Brit McDaniel has always been drawn to functional artwork and creating pieces she can see herself using in her own life and home. This lifelong love for art is what led Brit to create Paper & Clay, a ceramics company focused on creating beautiful yet useful housewares. Now, nearly seven years after opening, Brit and her business continue to grow and celebrate numerous achievements. With a new South Main storefront opening in December and a collaboration with Etsy and “The Bachelor” contestant JoJo Fletcher, the future of Paper & Clay is bright and exciting. We’re pleased to introduce you to our newest FACE of Memphis, Brit McDaniel!
Tell us about how Paper & Clay came to be. Have you always loved art and ceramics?
I’ve always loved creating artwork, from monoprints in high school to photography and bookmaking (where the “Paper” in Paper & Clay comes from), but when I found clay in college, I was struggling to find my place. I took a ceramics class and immediately fell in love, but at the time I could not imagine how to make a living with my new-found passion. I was looking for financial stability after growing up without it, and at the time, that meant a “normal” job. I ended up taking a five-year break from college to work — and I suppose to find myself. When I was 26 or 27, I had a kind of breakthrough … well, maybe a breakdown. It was a painful time, but it led me back to ceramics and to the knowledge that I wanted to be my own boss. With that, I started making a plan to start my studio. I moved back to Memphis from Austin, TX, and finished my Bachelor of Fine Arts at the University of Memphis with a concentration in ceramics. Paper & Clay was officially founded in 2013 in a tiny Cooper-Young studio, and it has been my biggest passion since.
Where do you typically find inspiration for products, and what’s your process when creating them?
I design work based on what I need and want in my own home and life. I’ve always been drawn to functional work. I love the practicality, and there’s just something very special to me about artwork that you can use. I draw a lot of design inspiration from Scandinavian culture and the Bauhaus movement — both of which love to marry form and function in design.
We see our ceramic mugs as a tool to help our customers savor meaningful moments in their everyday routines. You may not have time to fully relax and enjoy your home every morning before work, but you can probably find time to be in the moment while you enjoy some local coffee from a handmade mug. We hope that the connection to a handmade piece can help make those moments more frequent and impactful.
You recently announced that the Paper & Clay storefront is moving to South Main. What inspired this move?
We have loved our space in the Broad Avenue Arts District for three-and-a-half years, but we have seriously outgrown it! After looking in several parts of town, we decided on South Main because of the beautiful architecture, community and the potential to add a permanent retail space to our studio. The location is perfect for Paper & Clay, as it will put us right between the Arrive Hotel and the Central Station Hotel/Bishop.
And we were just notified this morning that we have been awarded the DMC Retail Tenant Improvement Grant, finalizing all of our plans. We are excited to build out this beautiful space and share it with everyone very soon. We plan to open the retail shop at 525 South Main this December!
You also announced a new collaboration with JoJo Fletcher and Etsy. What can you tell us about that?
We were so honored that Etsy reached out to us about this project with JoJo! We thought it would be a great opportunity to share Paper & Clay with some new folks and challenge us to design more collaboratively. We worked on a plate design that is made to be carried around at cocktail parties. It has a generous lip to keep your snacks in place as you move about. We are really pleased with the result. I hope people check out some of the other designers featured, too. Fifteen makers in total are a part of the limited collection partnership with Etsy.
It’s no secret the pandemic has negatively affected a lot of small businesses, but you’ve gone above and beyond to help the Memphis community and have even donated to local organizations. Tell us about that.
We have been really fortunate to have built our business around e-commerce from the beginning. While we’ve had some adjustments during the pandemic and some hurdles around supplies and materials, we have not been impacted financially in the same way as other businesses. There is a lot more to say here about the way we have structured our revenue streams (and if there are any SBAs who’d like to chat about that, I welcome their emails and will do my best to offer advice). As we have continued to grow, we feel it is our responsibility to help hold up other small businesses and organizations where we can. We are a community, and by and large, we ebb and flow together. While our business is still quite small and can’t affect a big economic impact, we think the effort and intention are important. We hope to see other businesses do the same, particularly those who are larger and have a greater impact on the lives within our community. We should all be thinking about the long-term effects of our actions, not just how to be profitable in the moment.
Do you have a favorite Paper & Clay product? If so, what is it?
My favorite is usually what’s new and exciting. We have taper candle holders in the works right now that I can’t wait to share! But my true standard is always our coffee mugs. They are designed to feel great in your hands, hold just the right amount of coffee or tea (or wine … we don’t judge), and be durable enough to use every day.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
Oh, this changes for me. I think the best piece of advice pertaining to business is not to sell yourself short. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need and deserve — and the right customers will find you. It might require a little more patience, but you, your customers and your business will be better for it.
What are three light-hearted things you can’t live without?
Easy! Podcasts, a good candle or incense, and Ali Rohrbacher’s baking at Hustle & Dough.
To learn more about Brit and Paper & Clay, visit shoppaperandclay.com.