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Tucked away in the vegetable market of Dublin is a pottery studio that’s showcasing the beauty of Irish design — and capturing interest in the US and Europe, far beyond its humble headquarters.
The Arran Street East studio started four years ago after founder Laura Magahy completed a pottery class in West Cork and went hunting for a modern, geometric design of clay pots in the market. She couldn’t find them anywhere. So she decided to make them herself.
It’s become the basis of a business reviving the art of handmade pottery — in a country that’s had a long tradition of handicrafts. Travel south of Dublin to Cork and Kerry counties, and small pottery studios are still making mugs, vases, and bowls by hand. But in the frenetic pace of life in Dublin, that art had almost disappeared.
Arran Street East marries the two together, bringing a modern interlocking design to the age-old craft of pottery. Six colors made up their first collection, inspired by fruit and veg: parsnip, pomegranate, lemon, potato, and cabbage. Set on Arran Street in Dublin, the studio sees an influx of trucks every morning delivering produce to wholesalers in the neighborhood and visitors from nearby offices. Thus, the first collection paid homage to the origins of the studios and its bearings. The second collection, cityscape, showcases darker colors, blues, grays, indicative of Irish weather and the mood of the capital.
In the last four years, since they’ve opened their doors to the public, they’ve had such a strong response that they’ve added classes, workshops, and even a coffee kiosk. “People are looking for a place to relax, put their phone down, and disconnect from the technology, and reconnect with their hands. That’s what we have aspired to create here,” says Dobwara Brach-Kaluzna, general manager at Arran Street East.
As we speak, a passerby pops into the shop, commenting, “What an oasis you have here.” Given the gritty industrial surroundings, the studio’s minimalism, simplicity, and pop of color do stand out. “We are all about simplicity, beauty, and quality here,” Brach-Kaluzna adds.
The brand’s best sellers have been a set of cups that complement each other with their in-and-out design. But they’ve since expanded, adding larger statement pieces like a kettle and jug.
Set over four floors, including the basement, the studio makes use of every corner: downstairs, the clay is stored and unfinished pieces are left to dry. Up a narrow staircase is the shop, behind which a potter is assembling pieces — adding handles to cups, spouts to kettles. Upstairs a workshop space opens up the business to local residents, who can rent a wheel on a regular basis to practice their craft. Finally, one more level up, three women work on the wheel, making the brands iconic designs. One, a native of Dublin says, she’s grateful for the studio, because without it, pottery and ceramics jobs are hard to come by.
“Every element from throwing the clay, to shaping, to glazing, to packaging is done by hand. That’s why when people say it’s a bit expensive, we say, you’re paying for at least two weeks of work,” Brach-Kaluza notes.
It’s this emphasis on creating jobs, supporting artisans, and bring back a connection to the handmade that’s been at the heart of Arran Street. In 2015, there was a special government-supported initiative to showcase the work of Irish designers: more than 600 projects were put on display within Ireland and beyond, opening up these small businesses to trade shows in Europe. While it celebrated the creativity and heritage of Irish craftsmanship, it was also part of a concerted effort to create jobs in the design sector, something that Arran Street East recognizes is so vital.
“People have such a strong connection to craft, beautiful design, and nature here in Ireland. We’re just a part of that, giving a platform to talented makers,” says Brach-Kaluza.
With just two kilns, the little studio is able to produce a sizable inventory: about 200 to 300 pieces a week, she estimates, and support a crew of about a dozen staff. And now, Brach-Kaluza says that they may be looking for a bigger space to broaden their impact, having proven that a craft-based business can still draw in interest locally and beyond. American e-commerce brands, like The Citizenry, also sell their products, and design-forward publications in the US and UK have highlighted their creations. Though less than 5 years old, the mission of the company has resonated with consumers beyond the Emerald Isle.
“People love to hear the origin story, where it comes from, the people behind the product, that’s what resonates,” she adds.
April 26, 2019 at 10:45AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs