From Clowns to Sophisticated Sweets: How Emily Harpel Gave Cotton Candy a Makeover

From Clowns to Sophisticated Sweets: How Emily Harpel Gave Cotton Candy a Makeover
Credit: Art of Sucre/Emily Harpel.

Giving her guests cotton candy as a wedding favor intrigued Emily Harpel, but she found the options available at the time unappetizing. “It was honestly a little scary—clear packaging that didn’t look food safe with a giant red clown on it,” Emily said. She realized she had an opportunity to put her own spin on cotton candy. Discover more about Emily’s sweet journey into entrepreneurship via handspun, luxe cotton candy. 

What prompted you to get into selling cotton candy?

I got the idea to give cotton candy a much-needed upgrade while wedding planning in 2016. I was constantly searching for creative wedding favor ideas, and while cotton candy was popping up as a suggestion, it was honestly a little scary—clear packaging that didn’t look food safe with a giant red clown on it with either pink or blue sugar inside with no clear flavor description. I knew I could put a new spin on this nostalgic treat by creating adult flavors like champagne, manhattan, peach bellini, etc. I took the money from our wedding to start an events-based cotton candy cart service business. 

Credit: Art of Sucre/Emily Harpel.

When did you realize that you could start a business?

For me, the business came first, and the artwork came second. I secured my LLC without ever even touching a cotton candy machine—crazy, right? I quickly realized that there is an art to creating cones of cotton candy, developing flavor profiles, designing eye-catching packaging and creating attention-grabbing content. Art of Sucre quickly transitioned from a business idea to my art. 

How do you define success for your business?

Defining success is such a personal thing that can be hard to describe. My first big success was booking my first-ever paid cotton candy event. The next was when I stopped looking up new job listings weekly because I started to believe this business was actually going to be something. Another was when I hit one million followers on TikTok. So on and so forth. If I have learned anything about success is that it’s a constantly moving target, and it’s more of a feeling than an actual mile marker on the road. 

Credit: Art of Sucre/Emily Harpel.

Where do you find inspiration for your work?

Other people. I love hearing other founder’s stories, listening and seeing creatives reach for their dreams. I try to stop down and notice the small details because that is where I often find inspiration. 

What’s one piece of advice you wish someone had given you when you first started your business?

Go at your own pace. Running a business isn’t a race, and moving at a speed you are comfortable is so important. There is a certain confidence needed to be an entrepreneur, and to gain that you have to feel confident in your decisions. That can mean not rushing things or moving quicker than others suggest. Be sure to push yourself, but do it in your own timing. 

What advice would you give to someone who wants to start selling their art or creative product?

Just start. I know that can sound like, duh, of course, but truly getting started can often be the most challenging part. Make that TikTok page, post the video. Make the listing, create the website. Whatever it is, just take that first step to getting started. 

What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?

I’m actually so introverted. I think a lot of entrepreneurs get the reputation for being super outgoing, constantly networking (which is important), and being the ultimate salesperson. None of these things describe me. I am more of a hang-out-at-home-with-a-good-book-and-my-dog kinda gal. I joke with my team that I am actually the worst salesperson ever. You don’t like cotton candy? No, worries, you don’t have to try it! I have never made a hard sale in my life. 

Credit: Art of Sucre/Emily Harpel.

As creatives, we can be continuously creating and refining our art. How do you handle perfectionism?

Oof, there is no room for perfectionism in entrepreneurship. You have to get comfortable releasing a rough draft, especially in the beginning. One thing I have really worked hard on practicing is separating myself from my creations in a way that is a healthy boundary so I can put it out into the world when it’s oftentimes good enough and learning to perfect as I go. 

What’s something that surprised you about running a creative business?

It is so easy to get burnt out if you are not taking care of yourself. Especially in a creative space where you have to protect your creative process. You can only work so much and grind so many hours before the effects take hold of your creative workflow. I was not prepared for this when it happened to me.

What’s your advice for handling the highs and lows of running a business?

Running a business is like getting on a roller coaster. The highs are high, and the lows are low. This is something I am still working on how to handle. I have learned that it is okay to sit in those feelings and embrace them as they come. Finding a support group of entrepreneurs in your same place is so helpful so they can relate. 

Credit: Art of Sucre/Emily Harpel.

Has someone ever criticized your work? How did you handle it?

Oh, absolutely. Having a business that thrives on social media opens you up to a lot of opinions, and not all of them are encouraging. I have set boundaries around looking at comment sections, and I’ve learned to tune out unhelpful voices and take note of those who have productive feedback. 

What’s a cause you are passionate about?

I’m passionate about teaching young entrepreneurs. I volunteer with two local high schools where I mentor students who are starting their first business. 

Can you share the name of a supplier or vendor that you use for your business that you just loveone that makes running your business a bit easier? 

My business would not be where it is today without my design team—McGrath and McKenna Designs. They have been essential in creating all things visual at Art of Sucre. 

What brings you joy?

My team. The people I work with are genuinely the best of the best, and I am so lucky to have the team I do. Getting to work alongside their genius is such a gift that brings me joy each day. 

Thanks, Emily! You can learn more about Art of Sucre at

Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Read more