When Clay Cunningham decided to launch his first U.S. store for Spin Ceramics – a coveted brand of Chinese tabletop porcelain – he chose Crosby Street in New York’s SoHo district as its location.
For good reason.
“It was voted the coolest shopping street in America by GQ magazine,” the banker-turned entrepreneur says. “It’s a neat neighborhood to be a part of.”
Spin pieces are handmade in China’s Jingdezhen district, which from about 1500 to 1700 A.D. was the sole location for Chinese porcelain. Mao’s Cultural Revolution nearly put an end to that, though a few makers survived. Now it’s known for mass-production.
But not at Spin. At this company, eight designers work in pairs, inside a cottage-like, family-owned atmosphere in Shanghai.
“Most of them are out of Jing University,” he says. “They studied as ceramics majors in one of best ceramics universities in the world.”
But there aren’t a lot of opportunities there for ceramic designers. So Spin gives them an incubation tank where they can hone their craft and learn what appeals to the market. Some designers have been there six or seven years, and some just a few months.
“If they can produce a design in the first year, that’s great, but if not, it’s okay too,” he says. “There’s an opportunity to grow – we retire about 20 to 30 designs every year, and bring in 20 or 30 new ones.”
One designer in particular favors literal interpretations of natural objects from the environment – a nut jar with a walnut, pecan or hazelnut atop its lid, a teacup with an actual leaf on its rim, and a vase inlaid with a large leaf seeming to peel off.
“It’s organic – a lot of it harkens back to Japanese traditions,” he says. “Customers come in and ask if it’s Japanese.”
But it’s definitely not. Spin’s designs are conceived in Shanghai, produced in Jingdezhen, and use clay from the Kaolin Mountain, fired twice.
Which makes them distinctively Chinese – and available now on the coolest shopping street in the U.S.