Meet the candy maker inspired by her study of sculpture.
“I live in this funny little sugar-coated world,” confesses Maayan Zilberman from her studio in Chelsea, New York. The artist-cum-confectioner, clad in a patterned purple sweater, cat-eye glasses and a bright pop of pink lipstick, has translated this sunny outlook into sugary creations. Sweet Saba, the business she launched in late 2015, crafts brightly colored, nostalgia-influenced candy that speaks to Maayan’s vivid imagination. “I make things that make people want to break out their phones and show people,” she says of her vintage-inspired candy cassette tapes, sunglasses-shaped lollipops and gleaming evil eye sweets.
After graduating from the School of Visual Arts with a degree in sculpture, Maayan turned her attention to women’s undergarments thanks to a chance conversation with some business school graduates looking to launch a lingerie label. She was soon appointed as creative director, despite being clueless as to how bras were stitched together. But always up for a challenge, she headed straight to Macy’s, bought some lingerie and promptly took the pieces apart. “I wasn’t so interested in fashion per se. I was interested in the challenge of making something,” Maayan recalls.
In 2007, she launched The Lake and Stars, her own lingerie label cheekily named after a Victorian euphemism for a woman skilled in the bedroom. The collections’ clean lines and strong interpretations of femininity quickly won followers, but Maayan and her business partner reached a crossroads after five years. Though their designs were stocked in all the right places, growing pressure to expand exposed them to the realities of how scaling up could affect their creative involvement. “Everyone told us that we needed to back further and further away from the design process—to touch things less and less with our hands,” Maayan says. It wasn’t what she wanted, but the eventual decision to close The Lake and Stars gave her space to explore new forms of expression. “It’s so important as an artist and as an entrepreneur to be able to shift gears and think in a different language,” she says. “That’s how you keep growing and keep servicing your customers. You have to refresh over and over.”
For Maayan, that came in the guise of cane sugar. Already a dab hand in the kitchen, with a side business baking elaborate cakes for select clients, she began to search for another creative medium with a longer shelf life. “I’ve always loved candy, and I knew that sugar could take on real sculptural qualities as the crystals transform,” she says. Home-baked goodies started as a fun hobby but quickly amassed an online following, thanks to Maayan regularly posting photographs of her colorful creations to Instagram. Soon, orders were flooding in—aided, in part, by her existing connections in the fashion and art worlds. When she finally sat down to do the math, she realized her sugar habit had the potential for considerable success.