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Chocolate shoes and chocolate purses. These aren't really the first things that spring to mind for people when they think of potential chocolate related treats, be it for themselves, or as a gift to another. For Azra Sadiq however, this conflation of chocolate and fashion is one which has proved very successful. Her business, 'Azra Chocolates', which currently operates out of her family home in Harrogate, is a testament to this, going from strength to strength over the past four years having been featured in the likes of The Times, The Independent and Glamour. The journey undergone to get everything to its current position, is one that is almost as interesting as the wide variety of products themselves. Nouse spoke to Azra to find out more about the business' beginnings, the different products on offer and what the future holds for 'Azra Chocolates'.
It is fair to say that not many people would fail to acknowledge an affection for all things chocolate, and Azra confesses to being the same - "When I am not making chocolate, I am constantly thinking of new products and designs. I wish I could be let loose and make weird and wonderful chocolate products everyday". During her time in Saudi Arabia (where she lived prior to moving to Harrogate) she mentions that something she noticed a lot in the chocolate there, was the amount of preservatives they contained, likely a result of much of it having been imported. Having taken inspiration from New York-based chocolatier Jacques Torres' shows on the Food Network, and wanting to try chocolate that focused on taste as opposed to decoration, Azra decided to start making her own individual chocolates. This involved teaching herself vital yet conventional techniques necessary to chocolate making such as tempering and making ganaches.
Interest began to pique amongst friends and family and the quality of the chocolates produced quickly became evident to many. She also mentions a fondness for including different fillings in her individual chocolates, ranging from the likes of an Earl Grey or raspberry filling to a coffee or ginger based one. Pralines and truffles were other products that featured as part of the things she made while there. It was visits to Manchester and
then Belgium around 15 years ago that actually prompted the introduction of the products on which 'Azra Chocolates' is currently centered - chocolate shoes. She spent time at a week's intensive course at Slattery Chocolatiers, in Manchester whereby she was able to add to her burgeoning chocolate-based knowledge and pick up techniques (such as tempering in a microwave as opposed to solely using a marble slab) that she mentions have helped her with her current business.
Belgium, specifically Brussels, was where she first procured a mould that would allow her to experiment with making shoes. Returning to Saudi Arabia gave her the opportunity to start testing out what she planned, and from there the origins of her current business truly began to blossom. "Carving a niche and focusing on one product" was a key basis behind introducing her shoes to the UK chocolate and confectionary market. This was added to by the fact that shoes have a shelf life of 12 months at optimum temperature and thus can be stored for a while much unlike individual chocolates and truffles.
Having moved back to the UK from Saudi Arabia with her family around six years ago, Azra took a break for a couple of years before pursuing a business in a location that she admits she wasn't "too familiar with" at first. Building a reputation and name for herself was subsequently imperative and saw her take part in several markets and fairs in which she was able to showcase her products and make her presence known. However, the turning point, she feels, came in the form of recognition from former Dragon's Den star Theo Paphitis and his 'Small Business Sunday' initiative - one that involves him retweeting a business to his Twitter followers. After several attempts, 'Azra Chocolates' were picked up by him and "things began to pick up from there".
Since then, the business has really developed, both in terms of its reputation and the products on offer. Events ranging from York Chocolate Fair to the London Chocolate Show
have offered further opportunities for exposure. One thing that has remained constant is
the fact that, until now, the business has been supported single-handedly by Azra's efforts,
something that has required a lot of hard work and determination. She mentions for example how "you require a lot of patience as chocolate is not an easy product to work with. Lots of factors affect the outcome of the chocolate like room temperature, humidity, cooling temperature, storage etc.".
The actual process of making the shoes requires her to temper the chocolate (which she buys in pellet form from Belgian supplier Callebaut) and then mould the shape while adding several layers, allowing each to set. This is then followed by applying the design which can vary depending on what it happens to be - the most taxing, in her view, would be the 'Marilyn' shoe, which requires individually adding several diamantes to the heel using a tweezer. The shoes also require utmost care in the handling and delivery as a lot of business is conducted online, thus packaging is prepared in such a way that the shoes arrive to the customer intact.
As the business develops, so too do the range of products on offer - Azra touches on the range of baby shoes and men's brogues that have recently been introduced. All the products, in her eyes, require "passion and creativity", and it is a further belief of hers that "if you have a good product it will sell itself". Thus plans for the future of the business are already manifesting in thought - wanting to introduce flavours into the shoes themselves is one thing she hopes to accommodate. Further increasing the number of trade shows is included in her plan of action - "chocolatiers tend to operate for only six months of the year" she informs, with summer not being an ideal time to sell chocolate. Hiring a production unit will also be on the agenda - a place to which she hopes to see her business move. One thing is clear for certain; the expansion and development of the business owes itself to the pertinacious efforts of one specific individual - Azra Sadiq.
Her efforts have helped establish an impressive and innovative business that has over the past few years received much warranted acclaim across the country. What the future holds for the business is thus exciting to see and worth looking out for.