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Soft Focus

Featuring soft colours and smooth forms, the saMPLE collection by porcelain Label Aleph is a collaboration between the brand and nine Dutch designers. Produced in Jingdezhen China, the brand is helping young talents get to market.

By Cassandra Pizzey /asdf 19-09-2013

At the head of Label Aleph together with Frank Lucas is designer Carola Zee who travelled to Jingdezhen, China’s porcelain hub six years ago to start her company. Low production and labour costs make this region an interesting venture for Dutch companies although getting your ideas produced can prove a little tricky. 

Zee: “The great thing about Jingdezhen is that it combines the abundance of craftsmen with an area that is tuned in to producing ceramics 24/7. This way it is possible to make ideas into prototypes in a matter of days. However, start-up prices and minimum order quantities are often very high and you need to keep on top of production to ensure consistent quality.”

The designer talks about her field of interest: ceramics, in which she has seen a steady growth of young, talented designers who are struggling to survive or even get to market. In the current climate these creatives are often both designer and producer, creating smaller editions that they are forced to sell for low prices. Many don’t even make it into interior shops or need to place large investments to present their products internationally. With the startup of Label Aleph, Carola Zee not only wanted to put her expertise to good use for her own designs but also for those of other talented designers.

Her own product series for Label Aleph is named The Unique Series and comprises tableware in muted hues featuring a unique imprint Zee makes by pushing her thumb into the clay. With the Jingdezhen factory working all hours to produce this series it made sense to incorporate a number of new designs by young, talented designers. 

Nine designers and studios were selected by Zee to participate in the project, in which the main criteria was experience in porcelain production. “Porcelain as a material has its limits and as designer you need to know what the boundaries are for creating a new idea. It was also important that the designers all had the same kind of aesthetic and style in their work.” 

The featured designers are Elke van den Berg, Lotte Douwes, Lara de Greef, De Intuitiefabriek, Egbert-Jan Lam, Alissia Melka-Teichroew, Nienke van de Pol, Hester Zagt, and ZWARD. Each of them already have their own design label and produce within their own studios in the Netherlands. They are what Carola Zee calls designer/makers; they know the drill and know what needs to be done to get from idea to prototype. “Because of their limited production quantities you see that most, not all, designers focus on the local market,” she explains. “Creating a product is only the beginning, the difficult part is making large enough quantities to get them to market. I believe that working together is the only way to achieve this.”

Each of the designers received a simple brief: The product needs to be functional but should not be tableware ( because of the 'anti dumping act' that has been in place in Europe on tableware that is produced in China). The product should stay within 25cm3 to prevent that the production moulds would not get to big, allowing for single person operation. Otherwise they were free to design whatever they wanted. 

Among the designs are vases and lampshades, trinket plates and carafes, all in keeping with Label Aleph’s design aesthetic and many with a somewhat hidden function. Carola Zee: “Each design expresses the designer's concept and esthetics. Which creates a beautiful mix of items that become one collection through the use of colored clay.”

We asked the designer what her future plans are for this project. “The saMPLE collection is the start of something bigger, I will be setting up my Jingdezhen workspace as a development studio where I would like to invite talented designers to come and work. I can share my knowledge of startups and my expertise in the field of porcelain. In exchange, the designers would create a new product for Label Aleph.”

www.labelaleph.com

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