The Blog

Cups, Campaigns and Marmalade: Emma Bridgewater Shares the Ingredients of Good Business

Often, when I sit down and try to decide on an opening sentence to an article, or a blog, or even a tweet, I sometimes wish I had just been able to dream up some marvellous idea for a single, best-selling product that would run like clockwork and make me lots of money forever.

Often, when I sit down and try to decide on an opening sentence to an article, or a blog, or even a tweet, I sometimes wish I had just been able to dream up some marvellous idea for a single, best-selling product that would run like clockwork and make me lots of money forever.

But, after about five minutes of attempting to think of said ideas, I get bored of my own lack of artistic sense and the realisation that I have no business skills whatsoever.

So I have nothing but admiration for those who have managed to cultivate the winning combination of both an artist's imagination of a mind for money. Then, even better, are those such as renowned UK earthenware designer, Emma Bridgewater, who are planting a boot in the writer's camp as well.

As if Emma didn't have enough on her beautifully crafted plate with her best-selling business, she recently celebrated the launch of her first book Toast & Marmalade and Other Stories, which shares the history of everything that has influenced her work - from the country garden colours of her mother's kitchen, to the forgotten Victorian fairy tales inspired by her first ever factory in Stoke-on-Trent. It was released this Spring alongside her latest Toast & Marmalade range, using the contrasting colours of orange and black to conjure those familiar sweet smells of the British breakfast table.

"The book is like a collection of anecdotes that give the answers that I'm most often asked about my work," Emma explained me over the phone, as she sat outside a café in Paris during a weekend of down-time outside of her busy schedule.

"I grew up in Oxfordshire and was lucky enough to have a very lovely childhood. I was especially close to my mother, though she has sadly passed away."

Since receiving a degree in English Literature, and encouraged by her publishing entrepreneur father, Emma determined to start a creative business of her own.

"I had no idea what sort of business I wanted at first. I worked for a small knitwear producer and then tried starting my own catering company - which didn't go so well."

But the real light-bulb clicked one day in the 1980s as Emma was looking to buy her mother some teacups as a gift. "I couldn't find anything that suited her mismatched, colourful kitchen," she said, "everything then was so stylised and geometric. I realised there was a gap in the industry so, channelling the spirit of mum and her kitchen, I started developing designs, found a talented model-maker and opened my first factory in Stoke."

A true artist at heart, Emma also began to draw some inspiration from her surroundings in Stoke, which she refers to as "Britain's answer to Detroit."

"It's full of the romantic ruins of Victorian factories and buildings, some left over from its famous pottery industry, that have just been left alone and ignored. The premise we (herself and husband, Matthew) found for our very own first factory was one of them; nobody else wanted it but we fell in love with it."

To convey her picture more deeply, Emma described works by Sheffield-born photographer, Dan Dubowitz, while I tried to tap the correct spelling into Google, phone clutched between shoulder and ear. Instantly I grasped an understanding of what she meant. As part of his Breaking the Mould series, Dubowitz has created some stunning pieces of these desolated buildings in Stoke, capturing their abandoned beauty in an almost eerie, Titanic-esque way, inviting the viewer to imagine how majestic and powerful they would have been in their heyday.

"But," Emma says, "We need to actually get Stoke back on the international map, just like Detroit and all its old factories which are starting to generate interest and be revamped. Since setting up in Stoke we've run campaigns to try to get people to make more of these amazing sites, and it has even got us into certain disputes with the council...but that's another story."

Yet, despite her architectural love affair, Emma and Matthew still live in Oxfordshire where they raised their four children. Now aged 49, she mused over her business experiences to add some advice for keen young entrepreneurs.

"The beauty of being young is that you don't have to worry too much about starting salaries or the business you work for itself," she said. "You can just harness that youthful energy to do something amazing.

"Moving from being an intern to running my own business was an instant learning curve. Working as a student is like the calm before the storm and it's a big shock when you suddenly drop yourself into business on your own."

"But when I finally found my idea, what made it work was that I always saw it and treated it as a big business. It did take a long time to build up and I still work ridiculously hard every day, but it doesn't feel like it when you find what you love."

Nonetheless, Emma is careful to clarify that it hasn't always been easy. Though Matthew now officially runs the company, giving her the opportunity to work more on her childhood dream of becoming a writer, she said: "The hardest parts were long hours away from my family and the fact that there are always difficulties as a woman trying to forge your way into business."

As our chat came to close and I remembered that I was clocking up an international phone bill, I had one more question to ask Emma. Though she is astonishingly well travelled and enjoys immersing herself into different worlds, she has maintained her reputation as one of the most iconic designers of truly British crockery throughout her career.

Her response: "The more I experience other cultures and how local people embrace their traditions and share them with the world, the more I am inspired to interpret and make the most of my own."