EMMA BRIDGEWATER ON THE ‘SAD AND CURIOUS’ STATE OF OUR SHOPS

The interview does not begin well. My iPhone battery is low, so I use my landline, usually strictly reserved for friends and family. When I call her, she doesn’t pick up, but calls me straight back, just as I am at the door signing for a delivery. ‘HEY, HOW YA DOIN’? SORRY YOU CAN’T GET THROUGH. PLEASE LEAVE YOUR NAME, AND YOUR NUMBER, THEN ELLIE AND ROB WILL GET BACK TO YOU…’

Our De La Soul answer phone ‘rap’ echoes through the house. And Emma Bridgewater is listening to it. CRINGE, as they say.

Luckily, after the tone, I hear a chuckle and am relieved to discover that she has a great sense of humour. Or perhaps she is laughing at, not with. Anyway. After the apologies, and the interview, I ask her what the secret of her success is. Her business is now worth £14 million and her early pottery designs are highly collectable, fetching huge sums at auction. Does she ever peep at her own work on eBay?

‘Oh, God, yes!’ she confesses. ‘I’m only human. It’s so exciting and I’m immensely flattered that people collect the early stuff, but it’s not that surprising to me, because we do something of which there is not an awful lot left. We design and make in the UK.’

Emma despairs of the mass-produced homewares that fill the shelves of British high street shops today. ‘When you look at our products in the shops – they look very different from everything else there, because the way most things are designed now is by a highly-evolved buying team. They put together a moodboard of things they want their products to look a bit like. They flick through the mags and Google images – come up with some asinine ideas such as: ‘let’s go for a Chinese look’, or ‘let’s do blue’, then they take it off to a factory somewhere abroad where somebody – who has no connection to their customers – comes up with some stuff for them. And so, surprise, surprise, our products have a different effect on people.’

Emma is quick to point out that not all homewares that are made abroad are essentially bad. ‘The collections are often very beautifully thought through and the store buyers can be very rigorous about what they buy and all that. But they’ve absolutely ironed out the personal – all the idiosyncrasies.’

It’s the tableware offering that worries Emma the most. ‘When I go around the china departments in big shops now, I think to myself that it’s sad and curious we don’t have that rich diversity of Staffordshire tableware that we’ve had for 200 years.’ She’s right. Even blue and white Cornishware – so traditionally British – is actually ‘Made-In-China-ware’ these days. ‘There are discussions about bringing production back to the UK in the future,’ assures the PR. But still, of course, it’s much cheaper not to.

Just as Emma arrived in Stoke-on-Trent in the 1980s, she tells me, most of the other potteries were ‘chucking in the dish cloth’. Today, she is drawn to 1960s pottery that, when she was younger, she thought she’d never like. ‘We’re talking the soapware stuff,’ she says. ‘Marvellously crazy 1960s shapes, decorated with bright turquoise patterns and sunflowers and so on – I used to hate things like that but now, I love them so much.’ Why the change of heart? ‘They have a kind of charm. Largely because they represent a phenomenon that has gone. This country made tableware for the world – in loads and loads of independent factories. But, sadly, it’s almost all stopped. Bang.’

Filed in: INNIT, THOUGH, SHOPPING: HIGH STREET
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3 Responses to EMMA BRIDGEWATER ON THE ‘SAD AND CURIOUS’ STATE OF OUR SHOPS

  1. Polly Rowan says:

    Haha the bit about the rap answer machine message made me laugh! I’m glad Emma Bridgewater is sticking to her English roots and not bowing to the mass produced look of ceramics. It is sad that Cornish ceramics are being made in China now :(

  2. Rachel Baker says:

    Echo that! As a lover of the huge variety of ceramics that used to be made in Staffordshire, it’s great to hear that Emma is supporting talent and craftpersonship in the UK! The answer machine bit made me giggle too :)

  3. I absolutely love Bridgewater pottery and started collecting in the 80′s when she had a collection in a little known gift shop in Shrewsbury, Mum still has my mugs from then, we lived on a farm in the Staffs/Shropshire border, so Bridgewater was a much loved brand I grew up with. We also knew one of her Longton kiln masters, and he personally made some of Emma’s mugs for my wedding.

    I used to work for a large British Brand..*cough*, and Emma is so right about the mood boards and buyers – hardly anything ‘British’ these days is made in Britain, which is such a shame – lets hope this starts to change. People like Emma Bridgewater and Peter Bowles (Original BTC) are leading the way in the fight to bring back British Manufacturing, lets hope others realise the potential to use our old, disused factories and bring what belongs to Britain back to the UK…

    *starts writing a placard* – by the way, your answer machine is taken from Curiosity Killed The Cat…’Hey.. How You Doin’…

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