It’s hard not to smile while looking at Ceramic Factory’s quirky ceramic items which take the form of robo-dogs, dinosaurs and even Darth Vader. Emphasising fun, functionality and affordability as key staples; Rial Visagie founded Ceramic Factory in December 2012 and has since been dreaming up a delightful new collection every six months. With a showroom in Johannesburg and Cape Town each, the company’s growth in its first two years of existence is a true reflection of collaborative efforts – from an amazing team, to supportive clients, friends and family. Recently, Ceramic Factory relocated their main production hub to Rial’s family farm in Robertson, where they plan to open an additional store soon. We visited the workshop in its newly idyllic surrounds to see their process from start to finish, and we chatted to Rial to learn more about their journey so far.
Take us through your process, and the various steps and stages that this could entail…
The process starts with our own life experiences. The Spring/Summer 2014 collection was based on being back in the Boland after 26 years and the childhood memories it brought back. From pretending to be the next Superman, to experiencing the beauty of the farm and natural beauty of our surroundings. We draw from these experiences and find workable elements to translate into a prototype, from which a mould is then made. Keep in mind that our clients still remain an integrated part of this process, and how it will be displayed in different retail spaces to tell a story is important too.
Who are the key people that make up Ceramic Factory?
In a small company like Ceramic Factory each team member plays a vital role. We pride ourselves that this business is bigger than just one person’s ego and that none of us are allowed to take ourselves too seriously. We are also unbelievably lucky to have Daniel Swanepoel as our new CEO. He has managed brands like Guess Jeans, Ninewest and Brandmania and he ensures there is a balance between fun and business. I believe we have a team of incredible talent, from Shaddy our mould-maker to Chyrel our store assistant in Johannesburg, and each day we work to grow together to become better at what we do.
You’ve recently moved your workshop from Johannesburg to Robertson. How did you decide on this as the new location?
We needed more space to accommodate the growth of the business. As a joke I mentioned one night to Daniel that we should move to our family farm Clairvaux in Robertson, and before we knew it we were on a flight to Cape Town to investigate the possibilities. To our surprise the old barn and garages were perfect to accommodate our studio and it just made sense to move it here. First it offered us the opportunity to provide clients a great experience when they visited our factory by driving through a low water bridge and vineyards whilst being surrounded by mountains overlooking the town. Secondly it offered our factory team the opportunity to save on travel cost and time while living on the farm instead of informal settlements. Thirdly, on a more personal note, I’ve always wanted to move back. Now I am the fifth generation to make a living on Clairvaux – it fills me with a huge sense of pride.
What is important to you in terms of the manufacturing process?
A happy and fun team. Ceramics is a labour-intensive product, it’s central to our belief that what’s happening with our team emotionally comes through in our product. We’ve started to do some yoga first thing in the morning and it sets the tone of contentment and tranquility for the rest of the day.
Your original showroom is situated in Linden (Johannesburg), with another more recent one in Kloof Street (Cape Town). How do these spaces compliment the nature of your pieces?
In Johannesburg we used recycled wood and in Cape Town we use copper shelving to display our wares. More recently we’ve started introducing other décor and lifestyle products in our stores. Both our stores have amazing natural light that shows off our ceramics beautifully.
Where else are your products distributed and sold?
We have independent stores selling our products nationwide, and we just started negotiations with a chain to sell our products in selected concept stores. We just signed a joint venture with a company in Europe to distribute our products there. We have also been lucky to supply stores in Australia, England and America with huge success which is very exciting, and we’re on the lookout for more export opportunities.
How would you describe the style or aesthetic? Has this developed in any major way over the years?
Due to the fact that I was never trained in ceramics, I have not adopted a definitive style. It is, however, central to our ethos that people should smile when they walk into our stores or see our products at a friend’s house. In the latest collection I think we have expressed a more serious side with our crown vase and some of our other geometric shapes but people still smile when they see them. In a nutshell, I would refer to our products as fun and functional, appealing to a younger consumer plus we offer ceramics to a male audience who are not your traditional buyers of ceramics.
Tell us more about your ethos of “fun meets functionality” and how this translates into what you do and create.
Life can be so serious sometimes. My intention when I bought the factory was to play and to have fun. Since the product resonated with so many people I decided to take the fun aspect and make it functional so people also have an excuse to use them. It’s so rewarding to see people’s smiles when they encounter our products.
Do you have an all-time favourite piece?
The African Heart – it’s a fun design that has really captured how I feel about the continent we live on.
What are you working on currently, and what are your plans for Ceramic Factory going forward?
We’re currently working on our Fall/Winter 2015 collection that will hopefully include a few bathroom products as well as jewellery pieces made in porcelain. I am also working on a new collection called Rialheim in honor of my forefathers who have given us this amazing opportunity to call the farm of Clairvaux home. Rialheim will be incorporate different mediums combined with ceramics. People say that we take on too much; I say I only have one life and one chance to make it count!