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The Marlow Shop With A Passion For Pottery

Keeeps launched during lockdown to great fanfare, so founder Tamra Booth discusses her pottery passion, the impending opening of a Marlow shop and why this is just the start

You launched Keeeps online nearly a year ago. What inspired it?

Pottery is my passion. I went to art college where I first discovered my love of clay; however at that time, I just couldn’t see how to make a career out of my love affair with pottery. So I went into property and that has been my career for over 25 years. A few years ago I started re-evaluating things and decided I needed to reawaken some passion in my life and revisited my first love – ceramics! From that very moment keeeps.co.uk was born.

I launched Keeeps for a number of reasons, but primarily to help British potters create sustainable careers and to keep pottery skills alive. My vision was to provide a space for potters, as well as encouraging novices to learn a skill and embrace the magical feeling of potting.

I also wanted to make it easier to find genuinely authentic and stylish pottery. We set out to create a stylish online hub where quality over quantity was key and the whole buying and browsing process was relaxing and enjoyable. Not everyone has the time or energy to trawl the internet to find the perfect mug or a gorgeous handmade gift, so Keeeps does this all for you. Keeeps offers curated, stand-out pottery pieces that you, your friends and family will love, not only for their stunning design, but also in the knowledge they are handmade in the UK.

Tamra Outside Studio
Tamra Booth, founder of Keeeps

Why the name?

My genius stepson came up with the name and it was the name that really stuck. As a bit of a neat freak, I love having a place for things in my home so when I was initially creating the brand, I experimented with a couple of different names, one of which was ‘Holders’. With a focus on selling handmade, functional and sustainable products, the idea was that these items were objects that you could keep forever. The family thought that ‘Holders’ didn’t quite fit and my stepson suggested ‘Keeps’, as in high quality, handmade, stylish items that are for keeps. We added an extra ‘e’ to give us a point of difference and of course to obtain a website address that no-one else had!

Who are the potters you feature?

The team and I travel the width and breadth of the UK to hand-pick pottery crafted by real working, talented British potters. Our potters are both emerging designers as well as established ceramicists. We select and test out pieces we believe our customers will love and stock them on our website. We buy the products from the potter and pay for them upfront, then we do all the marketing and ship them to the customer. 

For the stores, we will be promoting local potters and talent and many of these will also be teaching our studio classes. We are big promoters of nurturing and furthering local talent. It is important to Keeeps that our range also supports people, business and traditional skills around the UK.

One of our long-standing potters is the lovely Robin Walden, whose talent is astounding, We also regularly work with Ali Tomlin and have commissioned some gorgeous porcelain pendant lights to hang in the pottery store. Emma Alington, who grew upon locally, is our first bone china potter and her clients include Fortnum & Mason, the Fat Duck and she has been featured on ITV.  Another wonderful local potter of ours is David Wright, whose moon vases fly out of the shop as soon as we receive them.

What do you look out for when uncovering a new potter to support?

We source items that are design-led. The pieces we select are the perfect balance between stylish and elegant, practical and functional. They are, of course, all handmade so each one is authentic, beautiful, unique and of the highest quality.

We want our pieces to be unique and a topic of conversation in your home. The little dents, fingerprints, differing glaze effects, and slight imperfections on pottery pieces are what make them special.

When we co-design and curate pieces for Keeeps, it is important that the items are not pretentious and feel inclusive. In terms of the actual look and feel of the products, the aim is for the products to have clean aesthetics that help create a calming atmosphere in your home, so we choose a lot of comforting colours, with soothing blue and green hues being very popular.

In the throw-away society we live in today, we don’t want to encourage buying for buying’s sake. Our mantra is ‘buy once and buy well’. We select stand-out pottery that makes people want to treasure forever. If it is looked after, then great pottery can last for hundreds of years, and if it special then it will be kept and used for generations.

Marlow Pop Up
The Marlow pop up

What kind of products do you sell?

The items at Keeeps are lovingly handmade, functional and practical, yet beautiful. They are stylish, yet serve a purpose – call it ‘functional art’. We wanted to offer useful and accessible pieces, not to be a ceramics gallery as such, but a pottery shop selling genuinely practical pottery for the home for everyone.

We source practical and beautiful handmade pottery which will make not only a gorgeous gifts, but ones that can be used and admired every day – from ceramic kitchen gadgets and kitchenware to stunning vases, candles and home accessories as well as some special feature items such as oversizes Chinese urns and large platters.

Is there a real demand for pottery right now – and if so, why do you think that is?

I think for a while people have been wanting to get back to basics and learn traditional crafts whether that be baking, gardening, sewing or making pots! Having been stuck inside for a year or so, many people are now more inclined to spend their hard-earned cash on themselves, rather than on “stuff”.

This has been even more evident since the pandemic as people have become far more aware of self-care and mindfulness as well as the importance of supporting their local communities. 

Has this inspired you to open a store?

We were a business created in lockdown, which allowed us to initially build the brand and presence online. As a pottery brand, however, we are big believers that handmade pottery is something that needs to be held in person to fully appreciate why it is so much better than mass-produced, and therefore for Keeeps, it was important that the brand was omnichannel to cater for different customers’ needs.

Having tested the high street with a pop-up, we felt confident to take the plunge by opening a permanent shop on Marlow high street. We can’t wait to welcome customers in person and be able to show off all our beautiful pottery.

An important part of the brand is also to offer our customers the chance to play with clay themselves, interact with the medium, take classes and learn a craft.

Why Marlow as the location?

What we love about Marlow, and other market towns, is the variety of shops on the high street. There are many independent, local businesses that bring the high street to life. It is a vibrant and social community which we are so excited to be a part of. Keeeps is passionate about supporting local people, craftsmanship and skills all of which then sustain the local economy.

You have held pop-up shops in the area – what was the reaction like to those?

Pop-up shops are a great way to build brand awareness, to hone your brand and products, and learn to understand what the customers really want. We trialled a pop-up shop on the high street in 2021 and we literally couldn’t keep up with the demand! We were inundated with interest about our products and forthcoming classes.

The reaction and support has been incredible and everyone has shown huge excitement about our forthcoming three-storey store and studio opening. We even have a celebrity following (our lips are sealed) and we are just thrilled by the community support and response.

Extra Large Moon Jar
You’ll be able to create your own masterpiece

What’s the latest on the store opening?

It’s all coming together! Due to my background in property and design, I have managed to oversee plenty of renovations over the years, so I had a clear vision for the pottery store and brand. I wanted to avoid the bland white ‘gallery’ look to create something warm and beautiful, but stunning and smart too. I wanted the studio to flow seamlessly from the downstairs pottery. The whole idea is to show our customers how stylish pottery can look with the right background as well as provide an environment that will be a stimulating yet relaxing experience.

Without a doubt, the biggest challenge has been dealing with a Listed building. We have made sure The White House has been carefully and sympathetically renovated. A few hiccups with the fabric of the building has delayed us a little, but the studio is up and ready and the furniture is going in as we speak.

We have met with lots of our local potters and sourced some beautiful pottery. We are currently set to open in late February 2022 so please come in and say hi and have a look, everyone is welcome!

Our booking app will also be ready to check out the first batch of pottery classes very soon, with classes starting in March 2022. In the meantime, customers can email us at marlow@keeeps.co.uk if they are interested in taking a pottery class.

Will it be the living embodiment of the website?

Absolutely.  Whilst an online presence is essential and vital in the 21st century, you cannot underestimate the excitement and experience of visiting a high street shop.  A fabulous website which also has a physical embodiment is a winning combination.  

Is this store the first of many?

Our number one goal is to have 15-20 stores open in the next 5-10 years. Despite what the media have been saying for years, I firmly believe that the high street is not dead, it simply needs to adapt. We believe we can breathe new life into the high street by connecting with the community.

The social side that comes from a high street is something that just cannot be experienced online. Britain has beautiful high streets and town centres, with stunning architecture. Some of my favourite retail centres are Marlow, Market Harborough, Harrogate, Amersham, York and Chester. And, of course, you cannot beat London. We will be looking for places with a good community feel, that have individuality and differentiation, whether that be from a healthy mix of interesting retailers or nearby amenities like the river or a great park. 

How else do you see Keeeps evolving?

With our sensational pottery experiences, Keeeps is set to breathe new life into the UK high street, boost the UK pottery industry and become an important community hub. Keeepsis about community, art, food, individuality, sustainability and interiors and a brand that we very much hope is here to stay.

keeeps.co.uk

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