Lubna Rihani: From School to Sweet Success

Lubna What’s a girl to do when she’s got a sweet tooth?  For Lubna Rihani of Amman, Jordan, baking has always been a passion, but it wasn’t until she turned 40 that she found a way to turn it into more than a hobby.

The founder of Cupcake Fashion, which imports decorating supplies and baking tools from all over the world to Jordan to help fellow bakers have fun with their craft, started her career in the classroom.

Majoring in English and Political Science at the University of Jordan, Rihani knew she wanted to do one thing after graduation – become a teacher.  “As soon as I graduated, I actually got a job teaching at the school that I myself had gone to as a child. It was a really lovely experience, and I stayed there for five years.”

During the last two of those five years, Rihani got married and she and her husband went to the UK to pursue their masters. “I had developed an interest in special needs education when I was teaching so I decided to study IT in  Education. I found all the new ways to use technology to teach special needs kids fascinating.”

When she graduated, she returned to the classroom to make education more accessible using IT but she wanted to get more involved in technology and, after a year of teaching, had her opportunity.

In 2003 , the World Economic Forum held their first meeting in Jordan where it approved the Jordan Education Initiative, which aimed to spread the use of technology in the classroom in public schools. Rihani knew she had to get involved. She called around and found the man in charge of launching the project. He took her on, but with one catch. “You can start tomorrow,” he said, “but there’s no money to pay you.”  She decided to dive in anyway.

“I quit my job teaching because I felt I had no choice. I really wanted to do something with this so I had to get involved. I thought it would be a month or two with no pay but it wound up being five!”

Overseas technology companies like Microsoft and Cisco supported the initiative, and Rihani found it fascinating to work with public schools getting them set up with networks, computers, software and more. “I worked long hours and learned so much,” she remembers. “I told myself, I have to learn everything I can while I’m here. I was 30 with no kids so there was nothing holding me back and I loved it. After five months of 18-hour days, working side by side with executives from around the world  who were on assignment from their full-time companies, she earned her paid spot and was hired (with pay) for a further two  years.  “It was the best job ever, after teaching!” she says.

With the arrival of her daughter and her husband’s decision to launch his own company, the long hours became untenable and Rihani decided toHawaiian Birthday cake stay home, become a full-time mother and teacher to her daughter, and turn back to baking which she had always loved. “I developed a great bond with my daughter during those years, we baked and baked. It’s so relaxing to me, even when I’m tired!” Rihani laughs.

As the baking increased, Rihani started experimenting and trying new recipes out on her family. Rihani loved baking so much that she started pondering the idea of whether or not she could do something with it professionally. “I thought, do I want to teach or go back to long hours in technology, or do I want to do something totally different that I love?”

She knew trying to launch a bakery would mean long hours that she couldn’t handle right then, especially since her husband was working so much in Iraq and Afghanistan. So she looked at the market in Jordan and tried to figure out what she could add.  “It dawned on me that there was an opportunity in decorations – much of what is put on cupcakes can be made with sugar, but it’s a very time consuming process.  And sometimes the tools are difficult to find as well.” A visit to a friend in Cyprus further cemented this idea. Rihani found many decorations that she couldn’t locate in Amman. And after that trip, Cupcake Fashion was born.

Minions_1Rihani started simply with a Facebook page and flyers. While she initially counted only friends and family as her customers, now thanks to savvy and persistent internet marketing, Cupcake Fashion has more than 12,000  fans on Facebook in Jordan.

“I buy all the stuff that I myself would want to use in baking and, for now, share everything on Facebook. It’s an amazing tool to promote my business.”

This December, Rihani took part in  her first show at a large Christmas bazaar in the city. Although just this past July when she launched she would have laughed at the idea of having a storefront, six months later, Rihani considers the holiday bazaar her first step towards having a store.

“In the future, I can see it, now that people keep asking me.  I want a small homey bakery. The kind where you can buy a yummy cake and a great cup of coffee.”

Rihani is selling decorations and baking tools and “cupcake fashions” regularly but she’s not yet earning a living from it … but this is something she hopes to change. “I’ve worked my whole life and I want to have a steady income again soon. It will come because I love what I’m doing.”

Tips From Rihani about starting small:
  • Do what you love and have passion for.
  • Start small and take it step by step so your business can grow into a successful enterprise.
  • Invest in creating a brand for your business.
  • Promote your business on social media.
  • Take every opportunity to present and promote your products to customers.
  • Count on yourself, not others!

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