Last night I finally got to meet Cathy Bailey and Robin Petravic. Here’s Cathy and me. Can you see I look a little overwhelmed? That’s because I was, somewhat – this was a special occasion!
Robin and Cathy are the owners of Heath Ceramics, who carry Skinny laMinx tea towels and napkins in their stores in Sausalito, San Francisco and LA. Over the last few years I’ve also designed Heath-specific items for her, including a tote bag, a staff apron, a greetings card and now a Heath Ceramics tea towel too (below). So it really was high time we met!I’ve always been very aware that I’ve been dealing with a venerable old company with an interesting history, but it was just last night, when Paul and I attended an Apartment Therapy Monthly Meetup at the Knoll Showroom in Chelsea, that we heard just how interesting the history of Heath Ceramics is.
At the Meetup, Robin and Cathy told the story of how, seven years ago, they’d taken a leap of faith in purchasing the Heath Ceramics factory when it was in quite a state of decline at the end of Edith Heath’s life. Since then, they have rebuilt the business, maintaining the classic Heath lines (some of which are exactly the same as they were 40 years ago!) while injecting new life into the brand with seasonal styles and colours.
It was fascinating to understand that this couple, while clearly ambitious in terms of renewing and rebuilding Heath, is refreshingly not determined to take over the world. Heath Ceramics has a committment to good design as well as to the process of manufacture, so there’s no outsourcing to cheaper climes: every thing is made on their premises in Sausalito by their crew of 60 craftspeople. Because they don’t make a huge amount of product and have stores in every city, not everyone knows about Heath Ceramics. But those that do know, love the product, and the provenance of it is intrinsic to its value. Read the whole Heath Ceramics story here.
I also met Natalie Chanin last night, who is behind Alabama Chanin – another successful company that cares about how things are made, where they’re made and what they’re made from (read all about it here).
Both of these companies have left me feeling most encouraged about what’s possible to do with a design business. Occasionally I find people assuming the inevitability of my growth and that I’ll have to start outsourcing my manufacture to China one day. If I can, however, I’d prefer to emulate the model being successfully driven by these guys, where a product can be well known and well-respected, but the way its made means that it’s not universally and easily available, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, if anything, the lack of ubiquity makes it more desirable.