Entrepreneurs

From lingerie to luxury candy, one entrepreneur’s sweet success

Maayan Zilberman oozes style. Top to bottom, her look is thoughtful, cool and sexy. So it's no great surprise to find she's a former lingerie designer. But today, the fashionista and serial entrepreneur is making candy — yes candy — with a stylish twist.

Zilberman is the brains behind New York City-based Sweet Saba, a luxury candy line launched in November. Her avant-garde collection includes edible versions of candy lipsticks, sunglasses, mix tapes and records that include hand-painted details. She also produces sugar crystal candy that looks like glass statues, which are handmade, with flavors including champagne and ginger.

The only problem? The yummy candy just might be too beautiful to eat.

"The way I approach candy is more from an artistic perspective," she said. "It's for grown-ups. I'm asking customers to take a moment to think about what it looks like, what it might taste like and what the experience might be."

Prices range from $5 into the thousands of dollars for custom orders.

Entrepreneur Maayan Zilberman is the creator of candy line “Sweet Saba.”
Sophie Bearman | CNBC
Entrepreneur Maayan Zilberman is the creator of candy line “Sweet Saba.”

As a child, Zilberman immigrated to Canada from Israel, and her fascination with creativity started early. She used to bake with her grandfather, experimenting and making sculptures in the kitchen. "Sweet Saba" is named after him. "Saba" means grandfather in Hebrew.

"Baking was exciting to me as a kid because it was the fantasy of turning [materials] into something else," she said.

Zilberman's creative resume includes a luxury lingerie brand she co-founded called, The Lake & Stars, which had its final season in the fall of 2012. From there, she moved on as a creative director of Frederick's of Hollywood, which was undergoing a rebranding.

But working on more established, large brands means distance from the actual end products. This artist-entrepreneur yearned for a more hands-on connection with what was being created. Then came the candy.

"I wanted to get back to my roots of making art, and I didn't have an art studio at the time," Zilberman said. "So I started making small sculptures in my kitchen where I could make a mess. The most convenient medium I had at the time was sugar."

Serial entrepreneur Maayan Zilberman is the creator of candy line “Sweet Saba.” She’s taken a high brow approach to candy-making with her luxury line including crystals, mixtapes, and sunglasses.
Sophie Bearman | CNBC
Serial entrepreneur Maayan Zilberman is the creator of candy line “Sweet Saba.” She’s taken a high brow approach to candy-making with her luxury line including crystals, mixtapes, and sunglasses.

She eventually posted the items online to share with friends, who began to order them.

"I started to look at the numbers and opportunity and realized this was a business," she said. With no formal training in cooking or baking, Zilberman said, she "learned everything on YouTube."

Her candy is available exclusively at SweetSaba.com, and in pop-up shops in and around New York City, including a collection at The Standard Hotel during Fashion Week in February. The next pop-up shop is scheduled for late spring.

Since launch, the candy business has grown at least three- to four-fold, month over month, with "several thousand customers," Zilberman said. That estimate excludes special orders and artist fees for commissioned works. Projected sales for the remainder of 2016 are in the six-figure range, she said.

She also plans to open retail locations in Los Angeles, New York City and Tokyo by 2017.

Entrepreneur Maayan Zilberman is the creator of candy line “Sweet Saba.”
Sophie Bearman | CNBC
Entrepreneur Maayan Zilberman is the creator of candy line “Sweet Saba.”

And her unique, luxury candy has attracted top clients. Customers include W Magazine, which commissioned Sweet Saba to make candy for its Golden Globes party. Other clients include fashion label Alice+Olivia, and Adam Selman, a favorite designer of pop star Rihanna.

She never knows who will call for an order. Zilberman was recently commissioned to design a candy wrestling belt.

She's also outgrown her home kitchen: The candy is now handmade in a factory in New Jersey. But Zilberman will hand-paint some specialty orders. And she enjoys what she calls "maintaining the halo," or keeping a connection to the end product — making sure her unique style is present.

"To me, success is to have your voice heard, and to be creative and to be part of the conversation," she said.