BY MEGAN CHURCHILL, KEEEPS
Last week, in one of our weekly catch ups, Tamra called me and was buzzing with excitement because she had been asked lots of Keeeps related questions at a friend’s wedding. She was blown away by the anticipation and interest around the business. People were asking exactly what she does at Keeeps, whether she makes the pottery herself, if it is just an online store, and generally what the plan is going forward.
It’s been a wild first year, and the business and brand have grown so much since March 2020 when it all started. So, in an effort to help you (and me) get to know Keeeps a bit better, I put a slot into Tamra’s diary and we had a good old chin wag about Keeeps and its origins. So, sit down, relax, get your handmade mug of tea in hand and get familiar with Keeeps..
10 MINUTES WITH TAMRA AT KEEEPS
1. How would you describe Keeeps in 5 words?
Pottery, Stylish, Sustainable, Original, Calming
2. What inspired you to create Keeeps and what is the story behind Keeeps?
When I first came out of art college, feeling all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, I was faced with the question “What do I do now?”. The truth was, I had absolutely no idea how to make a living out of my recent love affair with pottery. Whilst it was my passion, I couldn’t see how to make a career of it and didn’t know what the next steps would be. Since starting Keeeps, I now understand this is how many potters feel and have felt when trying to move from pottery as a hobby, to pottery as a genuine way to earn a living.
So, one of the main reasons I decided to create Keeeps was to provide opportunities for local potters to follow their passion and earn a living from their craft, to teach people about the value of handmade and why it is such an important skill that we must nurture and appreciate. The day the penny dropped about founding a pottery brand, I woke up on a bright spring morning and the first post I read on Instagram was a quote saying, “Be the person you needed when you were younger”. That really hit home, and within a few days, Keeeps was born.
My obsession with a tidy home, being organised and having a place for everything, led us to opt to source and sell functional pottery. We wanted to offer useful and accessible pieces, not to be a ceramics gallery as such, but a pottery shop selling genuinely practical pottery for the home for everyone. We set out to create a stylish online hub where quality over quantity was key and the whole buying and browsing process was relaxing and enjoyable. I love a bit of web trawling but not everyone always has the time or energy to do this to find the perfect mug or a gorgeous handmade gift, so we do this for you. The huge dropship websites have a place, but they are filled to the brim with products, and it takes ages to sieve through to find something authentic and stylish. Keeeps offers curated, stand-out pottery pieces that your daughter or your grandad will love, not only for their tasteful design but also in the knowledge they are handmade in the UK by artists and makers.
I also wanted to make sure the business was disruptive, innovative, unique and, most importantly, viable. That’s why it is a pottery ‘brand’ rather than just a pottery shop. Our aim is to create sensational pottery experiences in new ways. From pottery retail spaces presented completely differently than before (more news on that soon!) to highly innovative pottery classes and courses.
My background in retail is obviously a huge reason behind the path that we are following. I spent my formative years working in men’s clothes shops, a sandwich shop, a reject china shop, and waitressing at several restaurants, then owned and ran my own restaurant in Brighton, and eventually worked for several years as managing director for my dad’s commercial property company managing hundreds of retail tenants. So, after launching Keeeps online, it wasn’t long before I felt the shop bug itching away again. We tried a couple of pop-up shops in the nearby market town of Marlow and the response was incredible. I was running around doing deliveries every day to people’s homes, which was also a fantastic way to understand more about our customers and what they wanted.
It became quite clear when chatting to our customers that they don’t just want to buy pottery, they also want to make pottery. Lockdown has really opened people’s eyes to getting back to basics, enjoying calming experiences and quality time with loved ones. Offering classes not only means we can use ancillary shop space wisely, but it also means that customers, by trying to make pottery, will then become furthermore appreciative of the process and the skills that UK potters have. We will provide awesome spaces for potters, creatives, and novices to visit and get potting, to keep pottery alive and put it on the map as a fun and cool hobby. With incredible customer service.
3. What are the top 3 brands you admire/have inspired Keeeps?
The White Company. We love the simplicity and quality of the products, along with the reliability of the brand and customer service. I also admire their omnichannel presence – a seamless brand experience from website to store to catalogue. Having worked with them on the landlord side in the past, I have found their team focussed, commercial, and collaborative. They know their brand and where they are going.
Wild & Stone are a great example of a small sustainable business that is growing fast but with meaning. Their branded eco-products are beautifully presented and their business has a clear purpose, to solve the world’s need to ditch plastic.
Loaf Catering is a wonderful social enterprise working with people with learning difficulties and autism. They are making a truly positive contribution and change for their local community, plus they make pottery which always gets a big thumbs up from me!
4. Why is the business called Keeeps?
My genius stepson came up with the name and it was the name that really stuck. As a bit of a neat freak, I love having a place for things in my home so when I was initially creating the brand, I experimented with a couple of different names, one of which was ‘Holders’. With a focus on selling handmade, functional and sustainable products, the idea was that these items were objects that you could keep forever. The family thought ‘Holders’ was a bit naff and my stepson suggested ‘Keeps’, as in high quality, handmade, stylish items that are for keeps. We added an ‘e’ to make it more unique and obtain a website address that no-one else had!
5. How does it work and who are your potters?
We have an extensive network of amazing and talented British potters. We travel around the country visiting their studios and seeing them at art fairs. We are passionate about supporting local people, craftsmanship and skills, all of which then sustain the local economy.
We try to meet our potters in person wherever possible, but over lockdown we met many via video chat and we spent a lot of time having virtual tours around studios where our potters would showcase their work. We select and test out pieces we believe our customers will love and stock them on our website. We do not dropship - we buy the products from the potter and pay for them upfront, then we do all the marketing and ship them to the customer. I think it is important to build a relationship with the customer and be there for the whole journey so we are accountable and build trust. The large number of repeat customers that we have already is testament to that.
6. Do you sell products you have made yourself?
Not yet! Keeeps itself does not currently make anything as such. We support local and British potters who make amazing ceramic products by hand, either hand built or on the wheel. However, we do design some products in collaboration with our potters. Our “Just for Keeeps” range includes items which we have been co-designed with our potters. For example, our “Super Stylish Coaster Set” with six coaster inside a box, was designed by us and made by the very talented Diana Ambida.
In 2022, we plan to bring out our own Keeeps range which will be designed and sold exclusively by Keeeps and made by resident potters. This reinforces our commitment to providing career opportunities for potters and makers.
7. Why do you sell only handmade items?
Handmade is authentic, beautiful, unique and high quality. It is also handmade by someone with love and care and supports local people, business and traditional skills around the UK.
In our opinion, mass produced cannot be compared to handmade with mass-produced having less heart and soul to it. Non one really wants to walk into their friends’ houses and spot the same stuff. We want our pieces to be unique and a topic of conversation in your home. The little dents, fingerprints, differing glaze effects, and slight imperfections on pottery pieces are what make them special - we call this "flawsome"!
8. How do you choose the items you sell?
The items we select for our Keeeps customers are functional and practical. They are also stylish. Functional art with a purpose. In the throw-away society we live in today, we don’t want to encourage buying for buying’s sake. Our mantra is ‘buy once and buy well’. We select stand-out pottery that makes people go 'ooooh' and want to treasure forever. Great pottery can last for hundreds of years (if it is looked after, of course) and if it special then it will be kept and used for generations to come.
9. What inspires your pottery style?
We source items that are design-led. The pieces we select are the perfect balance between luxurious and elegant, and practical and functional. When we co-design and curate pieces for Keeeps, it is important that the items are not pretentious and feel inclusive. In terms of the actual look and feel of the products, the aim is for the products to have a clean aesthetic which helps create a calming atmosphere in your home, so we choose a lot of comforting colours, with soothing blue and green hues being very popular. We try not to go all out 'Scandi' as there is a definite place for colour with the need for happiness and vibrancy in our lives from the global uncertainty that has engulfed us in the last couple of years.
10. What type of products are your favourite?
Each collection is nurtured like a baby, and whilst they say you shouldn’t have favourites, we get very excited by our kitchenware range. Cooking is something that can be enjoyed with both friends and family and we feel that handmade pottery plates, or gadgets like a salt pig, almost take you back in time and create a closer connection to the everyday ritual of cooking a meal. One of the key aspects of the business is to promote slow living, and forming connections with you and those people around you. I think that is why I love the kitchenware so much, it encourages you to spend some time in the kitchen making a wholesome, healthy meal for you and your family. Served up on handmade pottery plates, meals become even more homely and reassuring.
We are also in love with our mug collection. Mugs are an item used every day and have a real link to forming connections with other people. Whether at home or at work, we love grabbing a mug of our favourite hot drink and having a chat with a mate or colleague. Your own mug is a source of comfort and an item that we all get super attached to. I give out the big death stare if my teenagers use my favourite handmade mug!
11. Are you an online brand only?
We were a business created in lockdown, which allowed us to initially build the brand and presence online. With research showing that “it is expected that one-quarter of the UK’s whole population make a permanent switch to online shopping as the pandemic accelerates the move from bricks to clicks”, an online presence is important. As a pottery brand, however, we are big believers that handmade pottery is something that needs to be held in person to fully appreciate why it is so much better than mass-produced, and therefore for Keeeps, it was important that the brand was omnichannel to cater for different customers’ needs.
As such, our first store and studio opens on Marlow High Street in Autumn 2021, where we will have a three-storey space, full of pottery to admire, touch, buy and make. Our pottery classes and memberships will offer pottery taster classes and courses or, if you’re already a dab hand at the pottery game, you can just come and do your stuff with other potters. The new premises will provide a space for the community to come and be creative and the shop will show you the transition from mud to magic, how clay can be transformed into beautiful and unique objects that can be kept for generations. Pottery in itself is great for stress relief and is good for soothing the mind, due to its meditative qualities, so we want the premises to be a place for people to relax, unwind and feel grounded.
12. What are your goals for the future?
We aim to open 15-20 Keeeps stores in the next 5-10 years. In the meantime, we are perfecting the online store daily and launching the Marlow premises as the pilot store to hone the brand and concept and learn what our customers want.
Despite what the media have been saying in recent years, we firmly believe that the high street is not dead, it simply needs to adapt. We think the answer is bringing more leisure and community spaces to breathe new life into the high street and give people a reason to keep visiting their local town centres.
What we love about Marlow, and other market towns, is the variety of shops on the high street. There are many independent, local businesses present and they bring the high street to life. We are passionate about supporting local business and, in turn, the local economy so we can’t wait to see Keeeps in the mix.
We also want Keeeps to be a brand that gives back. We are currently in the process of setting up a charity which will be up and running in 2022, and 5% of our profits will then go to the charity to distribute to arts and local organisations in need. We will also use our studio space to provide art therapy workshops for children with learning difficulties.
We are always working on ways to be more sustainable and want to keep sustainability at the forefront as the brand grows. We have used completely plastic-free packaging to wrap all online orders since day one, and this will continue with packaging for all shop purchases.
There you have it, a bit more about Keeeps, our founder's passion for pottery and grand plans. We hope you feel better acquainted with us now but if you have any more questions, just pop them in the comments below.