A Graphic Designer who left H&M headquarters faces the reality of matching high demand for her quirky ceramics with only her own two hands.

 

Marie Chanteur originally moved from Lyon, France to Stockholm, Sweden for her first major professional job – designing prints for H&M headquarters. More than 6 years later, she used a leave of absence to explore her interest in diverse hand-built ceramic shapes and establish her own company. Marie recently finished her leave of absence, and is in a transitional phase, supplementing her new profession in ceramics with graphic design freelancing for more financial stability than ceramics currently provides.

How do you describe what you do right now? Other than the infamous boobies cups…

I am doing mostly ceramics, and also illustration. I do ceramics full-time right now until I start freelancing. My ceramics are kind of functional, and kind of arty, expressing whatever I see around. It’s a therapy, to be able to express myself, and it’s nice that people also like it. I’m in a studio here and I work 3 days a week.

I started when I had tjänstledig (Swedish leave of absence) from H&M, so I had a lot of time for me. The whole point of my leave was to do a lot of ceramics – I needed something different.

 

 

 

Marie Chanteur boobies cups ceramics stacked

Marie Chanteur hairy legs candle holders

I was checking accounts, and seeing if I actually could live for 6 months with nothing coming in. It wasn’t just decided one day.

 

What was your role at H&M before this?

I have been a textile designer for H&M for over 6 years. I was also working on Divided girls accessories. It was fun, but after a while sometimes, it’s just not enough. It was my first real job, coming directly from France and moving to Stockholm, and I did not really see opportunity for me to grow there anymore. I’d already been thinking, for maybe 3 years, that I needed to find something else, and either it would be another company, or something very different.

I’ve always been someone who likes creating stuff with my hands. It’s something I missed as a print designer because everything is so digital.

How did you get into ceramics and take the first step?

I realized I wanted to learn something – a new skill. I started to do ceramics on the side, after work, with a friend. And actually, I didn’t even make that choice myself. A few of us got a ceramics class for her as a birthday gift and she didn’t want to go alone, so I went with her. I started doing ceramics a year and a half ago. Before taking my leave of absence, I’d been doing ceramics for maybe a year, once a week.

I started my leave from work this year – it was 6 months. It’s so good that you can do that with some companies, so I took the chance, and of course I had savings. It wasn’t from one day to another. I was checking accounts, and seeing if I actually could live for 6 months with nothing coming in. It wasn’t just decided one day.

 

 

 

Marie Chanteur boobies cups after the first firing

Marie Chanteur collection of diverse ceramics on a shelf after firing

H&M did an exhibition to show what all the employees are doing as a hobby…I got really good feedback.

 

What steps did you go through from deciding you needed something beyond your ‘day job,’ to starting your ceramics brand?

First, I said I just want to do ceramics. And I knew some people actually wanted to buy them since people who saw them at an H&M exhibition actually did buy them.

What also helped me start was when I heard that a friend in my hometown was opening a store. I really liked her style, so I emailed her to see if I could sell to her. She said she was about to contact me! It was really exciting. With her, I sometimes just see if she wants what I have ready.

I’ve also been sending to Fine Little Day in Sweden. That was random, they just contacted me. With them, it’s more placing orders.

What’s your biggest challenge?

With ceramics, it’s really hard to keep track of. Ceramics is quite random.

Sometimes it comes out of the kiln and it’s really f*#&ed up, so it’s hard to respond to someone who says they need 10 by this date. Sometimes, it’s just not gonna work.

Right now, I’m winging it and people are quite understanding. I try to be clear that I’m really all by myself. Also, I’m trying to start a web shop, but shipping is really tricky with ceramics!

Did anyone help you get started?

H&M did an exhibition to show what all the employees are doing as a hobby. Last year was the second time, and I had just started with ceramics, so I thought I could show them to get an idea of what people think. I got really good feedback.

Also, my mom has helped me. It’s so cheesy, but I really look up to her. She has her own business – my sister and mom both work with business – so I get to ask how adding tax works in other countries, stuff like that. My mom was my mentor in the business way.

 

 

 Marie Chanteur mishmash print design, Marie's work beyond ceramics

Marie Chanteur Mishmash print design framed

At the moment, I’m such a small production…I should make a lot more stuff to make a living off of it.

 

Are you selling enough to support yourself?

No, I wish. I’m trying to figure out how to support myself, but I have a feeling that people who can make money, they do it with their workshops.

At the moment, I’m such a small production, and you can’t price your stuff so expensive because nobody will buy it. I should make a lot more stuff to make a living off of it.

It’s a really long process from making it to glazing and firing. I’d been doing the opposite before – making prints really fast, producing a lot. I wanted to get away from that with the ceramics – slow production and coming back to learning a skill, getting good at it. And from start to end, you are responsible for the whole process. You don’t really have that in many jobs anymore.

How will you support yourself in the future?

I need to work on my print portfolio because I need to start working as a freelancer. That would be the steady income, so I can keep working on the ceramics.

It’s hard because I’ve done prints for almost 7 years, and I don’t really want to. I’ve been avoiding it. It’s so fun to do the ceramics, but I just know I have to do the freelancing, too.

How will you balance freelancing and ceramics?

That’s gonna be the challenge. But I’m kind of happy that I only go 3 days to my studio – that I don’t have access full time – because it helps to organize.

I know these 3 days, I’ll do ceramics. The other days, I do the prints or the administrative stuff – the paperwork, the taxes, the side stuff you don’t really think about when you start a company. Right now, that’s how I organize my week.

I think when I start freelancing and there are all the deadlines, it’s gonna be a lot. But I also took a break for 6 months, so I have a lot more energy. And it’s my company, so I’ll be willing to put in more hours to make it work. I think it’s a matter of discipline and being organized, and if you want it, you’ll make it work.

 

 

 

 

Collection of Marie Chanteur ceramics in a bubble bath

Marie Chanteur's boobies cup on orange

Some days I can work for 12 hours, some just 5 hours because the creativity isn’t there and I don’t think you should force it.

 

Do you budget your spending?

Yes, now I’m saying no to more things. Like yesterday, I went to a market with friends and they wanted to go with Uber and for me it was like, “Oh that’s fancy.” If there’s a way that’s free, I’m gonna take that way.  I’m a bit more careful. I don’t go shopping anymore.

With clay, materials, do you calculate the amount for X number of pots and how many to sell to cover costs?

Now, with the price that I get for the boobies cup, and I know it weighs this much, I should do that. But I don’t. When I get more into efficient production and a solid business, that needs to be more precise. For now, I’m not so organized in that sense!

What have you had to learn?

Book-keeping. All the taxes, when you have to declare. Here, at the tax agency, you can go to a course where they tell you all about taxes when you start a business, which is great.

You need to register your brand. It’s maybe a little bit of money you didn’t really think of.

Keeping all the receipts now, and actually organizing that. Doing inventory of all the stuff I’m making. But I kind of like that. Keeping a list and being like, “Oh I’ve done that!” That feels quite good!

What does a typical studio day look like?

I’m not a morning person, so I’m not there at 7 but trying to be there at 10:30. I go to the table and either do something that’s in progress and I need to finish, or something for a fair, since I know some shapes I need to have. I might make 10-15 of them in a row, just bam bam bam, get them out. But sometimes I’m free-styling.

Now I’m trying to work with colors. There’s a lot of stuff I don’t know about ceramics, so I’m trying to balance between having a goal with the business and still trying to experiment.

Some days I can work for 12 hours, some just 5 hours because the creativity isn’t there and I don’t think you should force it.

Sometimes I have to make 8 boobies cups, and maybe I’ll make 6 in the end. And if I’m really motivated I’ll go over the plan, and make a little more of the boobies, because I know that’s the one that people want.

 

 

 

Marie Chanteur cutting clay for the next boobies cup

Marie Chanteur shelf displaying ceramics in progress

 Marie Chanteur shelf with feet and tools for ceramics

I think you have to be a person who actually makes stuff. A lot of people just have a lot of ideas.

 

Do you get really sick of anything?

Doing the boobies! Not sick of it, but sometimes I need to do a lot of them, and then it’s a bit ugh.

I’m trying to do bigger pieces. I can’t work tiny. The toes are really hard to make. Sometimes it just doesn’t go the way I want and I have to say, “I’m just gonna put this on the side.”

Okay, tell me about your boobies cups.

I’d been doing sketches of people, or a physical feature of people that I really liked, and then drawing feet. I don’t really like feet, but I find them funny so I was sketching them. Then it came quite naturally to do the boobs. I’ve tried butts, but it doesn’t look good!

I have quite big boobs and maybe its something that’s…a symbol of myself. It’s very unusual to see boobs on pots. People really liked it, and it felt really natural to build them.

Do you have any sort of philosophy or attitude that you think has helped you do this?

I think you have to be a person who actually makes stuff. A lot of people just have a lot of ideas.

And its really scary in the beginning. That first 24 hours after quitting, I was like, “Oh my god am I actually quitting my super stable job?”

I have friends who say they wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing. You need to be a bit brave I guess. But I don’t think I’m super brave or special.

I feel like I have so many more possibilities now, I look at it that way. Everything is possible. Sometimes scary, but possible.

 

 

 Marie Chanteur putting together the boobies cup

Ilikemakingstuff logo for prints and ceramics works

All photos of finished ceramics were taken by Marie.

 

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Marie’s boobies cups and other ceramics can be purchased via Le DadaShop in France and Fine Little Day in Sweden. Her ongoing work is found here, and on Instagram.

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Want to read another story about hands-on making? Try here and here.

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