MUD has been a known brand for over 20 years now, but where did it all begin?
Was it a venture that you started with a strong vision to build a successful business, or was it a creative pursuit that developed with time?
On a quiet weekend in Sydney in the early 1990s, Shelley Simpson, founder of MUD Australia, had no idea that her curiosity to know how to throw a pot on her flatmate’s
kick wheel would lead to the establishment of an international ceramics business. “I’d hardly touched clay before,” says Shelley, “but my friend was a potter and I’d seen her
throwing so I thought I’d try it.” She straightaway successfully made a few pieces which astonished her friend.“I just found I had an instinctive feel for it,” says Shelley.
Shelley had been working in various creative jobs in Sydney when she discovered her passion for pottery. “I was looking around for something else to do when I discovered I absolutely loved making pots.”
Shelley moved home and found a garage to develop as her studio. “I still didn’t have a kiln so I would take all my pots elsewhere to be fired. There was no money to be made
from the venture but I kept going. I realised that, if you want to get good at something, you need to spend a lot of time developing your skill and this was what I was determined to do.”
Shelley started selling her pieces at markets and direct to restaurants and went into design stores in Sydney and asked them what sort of pottery they wanted and could sell. “There was a gap in the market for
something handmade, simple but timeless that allowed food to be the hero. I was able to provide them with the sort of pieces they knew would sell.”
On her mother’s advice, Shelley decided to take the plunge and establish a business of her own – and MUD australia was founded. She took advantage of the
Australian Government’s New Enterprise Incentive Scheme to get business training and, with the support of her husband and now business partner, James Kirton, she found a larger studio and bought a kiln.
Today MUD Australia is based in Marrickville Sydney with production and administration under one roof. MUD Australia employs a team of 60 people and has 5 of its’ own flagship stores both locally and overseas.
“I realise I started this business but it’s now so much more than mine. We are part of a large team, a family of people who are all working together to make the best ceramics we can.”
Shelley’s time is spent on the day-to-day running of the business and making sure the production side runs smoothly. She is very much a hands on presence within the studio, making sure the glazes and finishes
are right and checking that all the production processes maintain MUD Australia’s standards. “I like to work in our shops too… it’s fascinating to see how customers make their choices. Some have a good idea of
what they want before they arrive and others don’t know where to begin.” Customers are always invited to talk about the pieces on show, discuss what they are looking for and work out what will fit best with
their lifestyle or to choose as a gift.
MUD uses only porcelain from Limoges in France. Why is this the case and how was the material initially chosen? Does it have specific qualities
that other materials don’t possess?
After working with and experimenting with a range of many different materials we found the porcelain from Limoges to be the best quality and most suited to our practice.
Perhaps one of the most distinctive traits of MUD products (of the many) is their shape and colour. How did this signature aesthetic,
that’s so easily recognisable, come about? What’s the process you and your team go through when developing new shapes and colours to add to the collection?
“MUD Australia is about so much more than the pots we make. It’s a business which straddles two worlds – we make products which are both functional and beautiful.” Shelley Simpson
The range was refined incorporating feedback from leading chefs and recognising a hole in the market for simple, organic tableware which presents beautifully well without distracting from it.
As well as organic shapes and hand mixed colours the MUD Australia range is glazed on the inside and matte on the outside.
The MUD Australia range is designed as a timeless collectible piece rather than following seasonal trends. We aim to be consistent with our production so customers can add to their collection over years to come.
The inspiration for new pieces comes from Shelley’s own lifestyle for example her love of cooking saw the introduction of the MUD Australia baking range.
MUD currently have 77 shapes and 18 colours in the range.
With such a selection of colours and styles, where do we start when it comes to buying MUD? Do you have any advice?
We find specific colours ‘talk’ to people and they fall in love with them. When choosing your own MUD Australia palette we recommend a neutral, a pastel and a pop.
This trifecta really sing together, for example dust, pink and plum.
It’s important to consider what you want to use the pieces for; some people prefer shallower shapes and others deeper bowls. We have four bowl families in the range – nest, flared, noodle and pebble.
A lot of people are surprised to hear that you can bake in MUD – the pebble bowl range is especially great for baking (roasts, desserts, vegetables) as it has a flat bottom and it easy to wash.
Try it! Once you use it, you’ll fall in love.
We’re launching the Plum colour into our stores for Autumn/Winter this year. It adds a great depth and warmth to the other colours we range.
Do you have a favourite colour?
I love all of our colours and the way they play together but I have a real soft spot for soft greys like dust and ash.
MUD has a bit of a celebrity following; Gwyneth Paltrow, Brad Pitt, Bill Granger, Donna Hay, Nigella Lawson all have tables and
kitchens graced with MUD pieces. What is it that attracts consumers to your product?
Customers are initially attracted to the colour pallet and organic forms. They then fall in love with the everyday luxury of the brand – something beautiful which you can enjoy and pop in the dishwasher at the end of the day!
What makes you most proud about the product and brand you’ve created?
As a small business, we strongly believe in the global values of craft, community and sustainability. We are proud to be still manufacturing in Australia and providing a positive work place for our growing team.
We design products to last both through their design sensibility but also through the processes and materials used. In addition to this we have 135 solar panels installed on our studio roofs to offset our kiln power consumption.
We love retail. Creating spaces where our customers can explore, delve into their creative side, and take away items that will
somehow become a part of their lives. Do you have a particularly memorable shopping experience?
Travelling regularly for trade shows I’m really fortunate to visit some amazing stores around the world including the wonderful ABC Carpet and Home in New York.