Rita Meets…Natalie Melton, co-founder of the New Craftsmen
The New Craftsmen is where I go for beautiful, unique pieces which really showcase the skill of the maker. Their growing network is made up of over 100 makers from across the British Isles, each one representing the very best of their craft. Here, I catch up with Natalie Melton to hear about how The New Craftsmen came into being.
What inspired you to launch The New Craftsmen?
We launched nearly five years ago now. All three of us (co-founders Mark Henderson, Catherine Lock and me) had been connected to craft in different ways in our careers and we spotted an opportunity to represent the work of British maker
s operating at the top end of the market. Our focus with The New Craftsmen is on the both the functional and domestic & the sublimely beautiful
What were you doing before that?
I was the commercial director at the charity Arts and Business. While I was there I helped set up a mentoring programme for makers called Crafted. That helped me see first hand the kind of challenges they were facing – and introduced me to Mark who was one of the mentors. In the contemporary art market the structure exists for artists to sell their work via galleries, agents, websites but nothing similar existed for craft. When we then met Catherine and found someone else who was as passionate as we were about craft, we started talking about a new way to showcase work and so The New Craftsmen was born.
There are three founders in total – how does that work in terms of your different roles?
Mark is Chairman primarily overseeing investor relations & finances, I’m Managing Director, responsible for growth and operations and Catherine, as our Creative Director, is responsible for our look and feel, sourcing products and working most closely with our makers.
You have such beautiful products on the site – where do you discover your makers?
In lots of different ways. We tour fairs and graduate shows looking for new designers. We also lean on our network of existing makers for recommendations, they’ve often made great new discoveries. Instagram is helpful plus we get out on the road as much as we can. We all come from different parts of the country so visits to family often coincide with visits to makers, craft fairs, workshops. The truth is though that although we see a lot of things but we actually choose very little.
Sum up The New Craftsmen in three words
Humanity, integrity, imagination.
Tell us a bit about the British craft industry at the moment; it seems like people are becoming increasingly aware of how and where things are made…
Absolutely. Its something that has been steadily growing since before we set up The New Craftsmen and it shows no sign of slowing yet. When we did Makers House with Burberry over 25,000 people came. We were seeing adverts for it on the side of bus stops! We had such a long queue we actually needed security for the makers – I loved the ridiculousness of a calligrapher needing a bouncer by her side
Craft is clearly the new rock and roll! What do you think has caused this shift in attitude?
I think we’re all so time poor these days, juggling so many balls and with ever shortening attention spans. In contrast to this, there is something extremely compelling about the purity of people who are able to lose themselves in one task…who can really get under the skin of making something beautiful. It’s wonderful to see.
Are there any emerging trend we should be aware of?
People are increasingly turning to colour, pattern and texture. I don’t know if it has anything to do with the current political climate and things feeling a bit glum but people seem to be craving some maximilism in their lives, a bit of eye candy.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career to date?
Its not so much a lesson but a person who has affected my career the most. It was my former boss, Colin Tweedy at Arts & Business that really instilled a love of craft in me. It was his passion that helped me to appreciate craft and look at things differently. Without his love of beautifully made things I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now.
What’s your favorite piece in your own home?
Ooh that’s a hard one. I have a really beautiful wool blanket that I bought in Scotland years ago. It has followed me round so many houses and just gets better with age. Wherever I go, it goes too and it always provides comfort. Life is so busy these days that being able to snuggle on the sofa, under that blanket, after a hectic week means more to me than anything else.
SHOP: see some of Rita’s favorite pieces from The New Craftsmen below