What I Wear to Work (at Home): Candace Nelson, Founder of Sprinkles Cupcakes and Judge on Sugar Rush

Her outfits are the perfect mix of comfy and presentable.

Candace Nelson
(Image credit: Dane Deaner)

In a bi-weekly series, we're asking female executives, founders, CEOs—basically, boss ladies—about their "power suit" a.k.a. the outfit they wear every day for easy dressing to conquer whatever the job throws at them.

"What to wear' bag

(Image credit: Marie Claire)

The origin of the cupcake bakery business can be attributed to Candace Nelson who launched the very first cupcake bakery, Sprinkles Cupcakes, in 2005. (She also launched the first cupcake ATM in 2012.) Nelson pivoted from a career in investment banking to baked goods in the early aughts. After the dot-com bubble burst and 9/11 happened, she wanted to find a more meaningful path and "bring a little more joy to the world." For Nelson, that was through food. She went to pastry school to learn the ropes (and to make sure this was what she wanted). Afterwards, her focus was on cupcakes, specifically creating a shop that sold only elevated cupcakes made with high-quality ingredients.

Candace Nelson and Reese Witherspoon

Reese Witherspoon and Candace Nelson (right) at Nelson's pre-release party for The Sprinkles Baking Book in October 2016.

(Image credit: Stefanie Keenan)

"I was definitely challenged by other people with my new idea, but it was something I couldn't get out of my head," she recalls. "When I worked in the business world, we'd always get a cake from a local bakery and everyone would be like 'we need plates, who has a knife, I don't like carrot cake.'"

Nelson and her husband opened up their first cupcake bakery in Beverly Hills with 25 rotating flavors; red velvet proved to be the ultimate hit. She credits her husband for getting that flavor on the menu, saying, "My husband is from Oklahoma, where red velvet is a very popular flavor. He was like 'Candace, if you don't have a red velvet cupcake, I will be laughed out of my state.' [People] in Beverly Hills had never heard of red velvet, but they would be like 'I need that red cupcake, that cherry cupcake, maybe it's called black velvet.' They wanted it."

Fast forward to present day and Sprinkles Cupcakes has 40 locations across the country, including its cupcake ATMs. Nelson has stepped back from the day-to-day operations at Sprinkles (she sold the company to a private equity firm several years ago, but sits on the board) and turned her entrepreneurial acumen toward other areas of the food and retail industry. She launched Pizzana in 2017, a Michelin Bib Gourmand neo-neapolitan pizzeria; founded children's learning center Play 2 Progress the same year; and recently launched CN2 Ventures with her husband, Charles Nelson, which invests in early stage and growth stage companies in the retail, food, direct-to-consumer, and branded consumer product sectors.

Candace Nelson

"You never know what's going to happen with your business. It is a really hard time, but as an entrepreneur you always have to have that optimism," says Nelson, here on the set of Sugar Rush.

(Image credit: Candace Nelson)

On top of that, she is one of the hosts of Netflix's Sugar Rush, a baking competition show during which contestants flex their creativity, whipping up sweet and, sometimes, unexpected treats. "The challenges can be way out there," Nelson says. "When they can work [with ingredients like] tobacco or cheese curds and deliver amazing desserts, you know you're in talented hands."

With her own hands in so many different businesses, Nelson and her team are adapting and pivoting where needed—especially during the pandemic. "I like to call it being an entrepreneur on steroids because the whole point of being an entrepreneur is that you're taking a big risk," she says. Ahead, get a snapshot of Nelson's day-to-day, including how she dresses for work in this work-from-home climate.

Her Morning Routine

"It involves making sure my kids are fed and set up with Zoom for school. I have two boys, 9 and 13, so they're getting to be very self-sufficient, but still need a bit of help with Zoom links and [for me to make sure] they're not still in pajamas. I try to get in a quick workout because when you're working with food, the only way to balance it out is by making exercise a priority as well. I do intermittent fastening in the morning, so no breakfast but I am a big coffee girl."

Candace Nelson

La Ligne sweats are "the only sweatpants I feel cute in.

(Image credit: Dane Deaner)

Her Getting Dressed Strategy

"I wouldn't say it's changed that much, since my job is so active and casual. I am either running around a restaurant or filming content at my house or doing my marketing meetings. I live in Los Angeles, so it's just always that casual anyway. The difference is less jeans now and more sweatpants, but I like the feel of jeans more.

For Sugar Rush, [I have a stylist] Darshan Gress. I'm opinionated about what I wear, but Darshan has made it scientific, like this is the cut, color, and material. This is the little detail that is interesting on camera, but won't distract. In the beginning of the season, she brings racks and racks of clothes. We try on everything, take pictures and videos to see how [the piece] moves and then whittle [the selections] down to [go with] however many episodes we're doing. She has everything tailored to within an inch of its life. You can get something very inexpensive, then tailor it and it looks expensive. I get comments/questions from people on social media about the outfits I wear on the show [all the time]. I think that speaks to the talents of Darshan."

Her Work-From-Home Uniform

"If I am just super casual, I do love jeans and a cute little top from The Great, whether it's a short sleeve blouse or a puff sleeve. I have been obsessed with The Great. Everything they come out with, [I want]. G. Label has some cute puff sleeves and I like Frame tops. Also, in the absence of dresses in my life right now, a jumpsuit or one-piece is kind of fun and [requires] less decision making.

Candace Nelson

Ready for a day of Zoom calls.

(Image credit: Dane Deaner)

I love a good comfortable jean and prefer skinny jeans in a good medium wash blue because it sucks me in and keeps everything in place. [For sneakers], I like Isabel Marant, and I'm a sucker for Birkenstocks. When I'm in the kitchen, however, I am wearing kitchen clogs because they protect my feet.

For jewelry, I like to layer but, generally, I'm lazy about swapping the pieces out. I'll wear necklaces and a few bracelets, but they're there at all times. I like Cartier and also have a friend that makes gorgeous jewelry, Jenna Blake, and love Irene Neuwirth."

The Words That Describe Her Power Outfit

"Simple, modern, and classic with edge."

Her Motto

"Nothing that is worth doing is ever easy."

Shop some of Nelson's favorite brands, below.

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Fashion Editor

Marina Liao is the former fashion news editor at Marie Claire, where she covered celebrity style (from Meghan Markle to Katie Holmes), fashion trends, and shopping advice, plus conducted original interviews with industry insiders. She's now the Senior Commerce Editor at House Beautiful, where she owns coverage on deals and sales across home decor and accessories, in-depth product reviews on furniture and appliances, as well as news around new product launches since 2023. With help from leading designers and tastemakers, Marina spotlights quality products while tracking current design trends, a skill she’s mastered over six years in fashion media. Marina holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Stony Brook University, beginning her career in narrative-driven commerce coverage as an editorial assistant at PopSugar.