KUALA LUMPUR: It’s not every day that you hear of a teenager running his own online business. Many adults for that matter, shy away from such an endeavour, preferring to stick to more conventional jobs.
But some teenagers are just born special – like 13-year-old Alexander Wilhelm.
Diagnosed with Down Syndrome, Alex as he prefers to be called, proved to be somewhat of a genius in the kitchen, picking up the intricacies of breadmaking quickly under the watchful eye of his mother Ashley Pang Yek Sze.
Speaking to FMT recently, Pang said Alex had always had a sweet tooth, devouring her homemade muffins and cupcakes in a flash. However, it was an online class assignment during the Covid-19 pandemic that got him hooked on making bread.
Pang said they started with a simple bread recipe at first and only moved on to more complex bakes once Alex was more confident in the kitchen. It helped that he was also visibly excited about the end result of his handiwork.
Alex was hands-on the entire time, his mother said, measuring, kneading and following her instructions closely. The boy was clearly serious about breadmaking – homework or not!
“We started making more bread after getting feedback from my husband and friends in the neighbourhood on how to improve the texture,” Pang said of the duo’s baking experiments in the kitchen.
They began reserving Saturdays for breadmaking, selling the bread they baked under the brand name ‘Alex’s Bakery’. And soon, muffins and oatmeal cookies were added to their repertoire.
There were times when the duo even had to bake on weekdays, after Alex was done with homework, in order to cope with the mounting orders.
Pang said that baking was a good activity for him as measuring the ingredients and packing everything into bags helped develop his motor and sensory skills.
As mother and son bonded over baking, Pang felt it was a good time to teach her son about helping those in need, particularly children who were sick in hospital.
“He’s never been to a hospital. So, I would tell him about the children there with cancer and how they would be happy if they had some home-made bread,” she said, adding that Alex got down immediately to baking bread for them.
“Teaming up with the Autism Cafe Project and Kiwanis Malaysia, we packed curry puffs, bread and clothes, and colour pencils to be given to them,” she said.
Alex’s Bakery was soon a huge success, but the duo had to scale back operations late last year as Pang was pregnant and due to deliver her baby anytime.
After much brainstorming with his dad, Alex decided he was keen on setting up a new business – that of printing doodles and catchphrases on T-shirts.
Learning how to use Microsoft PowerPoint on his laptop with his dad, Alex was soon printing his own designs on T-shirts and selling these online. He now sells doodle-inspired badges and pouches as well. Talk about being enterprising!
“My husband and I want to see Alex become independent so that one day, he can run his own business or even work for someone else. Even at home, I’ll tell him that his baking sessions are a form of home-based internship,” she said.
“We are both very happy to have him in our lives. I think one of the things that has always put a smile on my face is spending time with him,” Pang said.
You can follow Alex’s Bakery on Facebook.