Interview with a TWIA Finalist: Making Luxury Wedding Cakes in Surrey

 

TWIA Wedding Awards Regional Finalist Logo

Every year, wedding industry suppliers enter themselves into the Wedding Industry Awards (TWIA) where a team of experienced judges review their customer feedback, photos and answers to certain questions to decide on the regional finalists, then regional winners (who become national finalists), and the national winners. It’s a rigorous process which means that the finalists and winners really are some of the best suppliers in the region/country. I entered both the 2020 and 2021 awards, and was lucky enough to reach the regional finals for the 2021 awards, winning me the status of regional finalist. The questions they ask draw out some important information for couples thinking of booking, and hopefully make for really interesting reading for suppliers and couples. I have minimally edited my answers to make for easier reading here, and have included many of the photos that I uploaded with my original entry.

What is your company ethos?

Love from Lila creates sustainable, luxury wedding cakes. This means delivering the highest standards of cake, in terms of flavour and appearance, whilst also sourcing ingredients responsibly, adapting processes to be more resource friendly, and ensuring no person, animal or resource is exploited along the way. I want all of my clients to enjoy their dream wedding cake, whilst knowing that their purchase will do no harm and will even do a little good in the world. From initial enquiry to quote to delivery, my clients receive an extremely high level of professionalism, giving them the confidence that they’ve made the right choice and enabling them to focus their energy on other aspects of the planning process.

How many weddings do you supply each calendar year, on average?

Up to 30. I only take on a limited number of wedding cakes each year, so that I can deliver a more personal and professional service to the couples I do work with. With a smaller number of spaces in my diary, I know that I can deliver luxury wedding cakes every time.

Why do you do what you do and what motivates you to be involved in the wedding industry?

There are a couple of reasons. Firstly because I think I’m good at what I do, and couples should have the very best for their wedding day. I see lots of horror stories about unscrupulous wedding suppliers and I want to be the opposite – a reliable, high quality supplier that my couples can trust to deliver on one of the most important days of their life. I also see lots of suppliers who just aren’t delivering the highest quality product or finish (for the price they charge) and I want couples to have better options. When I say that I deliver luxury wedding cakes, it’s isn’t just a throwaway comment. I pay attention to the quality of the cake itself, the flavours and the finish to make sure every cake is perfect. Finally, I want ordinary couples to have a more sustainable option. There are many vegan suppliers who position themselves as a more sustainable option, but they tend to attract a very specific group of sustainable couples. In living my life and planning my own wedding, I look for ‘ordinary’ suppliers who are trying to be more sustainable and intentional in their business – they can talk to me about their supply chain, explain why they have taken certain decisions, and offer guidance on making more/less sustainable choices. That’s exactly the role I want to play in the wedding industry – encouraging ‘normal’ couples to make more sustainable choices so that they receive luxury wedding cakes with a difference.

What was the most valuable thing you learnt in the last year of business?

It’s something that I already knew I ‘should’ do, but it wasn’t until I did it and saw the difference it made, that I really understood why. And that’s to really be clear about what cakes I want to make, who I want to work with and what value I offer to couples, so that I can articulate that really clearly in my social media, website and other platforms. Essentially what is my brand and who am I marketing to. When redesigning my website, I really crafted that message and it’s obviously fed through to my social media and client documentation too. Couples come to me for that brand – luxury and eco – and they give me more freedom to be creative with that brief. It’s been more rewarding and led me to meet some amazing couples that I really enjoy working with.

What steps have you taken to learn the art and craft of cake design and cake making?

This year I have spent more time experimenting with techniques like drying flowers, as well as practising more technical, patisserie based skills like torched meringue, rather than taking classes or watching videos online. This has been quite challenging at times (I’m a really nervous blow torcher!) but has also seen me successfully make things that I could never create before (profiteroles were my nemesis, but are no more!). So I have been working with – swiss meringue buttercream, torched Italian meringue, candied and dried fruit slices, curd making, entremets, profiteroles, bread making, using pre-prepared fruit purees, using dried flowers, drying flowers, chocolate truffles. And also experimenting with different suppliers for certain ingredients. This has helped me improve some of the flavours I offer, generally improve the quality of the cakes I bake and expand the designs I can offer.

Where do you get your inspiration when designing wedding cakes?

I am heavily influenced by nature and sustainability which comes together in a really minimalist way. For a start, this year I have focussed much more on semi-naked cakes – there is far less waste e.g. fondant and fewer non-organic materials e.g. floral wire. Having found a local flower grower who grows without any pesticides or other chemicals, I have also been able to use more fresh and dried flowers on my cakes. This is something that I never did before as I avoid commercially grown (pesticide and chemical covered) flowers. I have also been using dried fruits as a way to preserve seasonal fruits for use all year round, and using frozen fruits for drips and compotes. When I work with couples, we’re talking about the colours and flowers they love, and how I can bring that into a semi-naked cake that feels natural but still looks really special for a wedding.

What makes you different from your competitors?

I have really narrowed down the way I work this year, targeting a specific group of people and delivering to their rightfully high expectations. Unlike most of my competitors, sustainability permeates every aspect of my business – from ingredients, to processes and design, and it is something that clients choose me for. I work with ‘ordinary’ couples who want luxury wedding cakes that have been made in a sustainable way. I don’t push them to be more sustainable than they want to be, and work with them if they want to make their cakes even more sustainable. I have spent a lot of time this year developing web content and blog posts to help couples understand the sustainability side of what I do – from a glossary of eco words, to a breakdown of sustainability in my business. Couples regularly say that the detail and professionalism of my website, blog posts and documentation is really helpful and often eye-opening, it’s why they choose to work with me, and why they trust me to deliver on the day.

Briefly describe how you manage a wedding client’s journey from initial enquiry through to delivery of their cake(s).

Unsurprisingly, COVID has had a big impact on the way I work with clients this year, but it’s actually enabled me to improve my process a little for couples, so it’s a change I’m going to stick with! When the initial enquiry comes through, I send couples a simple, mid-length welcome email that captures the following – the way I work (luxury, eco), high level pricing for their enquiry (so there are no surprises later), an invitation to a video consultation and dates for the next monthly postal samples. We either organise the consultation for the day postal samples arrive, or in advance. During the consultation we talk about their wedding plans, cake inspiration, and start to narrow down a cake design. After the consultation, I will draft a detailed cake specification for the couple which covers – wedding details, custom sketch, colour scheme, size and flavours, photo inspiration, pricing, deposit/payment schedule, and Ts & Cs. Throughout their booking, this pack is our bible and gets updated as details are finalised. Once couples receive their cake specification, they can see whether I’m a good fit for them, and revise their design/quote or pay their deposit. Over the following months, we will check in as required about details, before a final check in about a month before the big day. Couples rarely see me on their wedding day as setup happens whilst they’re getting ready, but we usually check in during the week following their wedding so they can tell me how it all went.

Wedding Cake Sketch - White Flowers with Greenery

Describe a challenging business situation that you have faced in the last 12 months, and how you overcame it.

The hardest thing for me this year has been managing my time in the most efficient way, whilst also maintaining motivation levels. We were unexpectedly gifted a huge amount of time at home this year – really the only way to look at the situation – without any real idea of when that would end, and we also lost the opportunity to do the work that we would normally do. But with no deadlines or external expectations, it was initially quite hard for me to pick up the computer and start work. Especially with a really long list of ‘could dos’ that had been talked about for so long, but never done, it was easy to feel overwhelmed and not know where to start. When lockdown eased slightly and shoots were possible again – balancing all of them in such a short space of time was also quite tricky! So I made a huge list of all of my possible to dos, then using a monthly planner, I mapped out a priority for each month and a rough idea of when to work on different activities. Keeping it simple, and taking it one priority at a time, I have achieved so many things that I’m really proud of…I prototyped then launched luxury wedding cake sample boxes by post. I have spent more time researching and writing about sustainability. I have built new partnerships with sustainable suppliers. I have submitted a cake flavour to the prestigious Guild of Fine Food’s Great Taste awards and received a 1* award for my vanilla and blackcurrant buttercream wedding cake – an award that only a handful of wedding cake makers in the country have. I have refined and improved my cake specifications (contracts) in line with changing COVID guidance, and existing CMA contract guidance. And with one priority for the month, it made it easier to ‘achieve’ something, which kept my motivation up, before moving onto the next thing.

Choosing suppliers for your wedding can be really nerve-wracking. Often, you’re spending quite large amounts and with so many options, it can be hard knowing who to trust. I hope these answers helped you to understand the way that I work with my clients, the types of cakes I produce and what makes me stand out from other cake designers. It’s my mission to create luxury wedding cakes made with responsibly sourced ingredients, in a sustainable way that minimises negative impact and increases positive impact, whilst delivering a professional service to my couples. If you’d like to know how I can help you, please do reach out for a no pressure chat. Good luck and happy planning.

 

With love from lila xx