HOW WE MAKE THINGS: HEATH CERAMICS

For as long as we’ve known about their existence, we have been in love with Heath Ceramics. Their philosophies, their processes, their intentions—all align closely with our own. Our collaboration with Heath is our longest collaboration, dating back to 2011. When we partnered for our first collection together, they worked diligently to interpret the work we do at Alabama Chanin using their own medium. The artists at Heath Ceramics hand etched designs that mimicked and were inspired by our techniques. As we continuously explore and reveal how we make things at Alabama Chanin, we hope you will also be inspired by how Heath Ceramics creates their products.

Heath Ceramics – Who They Are

A historic pottery turned designer, maker, and seller of goods that embody creativity, craftsmanship, elevate the every day, and enhance the way people eat, live, and connect.

Founded in 1948 by husband and wife team, Edith and Brian Heath, the company was purchased in 2003 by another couple, Robin Petravic and Catherine Bailey. Their plan for growth included: boosting productivity, streamlining offerings, creating new products, and collaborating with other artists and companies with complementary visions.

Heath wants to become a model for U.S. manufacturing—inspiring designers and manufacturers to think creatively about their business models, placing financial profit as the means, rather than the end.

ALABAMA CHANIN – HOW WE MAKE THINGS: HEATH CERAMICS

What They Believe

The Heath Ceramics team shares much of the philosophy of its founder, Edith Heath. They are driven by design and function, are committed to handcrafted work, and determined to question the status quo.

Their goal is to work with these values in mind, by making responsible and holistic decisions for the long-term benefit of their customers, employees, and the environment. For those reasons, they prioritize these principles:

  • Local manufacturing – Like Alabama Chanin, Heath believes that the craft of manufacturing has been largely lost as a value in modern culture, and they work hard to retain it. Their dinnerware is made using a blend of mechanized processes and hand craftsmanship, to obtain the highest quality product. Customers build relationships with the things they buy when they also build relationships with the people, processes, and values behind those products. Local manufacturing also has social and cultural rewards in bringing pride to community.
  • The real cost of products – A product’s price reflects the actual cost of its production. Heath products comply with strict environmental standards, both government regulated and self-imposed. Their staff is compensated fairly, receive full health care benefits, and have retirement benefits. This means their processes can sometimes be expensive, but fair and safe standards and practices are important to the Heath philosophy. When you outsource processes, you lose control over the conditions your products are made under. A cheaper price usually reflects that difference in standards.
  • Product safety – Heath dinnerware products meet and exceed U.S. and California safety standards. Likewise, their children’s products exceed food and product safety standards.
  • Environmental responsibility – Heath is a design-led manufacturer of products meant to be extremely durable and to function for a lifetime. Many of their products have been in continuous production for over 60 years; the designers work to design new products to complement existing collections, in order to increase their longevity and decrease the need to replace them. By manufacturing in an urban environment, they must abide by environmental standards set for communities where people live – making them even more certain they are not doing harm to the environment and community.
  • Recycling – Heath uses a gray-water system, which recycles water used in production for use in their glaze and cleanup operations. They also recycle scrap unfired clay, meaning there is recycled content in every Heath product. They also ship all products using materials made from 100% post-industrial waste and that is reusable and recyclable. And, they are setting up their San Francisco factory to be a zero waste facility.
  • Energy Efficiency – Their ceramic clay requires only one firing (at a lower than normal temperature), as opposed to the typical two firings. Heath rebuilt their kilns to increase capacity, allowing them to fire more tiles per kiln and reducing gas consumption.

ALABAMA CHANIN – HOW WE MAKE THINGS: HEATH CERAMICS

How They Work

Robin and Catherine say they ask “why” a lot. That is because they are designing and adapting their business as thoughtfully as they design their products. Here, they explain how they work:

  • We offer goods that last. We believe in quality over quantity, only making and selling beautiful, well-made goods that stand the test of time.
  • We design and make and Being responsible for it all means that we’re better at each aspect of what we do.
  • We build environments around our mission. From showrooms to factories to offices, Heath’s spaces bring together people and communities to learn from each other, forge lasting bonds, and create lots of good energy.
  • We believe in growing responsibly. By working smart and growing prudently, we’re building a strong business that allows us to make good things and do good work.

ALABAMA CHANIN – HOW WE MAKE THINGS: HEATH CERAMICS

Their Vision for the Future

Heath continues to look for ways to reduce its environmental impact. Their goal is to become a closed-gap company, always looking for new ways to reuse and recycle their waste. Their goals of sustaining local manufacturing, creating high-quality, well-designed products, maintaining a fair and responsible workplace for our employees, and reducing our environmental impact helps us set their financial goals and business model, not the other way around.

In the spirit of both transparency and community, Heath invites you to learn more about the people who work for them and welcomes you into their clay studio. Because Heath wants to make their work tangible for the community and consumer, you can visit their Sausalito dinnerware or San Francisco tile factory to see just how they do things. You can schedule a physical tour or click through for a virtual tour.

You can shop our Alabama Chanin + Heath Ceramics products in The Factory store or online.

ALABAMA CHANIN – HOW WE MAKE THINGS: HEATH CERAMICS

Photos by Rinne Allen

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