Have you ever wondered what it would be like (or, experienced it yourself) to have an established, independent business and realize that you don’t love what you’re doing anymore? You’re working too many hours, you’re exhausted, it’s taken over your life — and you’re not feeling connected to what you’ve worked so hard to build. Any of that sound familiar?
We’re sitting down with Amy Hamley (of the newly re-minted Amy Hamley Ceramics) to talk about what made her leave behind her studio on the east coast, her old business name and designs to reevaluate and start anew on the west coast. —Rebekah
Photography by Nicole Lev
Image above: Amy in her Oakland, CA studio among her new eponymous collection.
You recently relaunched your business with a new name (yours!), new style, and look. You had been an established brand for years under the moniker redraven studios -- what made you decide to change so much after you were already successful and for lack of a better term- "known?"
The name redraven studios was something that I made up in 2008 to open an Etsy shop. It never held any real meaning for me, but Etsy is where my business started, and my work had gained some popularity under that name. Although changing my business name was something I had been considering for years, I had a fear of leaving quite a bit of press and that recognition behind.
But it felt like the right time when I moved from Pittsburgh, PA to the Bay Area. When I left Pittsburgh, the only thing that I brought from my studio were my slip casting molds. I was unsure of what the future was going to hold, how long it would take me to lease a studio, and when I would become fully operational again. Truthfully, I was also burnt out. Orders coming into my inbox would stress me out rather than excite me. I was really missing the basics of why I chose the path of a ceramic artist, which was that I loved the material. I wanted to make work that truly felt inspired, reflected who I am, and challenged me.
So I gave myself some time to recharge and rediscover the love. I am in my third studio here in less than two years, but I finally settled into a space that functions well for me in June of 2016 in the Temescal area of Oakland, CA. Last spring, I started experimenting with glaze chemistry again and making new forms. I bought myself my first potters wheel that is 100% my own, ([hard to believe] for someone that has worked in clay since the late 90s I know, but I always had access to someone else’s) all of which rekindled my love of the materials.
After that, the new work came fairly effortlessly in terms of development. I wanted to continue making a table and home collection, so I focused on the glaze palette and surface treatment of the pieces. The regular product offering is a simple, monochromatic palette with some touches of 22k gold celestial and art deco accents. And one of the most exciting things to me about my new online shop is that I’ve left a one of a kind area for experimental pieces to keep me inspired in the studio.
All this said, launching under my own name suddenly became an easy decision. While still being product based and operating as both a business and an artist, it was important to me to make the distinction of no longer being a brand, but rather having my own identity.
While still being product based and operating as both a business and an artist, it was important to me to make the distinction of no longer being a brand, but rather having my own identity.
What was the catalyst, or the final straw, that made you feel ready to make such a big change?
Though my husband, Ryan, and I had talked about moving to the Bay Area for years, once he began applying for jobs in San Francisco, he found one quickly. We were excited and overwhelmed all at once, and we had many conversations about what we hoped this California move would bring to our lives.
These conversations helped me see how off-kilter my work/life balance had gotten. I was stocking a large number of stores, selling my work directly online, and still attending shows and pop-up markets, all while making the work alone. I was lucky to have the seasonal help of my sister, Kristy, a Pittsburgh-based wedding photographer — because her winter months were fairly open. But, even with her help, I was at the studio from around 10 am well into the early morning hours every day and night. I was exhausted, not taking care of myself at all, and completely burnt out. So the move from Pittsburgh to the Bay Area gave me permission to slow down and work less.
Around that time, I also came across an eye-opening blog post by Lisa Congdon. It perfectly captured what I was struggling with, my feelings of loving what I do, but realizing that I had also built my own prison.
The old business was successful, and if I am being honest, I was obsessed with it being successful. I had developed very unhealthy habits — like working around the clock — and it was completely my own doing. I mistakenly believed that I had to put myself through a crippling work schedule in order to be successful. But again, my cross-country move allowed me to step off that treadmill and gain some much-needed perspective.
Now, I intentionally keep my current offerings small and manageable for a one-person production studio. My days now are started with intention, limits, and most importantly exercise and self-care before going to my studio.
What was your biggest fear when you made the decision to leap and transition the business you had created for yourself, into one that better reflected who you are?
Time and money. My business was doing well in Pittsburgh, and to have the privilege of saying, “I simply don’t want to make these pieces anymore because I’m tired of them” felt… well… entitled?
But the reality is that artists change and grow all the time. I chose this career path because I love having the creative process in my daily life. And I found that when I shifted my focus on making new work, I also began to have more clarity about the way I wanted to work.
I used to say “yes” to most projects and partnerships, and I don’t do that anymore. Casting a wide net was great from a business perspective, but not for my personal well being. Now I try to focus on partnerships that call for reasonable amounts of production, fit well with my lifestyle, and benefit everyone involved.
What has been the hardest part of this transition, and have you had any pushback from customers or anyone else in your community?
The hardest part of the transition has been rebuilding. I knew moving 3,000 miles from my customer base, rebranding and launching an entirely new line of product would affect business, and so I planned ahead as best I could. I haven’t had any direct pushback, I’d describe it more as ghosting. But I have also received some really positive, wonderful messages surrounding the new work from many of my long-standing buyers and customers, and it sincerely means the world to me.
What is the hardest part of rebuilding awareness of a brand after you make a big identity change?
Definitely the shift in how social media feeds are organized. I used to be able to announce updates on Facebook or Instagram and know that a large amount of my followers would actually see it. With the change in algorithms combined with changing the name of my Instagram page, I lost a lot of interest, or people simply aren’t seeing it. It sometimes feels like I am rebuilding from the ground floor.
What are some of the ways you're actively working to bring parts of your original audience over to your newer customer base?
I recognize that the surface treatment and overall aesthetic of the new work may grab the attention of a different customer. That being said, many of my forms are familiar, the glaze and surface treatment simply got a makeover. I think of it like updating colors for a season, or specifically in my case, they were updated by the location of my landscapes. I primarily use Instagram for my social media, but have also just recently learned how fun Pinterest can be for your business, and hope to extend my audience reach with some inspiration posts.
What has the reception to your relaunch and new direction been?
The reception overall has been really great, which I am so thankful for. Apart from the success of the new work being imperative to my financial stability, I also think conversations about the way we work are becoming more necessary. The relaunch for me was one half about needing to move on from my old collection, and the other about finding balance between my personal and professional goals. I don’t know that I expect people to have a response to that part, but I started working for myself to have more control of my own path, and that’s what the intention of the new collection has been for me.
What advice do you have for anyone that's worked hard to create their own business, but realizes that they're no longer happy with what they've built?
One of the reasons it took so long to relaunch is that, for me, business IS personal. Whether or not I still identified with the older products I had been making didn’t mean that the business wasn’t important to me.
So in light of that, I would suggest taking time to pinpoint why they are no longer happy with what they’ve built. Once they’ve discovered the root of the problem, make a list of possible ways to find resolve and don’t hesitate to make the necessary changes. There is a big difference between giving something up and moving on and growing.
Deciding to let go of any part of something you’ve built and invested countless hours in can be extremely difficult. But the perspective and experience gained from being a business owner of any kind isn’t finite. Those are skills we can take with us on whatever path we choose to follow.
Lastly, we are so much more than our work, so take the time to find what brings you joy outside of your career.