It’s rare to find an entrepreneur whose hair accessory business is growing largely through creativity and skill. It’s rarer still that the entrepreneur’s mother also is a self-made businesswoman, who’s built a thriving organic cake company.
What’s most unusual is that the daughter in this case is a 12-year-old seventh — grader at Danbury’s Westside Middle School Academy.
“Entrepreneurship has always been a part of our language in our home,” said Malakah Shabazz-Williams, owner and founder of Bash Boutique, an organic cake bakery. “Both my husband” — Basheer Shabazz-Williams, a senior network manager at Stamford-based Affinion Group who also runs his own company, Black Bridge Networks — “and I, being entrepreneurs ourselves, always told our children, ‘If you work for someone else they determine your worth. If you work for yourself, you have decided you’re worthy.’”
Ziya and her mom, Malakah Shabazz-Williams. Photo by Kevin Zimmerman
It’s a lesson that daughter Ziya has taken to heart. “My mom was always making me flowers when I was little, so I wanted to learn how to do it because of her,” she said at Bash’s showroom in the North Street Shopping Center at 1 Padanaram Road in Danbury.
By the age of 9, she was giving away her hair accessories — usually flower-shaped and consisting of various fabrics, clips and pins, secured together by sewing and a glue gun — to friends and family. “Then I thought, wait — I can make this a business.”
Malakah required her daughter to take about a year to do market research and develop a business plan, in part to make sure that the idea wasn’t going to go the way of most pre-teens’ notions. “She stuck with it, so we all agreed to move ahead with it,” said Ziya’s mother.
As Ziya makes each flower hairpiece by hand for her company, Ziya Blooms, no two are exactly alike. And with each design taking up to 90 minutes to finish — plus the “lots of homework” that needs to be done as well as her other great passions, dance and gymnastics — she can sometimes end up with a backlog of orders.
“She goes with me to about half the craft shows and fairs that I do,” Malakah said. “And she wound up selling out at the last one.” Ziya Blooms’ creations sell from $3 to $30, with an average cost of $30.
As with her daughter’s handiwork, Malakah’s cake creations are done by hand, with the result that no two are exactly alike. Having started Bash about four years ago after a career as an event planner in New York, Malakah bakes her wares at a nearby commercial kitchen and then hand-paints each one.
Typically she produces one wedding cake each weekend, testifying both to her painstaking artistry and her attention to each customer. “The brides know that I’m totally focused on their day,” she said.
Cake designs often feature flowers and can incorporate a number of themes, ranging from a replica of a vase full of flowers to an African wildlife scene to a girl’s party dress made entirely of cupcakes. Available in eight flavors, the cakes range in price from $5 to $15 per slice; most of the weddings and large events she caters to average around 150 people.
Fondant is prominent in many of her designs. “A lot of people don’t like the taste of fondant, so they end up throwing it away,” she said. “But mine is made of marshmallow — everyone likes that!”
That is indicative of her “organic” approach, which favors locally produced eggs, milk, cream and other ingredients over synthetics. “Shortenings give you something with a longer shelf life, but you get good, clean flavors this way,” she said.
Organic cakes are also more susceptible to outdoor weather conditions like heat and rain, she said, “So I’ve decorated plenty of cakes inside a cooler.”
Mother and daughter also work outside their main pursuits: Malakah offers event decorating, including “table scapes,” backdrops for her baked goods, while Ziya has produced wall hangings like the one that commands her mother’s office area.
The cake baker’s other two children have also caught the entrepreneurial spirit: 17-year-old E’Jaaz, who once ran his own organic landscaping business, is now pursuing an artistic career, while 13-year-old Kiana is Ziya Blooms’ chief operating officer.
“People say, ‘She’s the COO?’ and I say, ‘You should hear her on the phone,’” Kiana’s mother said laughing. “She can be a really tough negotiator with the different craft shows.”
Malakah also homeschools her two oldest children, and said she’ll do the same with Ziya once this school year ends at Westside.
“I want to be homeschooled so bad,” Ziya interjected. “Westside is a really hard school.”
Her mother noted, however, that Ziya has been excelling at the school. “She’s ready to move on to fully commit to her business and her gymnastics, and homeschooling will better fit that lifestyle,” she said.