I was having a pretty rough day sometime in the winter of 2017, and a dear friend dragged me out of Kingston library to join her for lunch at Penny University with her friend, Lauren Wright, who is also vegan (just like me). Lauren told me about how she had dropped out of uni to start her own vegan baking blog, and I had an idea.
A good pal of mine absolutely loves vegan cupcakes. She regularly goes out of her way to get some from a cafe on the other side of campus, and the best way to show support to her during exam period is to surprise her with a cupcake. For her birthday last year, one of our friends and I decided that we wanted to get her a custom-made, giant cupcake cake.
Putting two and two together, I asked Lauren for her card. I got in touch a couple of weeks later, explained my idea and requested a quote. We picked a flavour and sent over some Pinterest pictures as an indication of what we were after. We picked the cake up, in its vegan red velvet glory, on the day of the planned surprise. It was super delicious, my friend was happy and she polished it off within days.
I reached out to Lauren again after thinking of interesting and cool people I could interview for Bossy. She’s around my age, and has her own vegan baking blog filled with drool-worthy photos. (Meanwhile, my diet of mass-cooked pasta and rice is much less exciting.) I wanted to learn more about how she got where she is today, and share these insights with others because knowing this stuff can be so valuable.
Over some waffles at a cafe at Kingston Foreshore, we joked about a Facebook group called “Vegan Singles Australia”, she interrogated me about my decision to eat honey, and of course, we discussed Healthy ‘n Happy, Lauren’s blog.
What was your favourite food growing up?
Fruit, for sure, although it always changes. It was mango for a very long time; I would be super excited for summer to come around. But they’re so overpriced that I can’t buy them. Like, I love them, but they’re so expensive and having to pay for them myself now …
Now melons are my go-to, like watermelon and rockmelon. They’re so refreshing and delicious, they’re in season for so long and they’re cheap. I also loved donuts as a child.
What was the turning point for you, where you finally said: “Alright, I need to do this”?
I dropped out of uni in mid-2016, before the end of my first semester. I was so miserable there, and the one thing I was most miserable about was that I couldn’t cook. I just remember sitting in my room for hours, writing boring stuff, thinking “I never want to do this when I get out of uni anyway.” So, I started a blog and an Instagram.
My hairdresser told Naked Foods in Braddon about me. The manager messaged me on Instagram, saying that she would offer me a discount on products from the store if I tagged them in my posts. At this point the photos I was taking weren’t great; there was potential, but the lighting wasn’t ideal and they were taken on an iPhone. I think I had just under a thousand followers at the time, but she still messaged me despite all this. I took that as a sign. Everyone’s doing this [social media advertising and freelance blogging] thing now, and you can make a job out of it. So, I tried it, and it was so much fun. I spent the rest of the year focusing all my attention on the blog, and didn’t even think about going back to uni.
At first, I was a bit silly, putting quantity over quality. I was pumping out so much that the images and writing weren’t fantastic. I just wanted more content, to build up my base. Once I got to a point where I was happy, I started cutting back on the frequency of my posts, from three a week, to two, and then down to one. Now I’m focusing more on quality, because that’s just more important. It was a lot of unpaid work — it still is — and I was working other jobs at the time.
But now, things are really starting to pick up — kind of like a snowball effect where it’s getting faster and faster — and I’m really excited. There are more companies asking me to collaborate with them: they give me ingredients, I bake and make content for them, and they pay me. There are even companies — like, from interstate even — that just ask me to put up photos of their products and tag them, and I get paid for that too. I’m still working two other jobs, but there’s income from the blog too. It’s just not very regular, so it’s kind of freelance work.
Recently, a really exciting opportunity came my way: this guy from Sydney approached me to develop a recipe for cookies that they were going to market and sell! The recipe isn’t under my name (when I signed the deal I was a bit naive) but the fact that he trusted me was fantastic. I’d like to have this as a full-time job eventually, but it’ll take time. Apparently 10,000 followers on Instagram is the magic number.
How long does it take for you to perfect a recipe?
I focus on a different recipe each week, and do however many takes I need to perfect it. If I’m lucky and get it right the first time, I would spend about two–three hours on cooking and photography, and then another hour blogging. If I don’t get it by like the fourth try, I leave it and come back to it a couple of weeks later.
Who’s your biggest fan?
My sister, Sara — she’d do anything to support me. As for the rest of my family, Mum and Dad are really supportive too. I’m at that age where if I go for something I want and work really hard, there’s the chance I’ll figure it all out. Uni isn’t the be-all and end-all, and Mum saw this.
What’s the most interesting order you’ve had so far?
I don’t usually do orders, so probably your “cupcake cake”, because finding a large cupcake tin was really hard. They’re available, but not very common. One of my mum’s friends happened to have one so that’s how I obtained it. You have to bake the cake in two different sections because they cook at different rates.
What are two ingredients that you’d never have thought would go together, but somehow do?
This isn’t exactly two different ingredients, but I’d never thought arrowroot powder would work in cookies. When you heat up arrowroot powder it goes all stringy — like cheese! It works like eggs by making them chewy.
What is it about blogs you follow that you like?
I appreciate it when people take the time to explain the science behind it all, like what each ingredient does and how they interact with one another. There’s a reason why proportions and methods are so precise in baking. Humans are curious so I try to include these explanations in my blog too. It helps me understand the process and components better; I can bear this knowledge in mind for future recipes as well.
How do you wish people would perceive you as a blogger and baker?
I’d like to make my recipes accessible and inexpensive, for people to see me as down-to-earth. Vegan baking can sometimes come across as niche and marketed to very specific audiences. It’s not all about “healthy” or “raw” — sometimes people just want a mainstream, affordable cookie and I’m trying to cater to that. Not everyone has the money to buy a kilo of macadamia nuts to make their coconut milk and macadamia lattes, but that doesn’t mean people shouldn’t be able to access sweet treats.
What advice would you give people hoping to start their own business, like you have?
As cliché as it sounds — at least it did when I would hear successful people say it — just keep going, even if you have setbacks. Looking back, there have been so many situations where I have doubted whether things would work out, thinking “this is all a waste of time, I’m not even getting paid.” But I stuck to it, because I still had that end goal in mind. And it’s starting to pay off — but it’s taken a lot of unpaid, yucky work to get here. I sometimes look back at some of my old posts and photos (what was I thinking with that lighting) and can see how much I’ve improved. It’s a process, and I’m still learning. I’m a go-getter and I want this as my thing, but I’m still figuring out what exactly needs to happen to get there.
Another piece of advice is to not compare yourself to others. Everyone’s at their own stage of their own journey. It’s just about being in the now, and appreciating what you’ve achieved already, rather than getting bogged down by what other people are doing that you’re not.
Would you ever want to start up your own bakery cafe or something?
At this point, not really. I’d like to grow the blog and have people work for me on that. I’d like to do some freelance food photography (for restaurants and small businesses) and be known for that as well, but I don’t want to move away from the blogging and photos. This has married two things I really enjoy: photography and baking. It doesn’t feel like a job anymore, because I really want to do it.
Lauren’s blog can be found at healthynhappy.org; you can follow her kitchen shenanigans on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.