Arley Arrington delivers socially conscious messages through her baking
RICHMOND- After the death of numerous Black people at the hands of law enforcement this year, #BlackLivesMatter protests erupted all over Richmond and continued for months. However, protesting is not the only way that people show their support. Virginians continue to spread that message of equal rights through art, music and now with cakes.
One local baker is mixing her passion for baking with her passion for activism.
Arley Arrington, the owner of the online bakery Arley Cakes, sells everything from cupcakes to macarons. But unlike most bakeries, her sweet treats come with a socially conscious message. Arrington decorates her cakes in frosting with phrases like “Black Lives Matter”, “Justice for Breonna Taylor” and “Families Belong Together”.
How Arley Got Her Start
Arrington started baking in her late college years, making birthday cakes for friends. Years later, she then began baking for her coworkers while working at a non-profit. But even longer than she’s been baking, she’s had a passion for advocacy. As a Black woman, many politicized issues, like criminal justice reform, directly affect her life.
“A lot of the things I talk about play a role in my life and my immediate family’s lives,” Arrington said. “And the lives of people I love and care about. We are the ones facing fear and discrimination.” However, she does not limit her scope just to issues that effect her own life. She talks about issues like immigration because they are equally as important.
On the day of Trump’s inauguration, Arrington posted a picture of her attending the Women’s March in Washington D.C. In the picture, she held a sign with a picture of a woman in a hijab. After posting the photo, she received a lot of pushback from her followers.
“I got a lot of negative feedback from posting that photo. I lost hundreds of followers,” said Arrington. “Afterwards, I talked to a friend about it. I didn’t understand (the pushback) because these are things I’ve always cared about. I’m African-American. I’m a woman. I’ve always had this social aspect to my business.”
But instead of shying away, Arrington went harder. She thought that by making her beliefs clearer in her work, this would help people understand.
“I decided to use my little pocket of the internet to explicitly discuss these social justice issues that I care about and I wished other people were talking about more,” said Arrington.
Speaking Out Against Injustice
Arrington has a relatively large social media following. Currently, she has 7,980 instagram followers. And with her platform, Arrington fundraises and advocates for marginalized voices everywhere. A portion of her proceeds go to organizations fighting for equality and encourages her customers to donate as well. So far, she’s raised $1,836 for 17 different non-profits.
In the digital age, many celebrities, athletes and public figures express their beliefs on social media. And once they do, people demand that they “stay out of politics” and “stick to what they do best”. Arrington is more than familiar with this pattern. Many have told her to “just stick to baking”. But Arrington won’t stay silent.
“It’s ridiculous to me. People are telling me that they want to use me for entertainment and to feel better,” said Arrington. “I just think asking me to ignore my right to freedom so they can enjoy a picture of a cake is a bit silly. There are people who don’t get to go on Instagram and forget the challenges that they’re facing.”
Originally set up in Charlottesville, Arrington moved her business to Richmond in 2017. After the move, she actually wanted to take a break from baking. But, since 2020 started, the demands for her desserts has only increased.
“When I moved to Richmond, I was taking a step back from my own business. But in June, all of a sudden, I got a lot more followers in Instagram and more orders were coming in. People were reaching out to me to place orders and share my work,” said Arrington. Recently, she stepped down from her as a pastry chef to do Arley Cakes full-time.
Arianna Coghill is a content producer for Dogwood. You can reach her at [email protected].