Chairman and Founder, Emma Bridgewater Ltd
Emma graduated from London University with a degree in English Literature. Her first and only job was working for knitwear designers Muir & Osborne. She became involved in every aspect of this small fashion company and it gave her the taste for doing something for herself.
Emma moved into the pottery business in 1985 after a failed attempt to buy a cup and saucer as a birthday present for her mother. She liked some of the colourful Italian designs that she saw, but being made of terracotta they would crack or chip in the dishwasher. It was one of those “kerching!” moments – here was the opportunity she had been looking for; the pottery she sought for her mum was what every cosy kitchen needed. So she set out to design it herself and Emma Bridgewater Ltd was born.
How has your company engaged with young people and the community to improve the image of manufacturing
I firmly believe that we should embrace our manufacturing roots and share our expertise for making great things with the next generation.
At our factory in Stoke-on-Trent we welcome thousands of visitors every year – including many local schoolchildren – and proudly show them the ceramic heritage of the Potteries. They see that techniques which span generations are still alive and well, and they see that we are thriving by making beautiful pots that people buy and cherish.
Both Matthew (Rice) and I, and our design team, regularly work with local schools to promote the skills of design and ceramic production and we also work with our local University to encourage young graduates to explore the great opportunities that UK manufacture can offer at a higher level too.
What have you personally contributed to help improve the image of manufacturing?
I was honoured to be asked to become an Industry Champion for Make it in Great Britain – it is a great passion of mine. We employ 150 highly skilled potters and decorators at our factory in Stoke-on-Trent and they create marvellous ware with skills that have been handed down through generations of ceramicists in this city. While many of our competitors chose to manufacture abroad we remain absolutely committed to making our pottery on home ground.
If I can influence young people to see that manufacturing offers a multitude of career opportunities and is a highly satisfying way to make a living, I shall feel that I have played some small part in preserving our heritage as a nation of world-class makers of great things.
While I was at school I went on a visit to Early’s blanket factory in Witney, I was deeply thrilled by the making process, the machines, the close co-operation between workers and most of all by the lovely end -product, beautiful blankets made from locally produced wool.
When you look around our factory you will see around 150 people working together to add value to a simple earthenware mug. The process is inherently simple and pleasing, and the result highly prized; this is a strong illustration of a tangible product and a satisfying job.
Every economy needs a bedrock of small dogged independent businesses taking raw materials and painstakingly turning them into value added products.
What more needs to be done?
I think as manufacturers we need to shout more loudly about how great we are – there is no place for modesty in the modern business world.
We also need to throw open our doors to young people, which is why See Inside Manufacturing is such a great government activity as part of Make it in Great Britain and I’d go so far as to say that every young person should experience a tour of a factory as part of their education and see what marvellous things we make in this country.
And finally we need to invest in young people – and put our money where our mouth is. We have begun an apprenticeship programme to teach young people the skills that will keep our business successful hopefully for decades to come.
What we do at Emma Bridgewater is to add contemporary design and marketing to a traditional manufacturing process; it’s very hard to make commodity goods competitively in this country, but if we use our notable pre-eminence in design and marketing, we can innovate and stay ahead.