A chat with Kate Gordon, Head Designer at Robert Gordon Pottery.
Robert Gordon started a long time ago, in 1945 with our Grandma’s first business The Pottery Cottage in Black Rock. Grandma studied ceramics at RMIT and went on to open her own studio with our Grandpa Colin. The family then moved to Gembrook and started Dyson studios, where my Dad first worked. In his early 20s he left the business and went overseas. He got as far as England, where he met my Mum. They fell in love, came home and branched out on their own (after realising it ain’t easy working with your parents…) and opened The Pack Track Pottery at our home in Gembrook. That was the early 80s and pottery was booming, so they quickly outgrew the shed in Gembrook and moved to a purpose built factory in Pakenham and re-branded as Robert Gordon. So, as you can see, it’s been a long history, with a few name changes along the way. Essentially, our family has been making pottery in Australia since 1945.
What’s your role there and how long have you been in the business?
I’m Head Designer at Robert Gordon. I’ve had this role for the past 19 years. Prior to that, like all my siblings I worked on the factory floor. I have been glazing in the factory since I was 15 – 25 years.
How have you seen the business change and evolve?
The business has changed and evolved as the market has. When the pottery first moved to Pakenham it was all about collecting pottery – the consumer demanded that we did a huge variety of shapes in the one design. People collected the ranges and wouldn’t stray from that one particular collection. The market has definitely become more fashion driven, the consumer now loves seeing new collections at least twice a year. People no longer collect pieces from one range, but like to add different pieces to their home. They tend to stick to a look and feel, e.g. Organic, hand made, rather than a specific design. This keeps us on our toes and we love it.
What’s your first memory of Robert Gordon?
My three siblings and I all grew up with the pottery in our backyard. We would sit next to the throwers and chat, watch the kilns be put in and the glazers at work. We had a pet magpie (Thatcher) who liked to sleep under the kilns in Winter. I remember regularly seeing her come screaming along the pottery floor with her head feathers smoking! I remember the times my brother would ask the throwers about their tattoos, being amazed that one man can chew so much gum to get so many pictures. And we all remember the early mornings on St Kilda markets when Dad or Mum would drag us down there to keep them company while they manned the stall.
What’s it like to be part of a family business?
It’s a classic case of its all we know. All four of us have worked here so many years, we just don’t really know any different. It am sure it has its plus sides and down sides, just like any job. But we’re all aware of just how lucky we are – particularly as parents of young children. We can be flexible with our hours and we can come and go, if our children need us. We also are all so passionate about what we do. It’s like we have clay in our blood.
Talk us through the process of how things are made – from conception to shelf.
All our pieces are designed here in Australia. I work closely with all my family members and Brent, our designer, on shapes and finishes. We then decide whether or not the range is for Australian production or off shore production. If we are making something in Australia, it first goes to our Master mould maker, who makes the moulds. The shape is then made using either a press, jigger or casting method. I work with a Ceramic Engineer on designing the glaze finish. And in the meantime, the piece is made, fettled, bisque fired. It then is glazed, fired and sampled. Sometimes you get the look and feel you are after first go, other times it can take months to get it right.
You just opened a cafe at your HQ, tell us about that? Why did this come about?
There was a great need for the Kitchen at our outlet store. Our outlet store has been in existence for over 25 years. It is very much a destination shop – off the highway, in a town called Pakenham, an hour south east of Melbourne. We have now created a whole experience for people. They can come here, paint a pot, shop our huge collection of ceramics (including seconds and samples) and sit down for a beautiful meal. Our mum is English, and my sister Hannah and I were both born in England, so we were happy to have an English chef aboard. The menu is a nod to our heritage – the best bacon sandwich, full English breakfast, among lighter salad offerings (the more Australian side).
What are you most proud of from your time at Robert Gordon?
There are two things I’m most proud of – our amazing product and absolute dedication to quality. And our staff that we work with. We work with the most amazing, hardworking bunch of people. Many of our staff have been here for over 15 years. That makes me proud.
Tell us about your collections from this year and what is to come?
We’re looking more and more at the country around us for inspiration. The colours of the Eucalyptus and the natural earth have really inspired our new collection. No longer are we embarrassed about kitch Australiana – we are embracing it this year and it’s super exciting.
What’s your favourite Robert Gordon product?
We launch our architectural fittings in February 2019. And I have to say, a sink in the Coast glaze is on my wish list…..that and our beautiful Carousel Coffee cups.