Alison Appleton launched her British Ceramic Design Studio in 1998, from which she has created a vast array of stunning, top quality tea and coffee products. Here at Utility, we're a company of tea & coffee lovers - so it's no surprise that we're delighted to stock Alison's beautiful creations. We thought we'd pop down to see her at her studio on Liverpool's Jamaica Street, to find out what inspires her, what a typical day in the life is like for Alison and what the future holds for her brand.
Here's what Alison had to say...
Tell us how the Alison Appleton brand came about?
My brand of tea-ware was launched in 2012. I decided to bring out my own collection of teapots after designing ceramics for other people for many years.
As a designer I worked with manufacturers, distributors and various department stores to create ranges of tableware and home decoration made from various types of ceramic. I enjoy following a brief but I felt like doing my own things. I started with teapots as I love tea, I love being hospitable and making and sharing tea is such a simple but lovely thing to do well. There are so many fabulous teas out there, I wanted to make pots that were not only beautiful but perfectly functional too.
How big is the team? What roles do they have?
The size of the team varies, we are quite small as we use lots of regular consultants to do many tasks. It is also a family affair, I work with my eldest daughter and my mother does some book-keeping!
What’s a typical day like at Alison Appleton?
I generally start at 8am, I check my e mail, make a list of immediate tasks and then forget them all and get down to some designing. This is the best bit and the only time in my working life that I experience that wonderful feeling of flow from being fully immersed in my work…this is pure happiness. Usually a design will start with an idea, then some research, then sometimes lots of trial and error and sometimes it just works out perfectly – very quickly. By 3pm I have to go back to the nitty gritty tasks and actions dictated by the rest of the business.
What’s your favourite tea?
I really do love many teas, I always drink loose leaf tea; it is so easy and worth a few minutes as it is always better quality than tea used in teabags which brew differently. Teabags must brew very fast so the tea inside is crushed and curled to create a larger surface area, that is why it tastes of something familiar after 30 seconds. With loose leaf tea you usually have to brew the bigger leaves for 3 minutes and the flavours are far more subtle and complex.
I love my Alison Appleton loose leaf Twinings blend for breakfast with milk - then during the day I will drink sweet green teas or a great favourite of mine called Da Hong Pao. It's a red Oolong from WuYi Mountain in Fujian province. This also happens to be where my pots are made.
What is your favourite product you’ve created?
I love Nagoya. It's a fusion of East/West culture with the traditional Chinese clay and contemporary glaze. It's bit of a Marmite product as people either love or hate the glaze. Thankfully enough, a lot of people seem to love it!
How did you secure the ad campaign with Twining’s Tea?
They sell my designs so they knew about the Camellia mugs. They chose them after considering many options. I am very happy that they did!
Where do you take inspiration from for your designs?
Everywhere. My collection started after looking at the history of tea in Europe. The porcelain and the tea all came from China so I started with my musings on British Chinoiserie.
What has been the biggest challenge so far?
The biggest challenges have been setting up the most simple aspects of the business and commerce. I honestly have no interest in the business side at all so I have had to learn quickly! The designs have been very well received so I have had time to adapt to the challenges of running a small business rather than just being a designer.
What has been the biggest highlight of your career?
Over the years I have seen many beautifully executed manifestations of my designs…this is always a thrill. At the moment I am very happy to say that we are stocked in some of the most prestigious stores in the world. This makes me very proud.
What do you love most of all about your job?
Designing - absolutely; I can feel the happiness surging through me. I also love meeting great people!
What advice would you give to someone just starting out?
Do lots of market research and be practical! This doesn't always come easy for a person born to be creative but it is essential. Try and make a lot of contacts in your chosen area and make good partnerships if you can. Finally, don't stop. At the beginning it can be very hard – it is the same for everyone. We all make lots of mistakes, but be relentless and carry on!
Can you describe the company in one sentence?
Alison Appleton is here for the love of tea!
What does the future hold for Alison Appleton?
I have lots of projects on the go with some amazing tea merchants – so watch this space!
Have you experienced loose leaf tea yet? Take a few minutes to yourself this evening and have a go. You can thank us later.