A West Elm Mystery

Posted August 6, 2012

A friend of mine sent me this photo. It's a picture of a women with the following, "Chris Silverston founded Cape Town artist' collective Potter's Workshop in 1991. Trained through apprenticeship, new artists slowly acquire the skills to create the bead-like, textured ceramic patterns the studio is known for."

West Elm

My friend told me he was very upset when he turned the bowl over and read the words, "Made in China". What?! How can these artist collective handmade bowls be made in China?

If you look on the West Elm website, the pottery is listed as "Imported" and there is a video of an artist hand painting a bowl.

Creative Director Vanessa Holden visited South Africa for nine days in 2011, We felt so strongly about South Africa, we wanted people to be able to sit on it, eat out of it, and observe it.” she told Elle.

Did she also want to use it as a marketing tool? I emailed West Elm asking them to shed a little bit of clarity on exactly how the artists in this collective benefit from the mass production and sale of these bowls.

Here's their reply:

"Thanks for your email into the blog. The Potter's Workshop pieces were designed in South Africa and they benefit from the sale of every single piece.They were unable to produce the quantity we needed in order to offer it to all of our catalog, online and retail customers, so to bring their unique hand-painting process to the product, we worked closely together to train a collective of artisans in China who hand-paint each piece. This collaboration will help support the continued growth of Potter's Workshop, while maintaining the integrity of their process and bringing their designs to a global audience at a great value."

To be fair, the AIDS–awareness nonprofit, Wola Nani, patterned papier-mâché Pencil Cups do say "Made in South Africa" as do some other products. I would encourage West Elm to be completely transparent regarding all their collaborations.

If they are producing hand-painted bowls from a collective of artisans in China - they should say so. Where are the photos of the Chinese artists? Are they truly a "collective"? Are they also benefiting from the "sale of every single piece"? Without complete transparency, the customer is left to wonder. If West Elm is really uplifting the lives of Chinese artisans, that's great, if they're simply using the Chinese workers to mass produce low cost "feel good" items, that's terrible.

~ by Sarah Manski for PosiPlanet, the blog of the founders of PosiPair.com

Add your business Add Your Company

or non-profit organization

A community-led transition to the new economy. We're way beyond green.

Company Name
Company Type

Featured Product

This is a beautiful limited-edition silk screen print created for the Wisconsin Wave by Samuel D. Johnson of Firecracker studio. There are only 7 remaining. Each print is hand numbered an signed by the artist. Size: 18 in. X 24 in. The text along the side reads: Battle Of Wisconsin: Join The Wave Of Resistance! El Valiente, Squarewave, United Sons of Toil and Superstar Fantastico High Noon Saloon * 9:00PM Friday, April 1st * Suggested Donation of $10.00 Speakers Include: State Senator Jon Erpenback and Lindsey Lee Specials Include: $3.00 Craft Beer and a Raffle Featuring and iPad & More The text along the bottom reads: For More Information Go To: www.WisconsinWave.org Design & Printing 2001 Firecracer Studios * www.FCS5000.com

Featured Certification

Green-e is an independent consumer protection program for the sale of renewable energy and greenhouse gas reductions in the retail market. Green-e offers certification and verification of renewable energy and greenhouse gas mitigation products. It is a program of the Center for Resource Solutions.
Share PosiPair:
To share this specific page, please use the links on the left sharing bar
Copyright ©2011, PosiPair, LLC. All Rights Reserved. PosiPair is a trademark owned by PosiPair LLC. Patent Pending. Use of this site is subject to express Terms of Service.