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I have decided that it would be a good idea to sit down every week and consider a little something to write about. It would be great to share with you what we are up to, any news that we have or new products and ideas. But also, and importantly, I realised that I come across such lovely people, places and objects in my line of work that it would be very rewarding sharing them with you.
'A very good place to start'...
So, I want to begin with the company. It is lovely having a website but that does not tell you much about where we came from, our passion for tableware and where we want to get to. This is my opportunity. I started the company in 2009 when I was a newly qualified teacher working at a college teaching Art A level part time. There was a studio space available at Bath Artists Studios, a co-operative of around 50 or so artists who work in a converted building just by the river Avon in Bath. I was so proud of my space, one of a line of garages that led to the river. It was convenient to get the kiln in, and I did not have to worry about when I fired work as it was self contained. However, it was essentially a garage, nothing more, nothing less and this did have its limitations. Heating was a big issue, I had to leave the glazes next to the kilns so that they did not freeze in Winter and to make the space lighter I had to use my savings to put in clear roofing panels. It was mine though and I loved it. I started to slip cast tableware, using the methods I had used whilst completing my degree in Ceramics at Bath Spa University. It was rewarding to create each stage and build up the decoration. I used coloured slips under the glazes before adding transfers and lustre. There were luckily a small number of local markets to sell at during this period. Frome Independent is now a major event in the south west, but at this time it was just me - a little fold up decorators table, and some wooden boxes with some chocks to even out the legs on steep St Catherines Hill alongside maybe thirty or so other traders that lined that busy street. Come rain or shine (and there was LOTS of rain) we sold from that table and it got us many a local contact and kept me in materials and profit.
It took around a year to decide that I needed to go full time with the making. It was hard to keep up with stockist requests and selling myself at the markets was going well. Around 2012 we had the honour of producing work for Highgrove Estate, a slip cast range made by myself and another small range of my designs but made by the wonderful company in Stoke on Trent - Burleigh. This was a great learning curve and provided a regular income, not to mention wonderful advice from the Highgrove buyers and Burleigh workers. However, it was also becoming very difficult to keep up with slip casting the wares. I had out sourced a great deal of the casting to keep up but even so, the workload of underglazing, glazing, transfers and lustre was becoming too much.
My mother decided to join the company full time around this point. It was wonderful having an extra pair of hands to pack and check everything and keep on top of some admin too! Customers started to feed back to us that they would like dishwasher proof, less chunky ceramics - but with the same feel of decoration and designs. So in 2013 I began to look into sourcing fine bone china from Stoke on Trent to make our tableware. We launched the (still popular) lines of 'In The Woodland', 'Somerset Meadow' and 'Cornish Coast' with a selection of mugs, jugs, egg cups, jam pots and butter dishes. We have not looked back. The fine bone china set off the watercolours much better than the earthenware slip we had previously used and the feedback from customers was positive. Since then we have added different pieces to the collections and new designs each year when we could. It also felt right to design and sell some complementary products in the same designs. We now have textiles and stationery as big product lines as well as some that we could not resist such as cast pewter brooches.
In terms of the 'team' it is still myself and my lovely mother packing your orders and finishing off every piece of tableware that we make. I am lucky enough to have a group of ladies in Stoke on Trent who decorate some of the pieces for me, but I still add each little detail in the base of the piece myself, as well as the silver or gold lustre. A great deal of the pieces we make are still too fiddly for factories to decorate - so items such as the pots and dishes are completed by me every time. I like that I still have a hand in every piece, and that it is my mother who packs each and every item with such care. We are lucky and have a wonderful list of contacts who make the other products, all proudly based in the UK. It is one thing that I insist upon.
That is the big question. As with every growing business you reach a point where it is a little trickier to handle the orders and get all the paper work done as the team stands. This has not been helped by the arrival of my daughter nearly two years ago, and the added strain of my second pregnancy this year. Estimated arrival is early July so it has been all hands to the deck to get everything in place for a smooth month! But I like that everything is constantly evolving, and that each day brings a new challenge. Whether that is an issue with a supplier or a last minute dash to get photography ready for magazine production.
I would like to think that this coming year will bring a greater selection of china for our customers rather than new designs. (Though we have completely re-designed our Christmas products and are so very excited to think of launching those this year!) Three new ranges were revealed in Spring 2017 as well as the introduction of personalising some of our products. We will be expanding this to further products, and possibly with more options as we head through the year.
As a BIG thank you for reading about our beginnings and what we are up to I want to give you the opportunity to WIN a small sized mug of your choice.
All you need to do is email us your choice of design (email@example.com) and your delivery address. We will announce the winner in next weeks post.