Fashion and homewares brand Toast mentors emerging artisans

There is tremendous joy in holding a handcrafted ceramic mug and feeling the slight imperfections that come with a one-of-a-kind piece made by an artisan. But as we place increasing emphasis on craftsmanship in our homes, it can be incredibly difficult for the artisans behind the objects to bring their product to market.

“It’s not easy being out there alone as a maker,” says Suzie de Rohan Willner, CEO of Toast, the fashion and homewares brand. That’s why Toast launched its annual New Makers program in 2019, supporting aspiring crafters from around the world. This year’s cohort of five artisans was selected from more than 1,000 applications.

In addition to selling their work online and in select Toast Shops, New Makers receive mentoring in business development, production and marketing. The program is nonprofit because Toast doesn’t charge them a sales commission, which accounted for 1 percent of their total homeware sales last year. “Mentoring is so important,” says de Rohan Willner. “I told them to call whenever they need it.”

Here are the five new makers of 2022.

Rose Perlenmann

Rose Perlenmann

When artist Rose Pearlman, 42, was looking for a craft to pursue when her son was a baby, she turned to rug hooking, which involves making rugs from scraps of fabric, something she remembers doing when she had done her own mother when she was little. “My mother brought me some things when my son was very young and it suited my lifestyle perfectly; it was something I could grab and put down.”

Pearlman was also drawn to the sustainable nature of the rug hook and has gone a step further than most, using discarded plastic bags in her larger pieces, which are displayed in galleries including Minema in New York. “It turns trash into something beautiful,” she says.

For Toast, she designed three bags that all use rug hooks.

Reesha Zubair

Reesha Zubair

Ceramic pieces on wooden blocks and some on the floor

Potter Reesha Zubair, 41, originally from the Maldives but now based in Oxford, has created a range of ceramic pieces named after and inspired by her grandmothers, who helped raise her. “I wanted to use my work to represent the strength of these women, but also the imperfections that made them beautiful.”

Their stoneware vessels are made by rolling out the clay into thick slabs before cutting it into strips for wrapping to build the pot. Zubair then shapes them with a kidney tool, which also gives a rough texture. “You always have to let the clay dry a bit before you build another layer,” she says.

Before turning to ceramics, Zubair worked in human resources. She says the New Makers program will be critical to her business. “Coming from a non-creative background and only now entering the crafting world as a middle-aged woman, I’ve found it quite difficult to find an audience.”

Dalia James

Colorful textiles hanging on a wall

Dalia James

Each of the geometric tapestries that textile artist Dalia James, 35, creates in her east London studio contains around 2,000 threads that she threads individually onto her loom.

Her collection for Toast includes three wall hangings and a selection of placemats. She describes the latter as “small works of art for me that I often create before making a larger piece to help me work out color placement”. She says her work is inspired by geometry and architecture; and in particular the Bauhaus movement.

She has worked with eco-friendly materials such as Seacell yarn made from seaweed and natural dyes; and their silk is spun in a Swiss mill powered by hydroelectric power. “Reducing my impact on the environment is very important to me,” she says.

Pink harradine

Pink harradine

A natural fiber brush on a wooden block

Last summer, Rosa Harradine, 28, saw some natural brushes online and was inspired to learn how to make them. She began making her brushes from the natural fibers of tampico and arenga, wrapped in hemp twine and tied with a cotton ribbon. The process consists of keeping the hemp thread under constant tension and wrapping it around a rolling pin under their feet to make the handles tight and strong.

Harradine’s household brushes are all biodegradable, and she intends to grow her own fibers and make her own natural dyes.

Being selected by Toast – which has already advised her to raise her prices to better cover her costs – helped her see that brushmaking could become her full-time career. “It’s really encouraging to know that what I’m doing is worthwhile and that someone appreciates it.”

Samuel Alexander

Carved wooden vessels stacked on top of each other

Samuel Alexander

After suffering from depression in his early 20s, Samuel Alexander, 27, says he found solace in woodcarving. “The process of making these objects is pretty vicious,” he says. “I think that’s why I’m attracted to it. You put a lot of energy into each piece and it brings me a lot of mental relief.”

His new range has four parts: three vessels – including a “whisky noggin” that could be used for a late night dram or a morning espresso – and carved cooking spoons with tapered handles designed to slide around a pan. His choice of wood depends on what is available from a local tree care program.

Originally from Devon, Alexander now lives and works on a canal boat in north London. He volunteers at a non-profit cooperative, where he teaches his craft to hobbyists. “After spending so much time feeling so useless, it’s very gratifying to create an object that has a new life of its own, and the ability to spread is very gratifying.”

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