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“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.

“I respect someone who can maintain a veneer while being tough and getting what they want.”

“I’m way happier than I was before because I’m doing things that put smiles on people’s faces. It’s affordable for most people, and you don’t have to go to Barneys to find it,” she says. Her sweets range from $12 for a kosher bracelet (Maayan was born on a kibbutz in northern Israel before her family emigrated to Canada) to $30 for a long-stem candy rose and upward for her bespoke candy artworks—which, Maayan confirms, her clients most certainly do not eat.

Alongside Sweet Saba, Maayan is working on a number of other projects. There’s Radar, a line of mood rings that began when Maayan sought to replace her favorite piece of jewelry—a mood ring purchased in a toy store that had started to tarnish her finger a grubby shade of black. After pricing it out, she realized it would be far more cost-effective to produce 500 rings and peddle the rest at a profit. Her hunch paid off; Maayan made all of her money back and more. “I have friends who have tons of ideas, who are so creative and are some of the best artists I know,” she reflects. “But I feel like what makes me an entrepreneur is that I come up with the idea, then I make it. And then I figure out how I can make it for many other people, and create an industry out of it, and employ other people.”

Then there is her line of marijuana edibles, scheduled to launch toward the end of 2017. “It’s a no-brainer,” she says of her plan to enter the fastest-growing industry in the United States. Maayan expects the products to appeal to an aesthetically driven clientele seeking marijuana as a means of relaxation or as an alternative to prescription drugs. “I’m looking to create something geared toward people who would shop at Whole Foods,” she says. “People who want to know what they’re putting into their body and who want something that doesn’t look like it came from a rave.”

Maayan’s world is kooky, colorful and fervently fun. Her fittingly sweet disposition is supported by a knack for transforming offbeat ideas into commercial ventures; she looks to Martha Stewart’s one-woman empire as proof that sweetness and success go hand in hand. “I got to meet her and was featured in her magazine, and it was the highlight of my life thus far,” she says, guffawing excitedly at the memory. “I respect someone who can maintain a veneer while being tough and getting what they want.”

This story appeared in The Kinfolk Entrepreneur in 2017.

In 2016, Mafyan created a line of confectionery exclusively for the Whitney Museum of American Art and staged a candy installation at Art Basel Miami Beach.

In 2016, Mafyan created a line of confectionery exclusively for the Whitney Museum of American Art and staged a candy installation at Art Basel Miami Beach.

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