Crockd At-Home Pottery Founders On Launching a Brand in a Global Pandemic

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Crockd is a new small Australian business launched in February with a purpose to “bring people together in this age of loneliness”.

Founded by Gold Coast locals Rosa-Clare Willis and Andrew Ford, Crockd at-home pottery kits are designed to dirty our hands while clearing the mind, particularly in the current climate, where many Australians are facing stressful challenges and are staying at home.

“It’s all about bringing friends together, getting out of your head and into your hands and having meaningful conversations,” the founders say.

Crockd kits come with enough clay to make two keep cups, instructions and tools, but the entrepreneurial couple have also included what they’re calling ‘clay-breakers’. These are a set of cards with questions to inspire deep conversations like: “Name a defining moment in your life” and “Turn to the person next to you… why do you admire them?”.

“You don’t have to be good at art to experience the benefits of art, and we just want to bring arts and crafternoon to people who want to get their hands dirty and clear their minds at the same time.”

We caught up with Rosa-Clare Willis and Andrew Ford to find out more about their shared passion for arts and mental health, and unpack the challenges of launching a business during a global pandemic.

Image: Crockd

Katie Skelly: The Crockd messaging makes such profound and important mentions around mental health. Why was it so important to you to build a business that did something positive for people’s minds?

Rosa-Clare Willis and Andrew Ford: We both have mental health struggles deeply rooted in our families and friendship circles. And when our culture comes together, it’s usually centred around consuming alcohol. But sometimes, you want to hang out with friends without having to suffer for it the next day.

Towards the end of 2019, we found ourselves so burnt out and wired by technology that we weren’t talking to each other anymore.

We knew we wanted to build something crafty, but no matter where our business took us, we knew the priority always needed to be about bringing people together and getting them talking about the important things in life.

“The priority always needed to be about bringing people together.”

KS: How did you come up with the clay breakers, and do you see these changing and evolving over time?

RW & AF: The clay-breakers are there to act as an ice-breaker for the conversations we want people to have while playing with clay. The cards we came up with are questions we were already asking each other and our friends, and we wanted to strike a balance between confronting and potentially uncomfortable, but also uplifting and positive.

We reevaluate these questions over time and are constantly evolving them based on feedback. The next round of clay-breakers will actually include statistics around mental health. We think this update will really help people open up, particularly if they know how common it is to experience feelings of anxiety and depression.

Image: Crockd

KS: You offer pottery with friends as a more wholesome alternative to drinking. Why is this important to you to move away from this ‘drinking = socialising” mentality?

RW & AF: When you’re playing with clay your hands are dirty; you don’t want to touch your phone or pick up a bottle or wine glass, so it creates a physical barrier against drinking alcohol. But more than that, we really just wanted to move away from drinking.

There seems to be more of a shift away from drinking-related activities now to prioritise physical and mental health, and we wanted Crockd to be seen as an alternative that’s still social, yet allowed those who took part to take part in meaningful conversations. For us, playing with clay served as a way for us to hang out and connect. Now, we just want to help others do the same.

KS: Would you say your connections with loved ones has improved since having another activity to do besides drinking?

RW & AF: Absolutely! When we were testing this idea we hosted a Christmas party, and instead of serving drinks, we just put 12kgs of clay on the table and let the conversations flow. The clay creations our friends came up with may have been crazy, but we all look back at that crafternoon party with such fond memories. And each of our friends now have their pots and mugs on display in their house.

KS: Your business model is unique in that it’s almost perfectly suited to self-isolation and quarantine. What has it been like to launch your brand amid a worldwide pandemic?

RW & AF: We launched on Valentine’s Day, but we’ve been building our business since Christmas last year when the threat of a pandemic wasn’t so pronounced.

We wanted Crockd to do two things: to support conversations around mental health, and to support Australian businesses. If we had worked with suppliers and manufacturers overseas, our business would not be working today, but because we were determined to seek out Australian partners, we were able to keep operating.

What’s more, our kits were deliberately designed for customers to go to local kilns to glaze their creations, and if they loved the Crockd experience enough, they may even consider pursuing pottery as a more permanent hobby by taking workshops with their local pottery warehouses.

We’re so proud to be able to send customers to kilns, because ultimately that business could help keep their doors open.

“We definitely feel like one of the lucky ones right now.”

KS: How else are you supporting small businesses right now?

RW & AF: We definitely feel like one of the lucky ones right now, and we’re doing what we can to support other small businesses, too — be it with the option to add coffee beans from our local cafe to your order, or by helping to keep kiln doors around Australia open.

We’ve somehow timed the launch of our business in a time when the world is spending more time indoors, and we’re determined to help others find success in these times, too.

KS: What advice do you have for something looking to create something from scratch or launch a business in the midst of a pandemic?

RW & AF: You’ve really got to figure out how to do something yourself first. If you can, keep as much of your business in-house and within your own country. If we were relying on overseas shipping right now, we wouldn’t be in this position.

Second, talk to your customers, ask for feedback and listen intently. We still respond to every single question on Instagram and we take on the advice of our customers.

Lastly, you have to care for your business and the values you set for it. Don’t pursue an avenue just because you think it’ll be profitable.

KS: What do you hope Crockd can do for you and other small businesses after this pandemic?

RW & AF: Look, we’re a ‘different’ business in a niche and cliquey world of pottery, but we’re trying to bridge the gap between a new generation of people who want to get involved in crafts.

We’ve really been extending our hand to kilns around the country, and that gives them an opportunity to connect with people who want to get involved and use their services long-term.

We’re just here to hand those people over to professionals and help them take part in workshops. We want to build an ecosystem between us and those kilns.

Crockd clay kits deliver free around Australia and are available to purchase online now. A two-person kit starts at $80, a three-person kit is $100, and a four-person kit is $120.

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