Tell us a little bit about yourself and The Sugar Factory.
My real name Gay was not allowed on early Facebook, so I took the nickname Sugar. In Kitchener, Ontario I restored an 1920’s electric transformer station that I called - The Sugar Factory, putting that town on the map for design. It was so stunning and a total success story. My second location was a large, 1980's Zaza styled, deluxe penthouse in downtown Toronto, which I named The Sugar Factory in the Sky. My Austin store is my third Sugar Factory, which is 4000 square feet – a store with a 1940’s house attached. Each has been a work/live space, filled with items and art that I create. Magical things. I often dream them and then wake up to create my visions. It has made for a really fun life!
How did you get started? What inspires you?
I was born exactly how I am: an enthusiastic, over-achieving, cheerleader, happy to the core, a voracious reader and fast learner, interested in everything with art and décor in my DNA. I remember hosting my fifth birthday and everything had to be perfect and handmade. I have since hosted over a thousand parties and events. I would have a PhD in events, if there was such a thing. A dozen years ago, my business really took off when I befriended owners of four tractor trailers filled with mint condition beads and chain from the 1940’s – 70’s. That horde makes my pieces more special and unique. I hope by now that I am in their will. We will be friends forever, that is for sure. I make their pretties come to life and they love me for it!
What's your favorite thing about what you do?
Working with brides to create heirloom treasures, which will be fought over when they die. Creating for rock and movie stars and fashion divas - getting them excited about what they are wearing, when they could have anything in the world but want Gay Isber. Turning fossils and minerals and gems into treasures that are museum worthy. Seeing my creations in magazines and books around the world and knowing that my mother would be so proud. Isn’t that why we do things still, to make our family proud?
Of all the cool things that have ever happened in The Sugar Factory, what’s the one thing that sticks out in your mind the most?
I took all of the furniture outside, creating an outdoor lounge with huge artworks that I created to cover the fencing. The fashion “show” actually was male and female models, wrapped in plastic wrap “clothes” which they modeled though these large six inside windows to the crowds at the bar slightly below them kind of like the Red Light District. They would randomly cover the window with a painting then reemerge with even more wonderful jewelry. The crowd would go wild. The theme was Martha Stewart Gone Made with tons of spiders, plastic fingers, animal skulls and bones worms and other disgusting fun bits that I painted and glittered and crystaled. I even cooked for the 120 guests- a ghoulish feast. Martha would have been proud.
Who are three of your favorite independent retailers?
When I moved to Austin and found Spring Frost Boutique, I was so happy. She is a lovely person, a great boutique owner and friend. This summer, I found Henry Tarin and his Big Bertha’s Paradise and thankfully, now, he has joined me at my store, which I totally manifested. He was a buyer for Bergdorf’s and has an eye for amazzzzzing. Uncommon Objects, also in Austin, is so good that I can only stay a few minutes each time, as my heart just starts racing and my head spinning from all of the glorious things that totally inspire me.
quick lunch: leftovers, it’s a classic for a reason.
morning beverage: yummy, creamy, hot coffee. I put hot water in my cup while making the coffee so my cup is nice and warm - a trick that I learned living in Canada.
after-work drink: something cold and wet, even water. It is terrible how often I don’t even take a sip of water during the day as I am so busy.
What's one item in your store that everyone wants but isn't for sale?
The large, golden branch chandeliers that light the Grand Hall. They are perfect for the room and art lighting, dripping with 100 year old crystal drops. I could have sold them a hundred times. Maybe, thinking about it now, I will make small ones just to sell on Shopcastr.com.
If you weren't doing this, what else would you be doing?
I started out wanting to work for global oil companies being from Houston, Texas so I have degrees in Journalism, Geology and Spanish with dual Master Degrees in Humanities and Visual Arts. I have enough hours to have a degree in ceramics but I think my jewelry speaks of my artistic passion and vision. I am too over qualified for a real job. I really do love learning and now, I am teaching too.
Are you a morning person or a night owl?
Up with the dawn. I also work a lot of hours, so often I am up late creating with Netflicks on with no one around - this is my bliss.
Any advice or words of wisdom for budding entrepreneurs?
Prepare to work very, very hard. Keep up with the technological trends. I started out with jobs that required knowing the early computers of the 1980’s so I was ahead of the home computer curve, which has served me well. I have evolved as much as computers have. Back then, I would read the manual over the weekend and be the company’s computer expert by Monday.
What makes your store one-of-a-kind?
The handmade chandeliers, tiger print upholstery, large juicy painting sparkling with glitter, palace sized oriental rugs and of course all of the hand made items, my jewelry and beads everywhere plus amazing designer vintage. I host jewelry making parties all week long that are for all ages. It is so fun to see five year olds make a Sugar Spring bracelet and have women gather in the evenings for BYOB girls nights to make jewelry and not want to leave. When I hear, ”Sugar look what I made!” it just melts my soul.