- Emily Harpel, 29, is a cotton candy maker based in Ohio and owner of Art of Sucre.
- After gaining over a million followers on her business’ TikTok, she launched an ecommerce shop and has made over 6 figures since March.
- This is what her job is like, as told to freelance writer Judy Brumley.
This as-told-to essay is based on a transcribed conversation with Emily Harpel, a cotton candy maker and small business owner based in Ohio. It has been edited for length and clarity.
When I was planning my wedding, I saw cotton candy being used as favors on Pinterest. I thought it was a cute idea, but was disappointed in the options: pink or blue with no distinguishable flavor. Every other dessert, like cake pops and sugar cookies, had been given an Instagrammable upgrade, and I just couldn’t let cotton candy be left out.
I was planning to get my masters in clinical and mental health counseling, but since the program I applied to was full, my enrollment got deferred for a year. After my husband and I got married in March of 2016, I decided to withdraw my application and launched an LLC for Art of Sucre by May.
We chose the name during the 20-hour car ride home from our honeymoon. After a lot of Googling we landed on “sucre,” which means sugar in French.
I had zero experience and no equipment, so I bought a machine and taught myself by watching YouTube videos.
Cotton candy is just flavored sugar. You pour the base into the hot center of a cotton candy machine where it melts into a liquid and spins. The spinning creates a centrifugal force, which pushes the sugar to the top. The sugar goes from a solid to a liquid then back to a solid, and you catch it on a cone during that in-between phase when it’s nice and fluffy.
Once I had the technique down, I started to create my own fun flavors.
For the first four years, I spun cotton candy at all kinds of events and celebrations.
I went to birthday parties and weddings, helped celebrate bat mitzvahs, and worked with professional sports teams, like the Cleveland Browns and Cavaliers. I even spun cotton candy for VIP ticket holders at Elton John, Ariana Grande, and Travis Scott concerts.
When the pandemic hit in March 2020, I knew I needed to figure out how to make my business more COVID-friendly. I spent a lot of time consuming TikTok videos during quarantine and had nothing but time on my hands, so I created an account for Art of Sucre and started posting in July 2020. We hit one million followers in October, and that’s when I decided to transition from events to e-commerce.
Our biggest challenge with e-commerce was shipping and packaging logistics, because cotton candy is delicate.
We shipped prototypes to Australia, Canada, and Arizona to make sure they could survive any trip.
The online shop finally launched on March 15, 2021 with six original flavors (sugar cookie, bubble gum, piña colada, orange bourbon, champagne, and watermelon) and our best-selling shimmer glitter bombs. Our pre-spun pouches start at $12 each and the shimmer glitter bombs (puffs of cotton candy wrapped around glitter that floats when dropped into a liquid) sell for $22.
Since March, we’ve sold over $165,000 worth of cotton candy. That number doesn’t include sales from custom orders, which is my favorite thing we offer at Art of Sucre.
A father once asked if I could top mannequin heads with cotton candy hair for his daughter’s bat mitzvah. After I spent three hours spinning the hair, the mannequin heads – which had sunglasses on – were walked out on silver platters and devoured in seconds. We’ve also created custom shimmer glitter bombs using edible black glitter and silver stars for a galaxy-themed wedding, and pouches of pre-spun cotton candy that were half black and half white for a Cruella de Vil party. The possibilities are endless, and we’ll try anything the customer can imagine.
I used to have one person who would help with events – now I have a team of 15, including one full-time employee.
We keep our six core cotton candy flavors in stock and drop limited-edition releases throughout the year. We’re also working on some fun holiday treats and getting ready for the New York City Wine and Food Festival in October.
I still pop into the studio to spin cotton candy, but now most of my days are spent doing admin work. My full-time employee and I have a morning meeting around 10 a.m. before I take calls with suppliers, potential collaborators, and our design team. I create content for our TikTok, Instagram, and website in the afternoon and, after everyone else heads home, I test and develop new flavors.
Sometimes I feel guilty to have found such great success during a time that’s been so challenging for so many people, but as a small business owner and employer, I’m thankful for the growth we’ve experienced this year. It’s really special to see how something as simple as cotton candy can bring so much joy to people’s lives.
Judy Brumley is a freelance writer from Kentucky. She has written editorial and branded content stories across all verticals for brands like InStyle, Parents, PEOPLE, and Romper.