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Makers movement: Elm. founder talks ceramics, process and personalisation

With a rise in consumer demand for personalisation, handmade products are having a moment. None more so than ceramics – with pots and plates striking the balance between beautiful, personal aesthetics and practical use.

WGSN caught up with Norwich-based ceramist Paige Mitchell, owner of lifestyle store Elm. to talk inspiration, process and the appetite for handmade, artisan products.

How did you get into making ceramics? What made you want to create your own?

I started making ceramics a few years ago as a hobby, but I caught on quickly. I was studying illustration at the time, but wanted to find a way to make my work more tangible. I now own and work out of my lifestyle store – Elm.  I have always been a maker, and loved the idea of making items which could be used, and which served a purpose.

 

How did you go about making your own brand?

At the beginning, I was purely learning and was amazed that people wanted to experience my work for themselves. I began by selling work at seasonal craft fairs, and setting up my online store. I experimented a lot with different styles and ideas, and have slowly drawn in on a collection which is more well-rounded.

I began to contact some shops and asked if they would like to become stockists, and have been developing the wholesale side of my brand ever since. Setting up Elm. really helped me with this, and allowed me to experience firsthand how people target buyers.

 

What inspires your pieces?

I love trawling through the likes of Instagram or Pinterest, and am constantly inspired by other designers and makers. I also love to experiment in my craft, and try out new ideas. I have always had a love for pattern and surface design, and so I find that a lot of my ideas evolve into new decorative techniques and styles. Generally, my inspiration is drawn from constantly exploring and experimenting with new ways of making.

 

Are your pieces seasonal? Or do you consider them to be more timeless? 

My pieces aren’t usually based on season. I have a few styles of work which I have stuck with since the very beginning (my brush stroke pieces for example), but I do like to add new ranges every now and then. Choosing to stick with these original styles of work is based purely on customer reaction. I stopped making these pieces for a while, but got asked so often to make them again, that I just had to bring them back.

Working out of the shop really helps me test out new styles and ranges. I have recently been working on what I am calling ‘Spot Pots’. My customers have loved these, and am excited to introduce these into my wholesale collection.

 

Do you cater your products to a particular customer?

I don’t really. I do like to keep the price of my pieces as low as I possibly can, that way my customers aren’t afraid to use them as intended. I like the idea that customers could build a collection of my work too, something they may be less likely to do if my prices were much higher.

 

Do you think there is an increase in consumers wanting personalised, handmade product? If so, why?

There has definitely been a surge in the market for handmade items. I think customers currently love the idea of getting something totally unique. I know personally that receiving a handmade gift feels a lot more thoughtful than any other. The idea that something you own could be the only one of its kind is fascinating.

 

Is sustainability incorporated into your brand?

Ceramics is naturally quite forgiving when it comes to sustainability. Clay comes from the ground, which there is plenty of! The material can be recycled and reused constantly, as long as it isn’t fired. If I break something before a firing, I will put it in a bucket with some water, this reconstitutes the clay for use another time. I will also do this with any off cuts or trimmings.

 

Are there any particular processes that are your signature look or style? One that sets them apart from the rest?

My brush stroke work is definitely a signature style of mine, and a style I have been working with since the very beginning. Generally I like to work in a very uniform and boxy style, and try to create pieces with the straightest sides possible.

 

 

What is the process of creating a product?

To begin with I will open up a new bag of clay and weigh it out. I have set weights which I use depending on product. I ‘wedge’ (basically kneading, except you want to get rid of air bubbles, rather than put them in) these weights of clay up into balls, then they are ready to take to the wheel.

I usually try to throw a whole bag of clay or more at a time, making the mess I’m making worth while!  Once the piece is ‘leather-hard’ after drying overnight, I can attach any extra pieces, such as handles, and stamp the work with my makers mark.

Once a piece is completely bone dry, I will lightly sand down any potentially sharp edges. These pieces will then be loaded into the kiln for their first firing – the ‘bisque’. This firing is a low temperature firing, toughening up the clay so it is no longer extremely brittle, but leaving it porous enough for glaze to adhere.

After this first firing, I will unload the pieces from the kiln, and this is where any decoration takes place. I will wax the bottoms of my pieces (you don’t want to get any glaze here as it will weld your work to the kiln shelves) and decorate in a mix of underglazes, oxides, stains, underglaze pencils, and glazes. After drying, I will tidy them up (again making sure there is no glaze on the base of a piece) and load them into the kiln for their second firing. This firing goes to a much hotter temperature –roughly 1250 degrees – and takes around 24 hours to fully fire and cool down.

 

How has social media affected your consumer growth? Is your brand based off social media or did it just help to engage your customers?

Social media has been fairly important. I find a lot of my wholesale orders come from current stockists tagging me in posts, and other shops seeing these and being pushed through to my page.

Presently, I generally don’t use social media too much for my personal brand. I find its just another job when I have so many other things to work on! I post every now and then, but not religiously every day like I used to.

 

Where are you looking to take your brand?

Currently, I am just looking to get through the Christmas rush! But, eventually, I would love to expand on my wholesale and find more potential stockists around the globe.

 

Liked this? Read WGSN Lifestyle & Interiors’ Textured Ceramics report here.

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