Jelly Alchemy was borne out of Sydney based professional jelly artist Siew Heng’s passion for food and art. Within a year into her business, her craft of 3D jelly art took the world by storm and received rave media coverage from around the world. Made with seaweed jelly powder and using tools to inject motifs onto a clear base, she has crafted intricate motifs, from beautiful koi fish, floral patterns to pandas. “Trusting my instinct is really important to get the designs right. When I am working on a piece of artwork, I design based on flow and balance. I am very pedantic about details hence I do take my time to complete every piece.” One of these 3D jelly art can take up to four hours!
Within a year into the business, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Siew Heng shares with us about her fierce battle for survival, how cancer actually gave her the affirmation to propel Jelly Alchemy forward, and what it takes to balance family life and pursuing your own passion zealously. Four years on, not only she has battled cancer but Jelly Alchemy is flourishing from strength to strength and she is now considered the master of the trade within the field.
Table of Contents
- Tell us about your story
- What takes you to be confident to do what you do now?
- You are also a cancer survivor. When you first found out in late 2017, Jelly Alchemy has already launched a year ago. Can you take us back in time?
- How has your cancer journey impacted you and the business?
- What would you want to tell other women who are going through similar situation like yours?
- How has the pandemic affected your business?
- Top 3 advice for women wanting to start their own business are
Tell us about your story
I graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce and worked in the corporate world for a few years before settling down to become a homemaker, taking care of my young kids. It gives me great joy to cook for my family and even more so when I get the chance to do food decoration during special occasions.
When I first discovered 3D jelly art (I was in Malaysia when I learnt it), my gut instinct told me to bring this art to Australia. It was so niched back then, relatively unheard of. 3D jelly art is the perfect combination of expressing myself through art and food, two things that I loved.
I struggled a lot and took many hours to complete my first piece of artwork on my own. In fact, it was so bad that I didn’t even want to finish it and threw it away.
What takes you to be confident to do what you do now?
A lot of patience, determination and of course, some form of creativity to succeed. I have always had a good eye for colours which does help tremendously. Cliche as it may sound, but practice makes perfect. I often tell my students that lots of practice are the key to improvement. No short cuts here.
I persisted. I worked very hard to figure out tips and tricks of the trade. With every piece of artwork that I made, I took note of the lessons learnt. As I continued to practice, my skills naturally started to improve.
I remember getting my first order from a friend through Instagram and I was very reluctant to take it. I wasn’t sure whether my work is commercially ready! Through encouragement from my family, I decided to take the plunge.
August 2016: Learnt 3D jelly art
February 2017: Officially launched Jelly Alchemy
November 2017: Diagnosed with cancer
September 2018: Taught my first beginners class
January 2019: Invitation to teach in Shanghai, China
March 2019: Launch of my own line of tools
January 2020: TV show with Elise Strachan
February 2020: First class taught at the Australian Patisserie Academy
January 2021: Launch of Jelly Alchemy jelly powder
March 2021: Launch of Jelly Alchemy website and jelly art frames
April 2021: Launch of online classes
You are also a cancer survivor. When you first found out in late 2017, Jelly Alchemy has already launched a year ago. Can you take us back in time?
When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, I received 4 orders lined up for the week. I sent a message to all of my clients apologising to them that I had to cancel their orders due to my diagnosis. One of them actually told me to keep the money and she will wait for her order when I recover. Their compassion touched me till today.
In between the diagnosis and my first chemotherapy treatment, I made sure to deliver my products for a school fundraising project that I have previously committed. I knew that it would be my last time crafting jelly cakes for a long time. In my mind, I was bracing myself to go through an extremely tough journey (horror stories didn’t help too) and I knew that I would not have the strength to run the business.
With the overwhelming love and support from my family, friends and medical team, I was very positive throughout the journey. It was because of them that I took the courage to craft jelly art again during chemo treatment. After every chemo session, I would calculate the days that I knew I would be bed-bound and then set a target to make it on a certain timeline.
The side effects of chemo are rather strange and cannot be described in words. x
Every time I crafted my jelly art, it takes my mind off all those side effects. It was definitely a good few hours of relief.
Throughout the countless chemo treatment, I did not take up any orders as I wasn’t confident that I will be well enough on any given day to commit to the order. I did however make jelly art on the days I was well for the team of doctors and nurses to thank them. My jelly art actually got better during this time!
I had 6 rounds of chemo treatment and 1 year of targeted therapy. Till this day, I never fully recovered from the side effects of chemo but I learnt to live with it.
How has your cancer journey impacted you and the business?
Cancer has actually taught me to do what I love. I have been blessed to receive a lot of media coverage that have told my story and inspired many people to take the courage to pursue things that they love.
One of my passions in life is to inspire and assist less fortunate women or women that are going through issues in life. During the Covid-19 lockdown, I was approached by a local Malaysian Facebook group to run an online class for their members. One of the main reasons for this was to try and help people to help themselves during the pandemic. It is by equipping them with skills that they can use to earn some side income for their families. I agreed to help and am so pleased as I can now see the fruits of my labour. Many of my online students are excelling and running small businesses making 3D jelly art. This is the most satisfying part of my job as a teacher.
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What would you want to tell other women who are going through similar situation like yours?
To all the women out there who are going through cancer, whether they run a business or not, there will be light at the end of the tunnel. Most of the horror stories that you read online doesn’t happen to everyone. A lot of people actually cope well throughout their treatments.
I am one of them. The most important part is to take care of yourself first.
Allow yourself time to recover and always be kind to yourself.
How has the pandemic affected your business?
Business for me hasn’t been too bad during Covid 19. During the lockdown, people are looking for things to do. That, in turn, has increased the sales of my products. I have also expanded my distributor list to a few other countries.
Top 3 advice for women wanting to start their own business are
- You need to believe in the products and services that you are selling
- Social media is powerful. Use it to your advantage
- Take one step at a time and never be afraid to fail
Image credit: Jelly Alchemy. This interview has been edited for clarity and length. Written by Siew Heng Boon. Interview and edited by Theri B.