Emma established herself as a ceramic designer after graduating in the summer of 2013 with a First Class Honours Degree from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. Following on from the success of her graduate show, she has since had her work featured in London Design Festival, Red Magazine, and her work is currently stocked in a handful of independent retailers.
Working from her ceramics studio in Berkshire, Emma is building her own brand as a designer-maker working on her own collections, as well as on custom orders for retailers, specialising in high end handcrafted functional ceramics. She is also working in collaboration with London-based Little Carousel Gallery, producing a line of luxury bespoke children’s tableware gifts. Emma also works on commissions - working on commercial projects with clients from restaurants and retailers, as well as private commissions from the UK and New York.
Quality craftsmanship and emphasis on creating beautiful, functional pieces are central to her design process. Sharing how and where her pieces are made build integrity. She hopes that by bringing both material and sentimental value into her work, a timeless appreciation is created.
An integral part for all of Emma’s work is her back stamp and logo. It includes her ‘Alington’ family heraldry, which is a striking design feature as well as her unique branding and identity. Turning the traditional into something for the contemporary home is an element that she aims to bring into her work. For Emma, “designing is creating gifts for people”.
Why did you decide to go into the field of Ceramics? What appealed you to it?
I have always been creative. When it came to sixth form, I took ceramics as one of my A levels. At this stage, ceramics was still rather an alien topic to me. That was definitely the spark that got me into the field.
Has it been difficult breaking into the field?
So far I think it’s been more about finding where I want to sit within the field, rather than ‘breaking into it’. There are so many different pockets within the British ceramic industry; trying to establish myself / my brand with a completely clean slate – that’s been the difficult part so far.
Do you think having a higher education qualification helps in breaking into the field of ceramics?
My time at Central Saint Martins gaining a degree in ceramic design has undoubtedly led me to where I am now. However I think the qualification or grade you graduate with only scratches the surface of what you truly gain - it’s about the experiences and opportunities you have along the way which help to lead you to where you want to be.
Learning material and technical knowledge about ceramics was obviously a huge part of my course, but learning how to work with others, how to think professionally, building a network, and just being in a creatively fuelled campus with like-minded people for 3 years – these are the things that count.
What is the ceramic industry like? Would you describe it to be as cutthroat as the fashion industry?
The ceramics industry in the UK has an enormous amount of heritage attached to it. In recent years many factories have had to close, and sadly even many degree courses in ceramics have ended. I think people who work within the industry have a mutual and loyal appreciation for ceramics, though. I feel it’s the responsibility of this generation to get it back to where it was. It is very encouraging to see the ceramic industry having a revival in recent years – but even with competition ever on the increase; it’s far from the cutthroat ways in fashion!
What are some of the difficulties/ challenges you have faced since trying to establish your brand after school?
I completely threw myself in the deep end in running a business. Yes – I had ceramic knowledge at my disposal, but I had no idea on how to run, let alone start a business. After graduating, I was aware of the ‘business head’ I was lacking in order to push forward. I was enrolled onto a local scheme, which helped me write a business plan, and provided funding for start-ups. Another constant challenge is managing to juggle many different aspects of the business at the same time; accounts, marketing, PR, following up leads, communicating with clients etc. – and then there’s the actual time spend designing and making. I try and plan my time very carefully.
Your collections and pieces are so unique and different each with a story of their own. Where do you get your inspiration? What inspires you to create this unique and very avant- garde looking ceramic pieces? They are nothing like we have seen in a long time.
My family’s history has played a huge part in my recent work; the Alington family crest and coat of arms has been a decorative feature on many of my designs, as well as being a prominent part to my branding and logo. It’s very personal and has a strong narrative, something which I hope stands out. In terms of inspiration, I try and balance a traditional shape or style with a contemporary aesthetic. Something that has more than one function is important to me – for example, something that could be used in any room of the house. Bringing a sense of longevity into a product is what I hope adds sentimentality and appreciation. VMM: Where do you source your raw materials? Is this difficult to do especially for your collections as they are so unique and different, am sure you put a lot of effort into making sure that the raw materials are the best of the best.
I source all of my materials from various companies in Stoke On Trent; the home of the potteries. Despite the vast array of different clays available in the UK, I am always drawn to porcelain. It has a beautiful material quality; though it does have its challenges! Cracking and warping can be a problem with porcelain.
What is your vision for your brand? Where do you see it going, becoming or yet still how big do you envisage your dream?
I absolutely aspire for ‘Emma Alington’ to be a highly established home wares brand, with a good design, high quality and passion at the heart of it. I would
love to venture into things other than just ceramics, but that’s way down the line!
It’s early days so far, so my next step is to look into getting my designs handcrafted in larger batches in Stoke on Trent, which will enable me to target larger shops and hopefully expand as a brand.
But even in these first few months, I have learnt that my ‘business rudder’ has a certain sense of self-direction! I try and stay open to any opportunities and not to be too ‘tunnel-visioned’ on what is or isn’t in my plan. It is very daunting at times, but excitement and determination fuel me through.
What advice would you give to aspiring ceramic designers?
I think firstly, be very aware of your strengths. These are things that will help you get off the ground. Whether it’s whom you know, or what resources you have, or any initial ideas for future projects/business ideas etc. I
think it’s especially important to keep the momentum going from after you graduate. Secondly, it helps to ask yourself the difficult questions; it really does help. Things like - What is your niche? What are the short/long term goals? How sustainable is your way of practice? How do you plan to expand? How are you going to price your work? All things which are easy to hide away from, but they all help get the ball rolling.
Having a balance of passion, determination and enthusiasm is vital.
Do you think there is a lot of awareness about getting into the ceramic industry especially for young people still at sixth form and college?
Sadly, no. I can remember back doing my ceramic A Level thinking ‘why don’t more people know that you can do this as a career?!’. It links back to my comment above about this generation being the driving force of the ceramic industry. I have a huge amount of respect for all of my ceramic tutors over the years for inspiring so many people to do ceramics. I feel a certain responsibility now to try and inspire/ raise awareness of this and future generations.
What is next for you after such an amazing entry into luxury ceramics? What should we be keeping our eyes peeled out for?
I will be launching my new collection at Pulse 2014 in May this year, and I also have some new stockiest lined up which will hopefully help to raise my profile. Though success won’t happen overnight, I’m a firm believer that the harder I try, the luckier I get. And so far, that approach seems to be paying off.