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  • Ina Groenewald

Spotlight on Urchin Art

I am sure that by know all of you are fully aware of my mug and cup obsession.  

I mention this once again, because today's vendor spotlight is with Michelle Kunze, owner and creative mind behind ceramic company, Urchin Art, and they create the most gorgeous mugs (and other ceramic items of course)! 

​Every time I see them I just have to stop and stare for a while, so I was very excited when Michelle agreed to this interview, because I love chatting to creative, business minded entrepreneurs.

I just may learn something along the way, and hopefully so will you! 

Tell us a bit more about who you are and your background? When did you start your business and why?

I started Urchin Art in 1998 when I moved to Cape Town after living and working in London for a year.

I never had the opportunity to study so I was not qualified to do anything but I was always quite creative and dreamed up a few ideas that I sold at markets like cushions, frames, soaps and candles.

I waitressed part time and spent a lot of time in my garage playing with new ideas.

I met my husband Kristoph in 2001. Kristoph is a brilliant designer and he helped me to design the Pause body range.

We made a great team and we worked very hard to make a success of my little business.

In 2007 we opened The Pause room and it seemed to really launch my business in a new direction.

I started working with clay in 2010 and slowly taught myself through many failures and a few successes.

Once the pottery bug bit me I was fascinated with the endless possibilities.

I was fortunate enough to have a few very encouraging friends along the way and I just kept on working hard.

Those first few months, talk us through the planning process, learning curves, getting everything set-up?

I'm not much of a planner and I tend to "wing it" a lot of the time. 

I never actually dreamed of becoming a manufacturer or a shop owner. I sort of just followed a path that lead me to it. I had many set backs but never allowed it to get me down.

I was constantly learning. Firstly how to manufacture something and then how to manage a business and being a mom.

When was that ‘Aha’ moment when you realized, this is going to work!

I started attending a tradeshow called SARCDA in 2001 where giftware buyers would come to place orders.

My first show was a massive learning curve but I realised that I really enjoyed the excitement of a tradeshow and the many opportunity that it brought.

I came up with my first ceramic range for a Christmas tradeshow and got a fantastic response. Aha!!! Finally I was seeing  the light!!! 

People simply loved the inspirational quotes on the ceramics and I could not keep up with all the orders. I had to think fast about expanding my factory and have not stopped ever since.

Do you ever get down days?  How do you pick yourself up?

Yes, I get very down sometimes. Financial worries are the worst and managing my cash flow is a never ending issue.

But we all have ups and downs and we fill our heads with unnecessary self doubt which can be a real killer.

I had to learn to turn the negative voice off by breathing deeply and not getting sucked into that negative space.

Having a good cry sometimes seemed to lighten my soul and then I would feel better the next day and carry on.

What products and/or services do you supply?

Urchin Art manufactures a wide range of functional ceramic products for the home.

We custom make bespoke dinnerware for restaurants and we also do custom ranges for a few

online shops and gift stores.

Where is your business based?

The Urchin Art factory is at 64 Marine Drive, Paarden Eland, Cape Town.

Advice for others wanting to start their own business?

Save some money for start up cash.

Set small goals and have a 5 year plan.

Don't be afaid to market yourself.

​Follow up on leads more than once. 

People are busy and forget quickly. Remind them who you are and be persistent.

Be prepared to work 7 days a week and put all your money back into your business.

Don't give up. 

Biggest highlight since starting your business?

Having my daughter Kiarra 10 years ago and opening my own shop The Pause room, also 10 years ago has been a great privilege.

Any low's and biggest lesson learned so far?

My mentor and greatest supporter passed away suddenly two years ago and it was really hard to come to terms with the loss.

Biggest lessons:

Appreciate the friends that support you!

Treat your staff with kindness and respect. You are all part of the same team.

Save money for taxes. Be honest and reliable. 

I love your new gold and candy ranges – tell us a bit about them.

I love using the Gold lustre in my work. It is Real gold costing about R400 per gram, so it makes the very expensive to work with but it adds that special glam quality that I love.

Candy love is a stunning update to the other ranges and I love the matt glazes that we are using.

It is fun and quirky and I hope to add other products like cushions and cards to the range too.

Marketing – do you do any marketing and if so, which channels do you find works best for your business?

Marketing is very important and I've spent a lot of time learning about marketing this year.

Social media is an essential and you can do a  lot of it yourself by just posting something daily.

How can people get in contact with you/ find your products?

And lastly:

The prettiest venue that you know of in your area, prefect for a baby/bridal shower or ladies lunch.

I just adore Babylonstoren. I love flowers and walking in a beautiful garden.

Your favorite cake & coffee spot?

Boeresjiek in Brakenfell has a cake selection to die for!!!!! YUM!

What was the last present that you bought that you wish you bought for yourself?

My friends all get jewellery and i love every single piece that I give away.

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