Spotlight Entrepreneur: Aamina Jehangir

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Ghausia Rashid Salam sits down with a young and enterprising baker; part philanthropist, part artist, Aamina Jehangir seems to have it all figured out.

Aamina Jehangir tried her hand at baking for the first time as an unassuming 4 year-old. As she laughingly explains, it consisted of more finger-dipping than baking. She ruefully admits it was no masterpiece, but that didn’t stop her. At 17, she launched The Cakery, a home-based cupcakery. Now, at 21, this young entrepreneur is a focused businesswoman, with a determined eye toward the horizon and firm goals for the future.

At 17, most teenagers are focused on the frivolities of life. Not so for Aamina, who had three goals in her life – “First, to be a doctor; second, to be an astronomer, and third, to be a chef.” While she gradually grew disenchanted with  medicine, astronomy remained  a passion, and still something pursued. But it was baking that would become her truest calling. Throughout her childhood, she worked on developing her skills, learning by experience, and most importantly, developing her own recipes, now  100 percent original derivative-free concoctions. “I’m more about the science behind everything, and once you understand that, you can work on your own,” she says. Her earliest source of inspiration was New York City’s Magnolia Bakery, and despite not being a sugar nut, puts the bakery as her first choice destination for desserts.

Because parental approval wasn’t built in, she studied side by side, but ultimately took a year away from law school to focus on The Cakery, a choice she hasn’t regretted. “I wanted to concentrate on my work, so that it would become a habit and be smooth sailing from there,” though she admits to wanting to earn a bachelor’s degree as a ‘safety net’. Despite being a businesswoman, her interests lie more toward social sciences and media studies, and she expresses an interest in web designing. But she has no reason to regret her choice; together with her sister, she has also launched WonderMilk, fresh camel milk, a healthier and lighter alternative for lactose intolerant people as well as beneficial for cancer patients and diabetics.

2009 marked the year Pakistan went “crazy for cupcakes” – a phenomenon that largely began in the US. With a rush of international and corporate orders, The Cakery soon amassed a loyal clientele.  2010 brought in  orders from Proctor & Gamble, RainTree Mini Spa, N.M Productions, HSR, and many others. Word was spreading by word of mouth alone. Her father, who  manages several restaurants of his own, has been a constant source of advice. She credits her inherited business sense as the anchor in keeping the budding business on course. “I was always a PR person, even as a child,” she reveals. “I always wanted to make my birthday a huge gala event, or organize parties for others. Because I had a passion for it, I tried to teach myself as much as possible.” But business seems to run in the family. Her sister Sarah Jehangir runs CTL360, an advertising agency and design house. Aamina credits Sarah with the creative aspect of her business which includes The Cakery’s logo, stickers, website and menu.

An entrepreneur of the online-marketing generation, she offers insight into the challenges of growing a home-based business. “Facebook is a huge help obviously in running a business. It creates awareness on a larger level; you develop a stronger fan base,  get to share your menus as well as your prices, and basically share the visual aspect of your products with the public.” While she thinks the cupcake craze will eventually die down, she acknowledges the art of creating ‘a mini-cake,’ and how much creativity goes in creating ‘designer’ cupcakes. “The creation of a fancy cupcake is an art.” Exampes of this are evident given how much the cupcake industry has expanded and evolved, with different bakeries coming up with a variety of creatively imagined cupcakes. She cites Cupcake(s) by Cookie as one such example, admiring her imaginative cupcake themes and intricate, detailed designs.

Deeply involved in charity work from an early age, The Cakery provided Aamina with a forum to continue her work on a larger platform. This lead to The Sugar Sisters, an  ambitious venture founded in early 2011, for  bringing together fellow bakers and ‘sugar sisters’, and collectively working toward garnering charity donations. Future endeavors include a massive bake sale. “A lot of cupcakery owners were doing individual charity work, and collectively, we (realized we) could make a bigger difference. There are so many people that we can help: flood victims, orphans, cancer patients, providing clean drinking-water to people living in unsanitary areas,” she explains earnestly. One organization she wants to donate to is The Citizen’s Foundation (TCF), who help build schools in Pakistan.

With a sudden boom in  home-based bakery businesses, owing partly to the cupcake craze, the industry has grown brutal. Many businesses suffer from  ideas being ripped off, designs copied, and even  business names stolen. In Pakistan, “copyright laws” remain in their infancy.  But she remains unfazed by the competition; after all, “people can steal your ideas, but they can’t steal your talent.”

Though Aamina has a special place reserved for home-based businesses, The Cakery will soon open as a café and takeaway outlet in Karachi. The café will include customer loyalty programs, discounts, freebies and other promotional offers. Though no launch date has been announced, Aamina hopes the store will serve as “a pioneer in the transition from home business to outlet”.

Juggling two businesses, along with  a budding charity organization, this young entrepreneur has her hands full. Her growing success foreshadows  future endeavors, and with that “inherited”  business savvy and  creativity, Aamina Jehangir holds the promise of an artful future.

Ghausia Rashid Salam is Assistant to the Editor-in-Chief and is currently also responsible for collecting media for The Missing Slate’s web editions. She can be reached at [email protected].