients stopped reaching me only through word of mouth and by witnessing my work in their friends’ parties.”
Her blog soon proved to be one of her most powerful mediums of promotion. Aware that her business had a strong visual nature, Sílvia quickly became aware of its importance and the possibility it offered of posting her latest creations. The blog became her own portfolio of cakes, a portfolio which is updated weekly with new creations.
However, a blog-portfolio was soon rendered insufficient to establish a link with potential clients who flooded her inbox with questions ranging from how to order an original cake (by phone or e-mail) to the best way to store them (no fridge!) to the tastes available (chocolate, coffee, milk, strawberry, nuts...). Apart from answers to all of these questions, Festa do Bolo’s website features a form that is highly valued by Sílvia – recommendations.
“Clients’ suggestions are fundamental to our evolution”
Alongside providing testimonials that potential clients can browse as they decide whether or not to employ the cake designer’s services, the recommendations form a crucial part of Sílvia’s strategy for improving the business.
“Clients’ suggestions are fundamental to our evolution,” she explains.
Of course Sílvia does not rely solely on her clients’ feedback to improve her cake designs. Continuous and regular training through courses and workshops is a crucial part of her career as well. When the cake designer embarked on her new professional adventure, she had no training at all in the art of original cake icing – only possessing a strong desire to create and experiment with baking.
Over the years, Sílvia trained with some of the best cake designers in the world and has now reached a point in her career where it is her turn to provide classes for people who show an interest in learning the art of cake design. Some of them are mums who want to be able to provide original cakes to their children’s special events, just like Sílvia when she started.
“People reach me through my work that they know and which they were so happy with that they want to learn with me some of the techniques to start making these cakes to their children or to open their own business.”
The drive behind these workshops means that they are always as fun as they are educational.
“The group workshops are for a maximum of eight participants and are little moments of sharing of knowledge and lots of fun and sweetness. Any person can participate, regardless of having experience or not. The final result is always positive and works as a sort of therapy the fact that we are creating something,” she explains.
Silvia’s passion for cake design is contagious and palpable in the perfection of her (literally) sweet creations. She talks of and sees cake design as an art in its full right. Her minutious dedication to this trade and the flawlessness of the work certainly make her passion to create in all ways similar to a sculptor’s passion for their statue.