Baking and sewing to give back
Social enterprises Ugly Cake Shop and Sew Into It take pride in helping youths.
Tucked in a little corner in Kallang Bahru is Ugly Cake Shop, a cosy bakery known for its salted caramel and Nutella cupcakes.
While 32-year-old owner Lisa Tan is busy delighting her customers with lovely cakes in Singapore, she is also helping to feed kids in Timor-Leste too.
Every month, 20 per cent of the sales from her cakes go to the nutritional fund at Shallom School. Since 2004, the school has been using funds from Agape Baptist Church, the church Lisa attends, to provide meat and eggs for approximately 500 students.
Lisa was inspired to start Ugly Cake Shop after returning from a mission trip to Timor-Leste with her church in 2014. Her heart broke when she realised the students could not have proper meals, due to their school’s lack of funds.
“We noticed that most of the kids only got one meal a day. That meal was a simple tomato rice dish with no protein or nutrients,” said Lisa regretfully.
Lisa’s experience with the kids during the seven-day trip also moved her.
“On our last day in Timor-Leste, we had to walk to the airport that was about an hour away. The kids actually took the time and effort to walk us all the way to the airport,” recalled Lisa.
After returning to Singapore, Lisa felt a huge burden in her heart. Driven by her interest to help the kids in Timor-Leste, she left her job in communications to pursue her other passion – baking.
“I am a huge foodie and I have always loved to bake. After our trip to Timor-Leste, I thought that perhaps I could use my love for baking for a greater cause,” said the bubbly baker, with a smile.
Together with a team of four, including her husband Nicholas Tan, The Ugly Cake Shop opened a little shop after earning enough funds from their sales at pop-up markets.
“I’m really happy that the shop is doing well enough to support ourselves and the kids in Timor-Leste. It’s such a privilege [for us] to help them, and I’m glad to be doing this for them,” said Lisa, whose favourite item on the menu is the ‘Big Daddy’ cupcake.
If you are wondering about her shop’s unique name, Lisa said she has her mother-in-law to thank. She once baked a cake without any decorations, which prompted her mother-in-law to ask why it was so “ugly”.
Another social enterprise, Sew Into It, started very much like the Ugly Cake Shop.
Good friends Amy Tan, 34, and Karen Neo, 36, used to conduct mobile sewing classes at pop-up markets. They also remember lugging their sewing machines to their participants’ homes, to teach them to sew simple items like tote bags and skirts.
Today, Sew Into It conducts sewing classes for both adults and kids at their shop along Kreta Ayer Road. They also offer classes that help participants complete a project in just three hours.
The creative duo met when they were teachers at Tampines Junior College. After school, they frequently visited each other’s homes to sew together.
After five years of sewing as a hobby, they decided to quit their teaching jobs to turn it into a career.
“We just loved the joy of being able to create something from scratch and we found it therapeutic. So, we wanted to share that with the world,” said Karen, who loves to sew items with cat-related prints.
Shortly after opening a shop in 2013, Amy and Karen were invited to girls’ home Andrew & Grace Home to conduct their classes. Encouraged by the positive response from the girls, they started conducting classes at different homes for youths-at-risk, such as the DaySpring Residential Treatment Centre.
“When we [first] started, the girls were very closed off. As the sessions progressed, we watched them open up and develop, and it was just so beautiful,” Amy recounted.
The experience inspired them to start SEWcial Agenda in 2015. They impart basic sewing skills to youths-at-risk, while encouraging them to pass on their skills to disadvantaged youths in other homes.
“We never intended to be a social enterprise, but watching youths develop and grow because of our initiative is so inspiring. It’s why we wanted to keep going with it,” said Amy.