Our new interview series aims to shine a light on New Zealand creatives, their work, and their story (in their own words). It’s also my hope that you’ll be inspired or encouraged in some small way in your own life, too. Being an independent creative or a solopreneur demands constant courage, faith and discipline. Following the path of your passion requires you to outgrow yourself over and over again. When all we see is someone’s highlights reel, it’s easy to ‘but they’ them. When the truth is, mostly they’re just ordinary people who’ve decided that the chance to live their dream is worth the long game of learning curves, sacrifice and self-mastery.
Potter and multi-disciplinary creative Hayley Richards lives in New Zealand’s ceramics capital of Nelson with fiancé Hayden (a chiropractor), their three daughters (Myah, 11; Ella, 8; and Chloë, 5) and the family puddy-tat, Inka. She runs her high-end but handmade, stylish and sustainable brand Kami and Kindred from home, crafting all her homeware and jewellery from a small studio space that’s part of the family’s historic villa property. Below, we chat about leaving behind an established career path to embark on a new one, self-care, challenges and pinch-me moments, and work/life balance.
Tell us the story of how you came to do ceramics full-time?
I’ve always been drawn to ceramics and over the years have built up a humble collection from various local and international artists that took my fancy. For my own personal interest, I took a pottery class 4 years ago, with an idea in mind to create a necklace. When I finished the class and produced the jewellery piece, I felt a sense of achievement and gratification that I hadn’t experienced before. A piece of art that I could see, touch, wear and enjoy all at once, made by my own hands, with natural materials from the earth – that feeling was magic. I was hooked. That was in 2017.
The variations within the art form are endless; technique, shape, colour, texture, size, clay bodies, glaze formulations, firing types along with the versatility in application for art only or practical daily use. The amount of learning and experimentation involved in this art form appealed to me as I really enjoy the creative stage of any project – new ideas, progression and change, not constant repetition.
When the course finished, I continued to work with clay on my own and made myself some earrings. Strangers often stopped me and asked where they were from and then if I could make them a pair. It was really just word of mouth orders for a while until a friend said to me, “Why don’t you set up an online store and start selling them?”
At the time, I was a practicing nutritionist along with being a full time mother. I’d also been running my nutrition and wellness blog called Gather Girl for around five years (involving writing, recipe creation, photography and more) and that outlet was the catalyst for many other business projects under the Gather Girl umbrella including producing whole-food products (Alana’s edit: Hayley founded a successful Chai business and was also one one of the first in NZ to make and supply coconut yoghurt to cafes and supermarkets), running workshops, styling ‘gathering’ events and personal health coaching. I was super passionate about the industry, but over time it began to wear on my family and myself, and I felt I needed a change to look after my own health. So as a step back from it, and to indulge my new found passion, I hired a model, makeup artist and photographer, styled a shoot, designed a website and made them available online. It really took off.
I was still operating Gather Girl up until mid 2018. Over the course of a couple of years I gradually stepped back from it, by letting go of one thing at a time, until it was all wrapped up. I still take on the odd health coaching session even though I’m full time Kami and Kindred.
So, you had a whole different career path before pivoting and crafting out a completely new work life for yourself. What insights can you share with someone who might be contemplating giving up one path they’ve invested years into, to start down another path?
I believe we should be constantly growing and evolving as individuals, as is the world we live in. Just as our individual style changes over the years, so do our interests and we should be free to follow our hearts.
Transitioning from nutritionist to ceramicist was a gradual process for various reasons. I had invested years of time and energy building my company Gather Girl and I felt a real sense of duty to continue, especially for those who relied on me for health advice. But I quickly realised I had to take my own advice to create a more holistic balance and have the courage to make changes to my life.
Sometimes you have to say ‘no’ and do what’s right for you and that is ok. In the end, that realisation liberated me enough that I felt I could change the direction of my life completely. I gradually stepped back from the various hats I was wearing and closed my business.
It was scary, but I trusted that people would love and purchase my ceramics. I was more available to my family and to be honest, I loved what I was doing so much, that I didn’t even care if others bought my pieces or not! I was happy, my family was happy, and that’s all that was important.
I loved my career as a nutritionist and thought that would be it forever. I would have never thought I would be a ceramicist selling internationally, let alone having my works displayed at a national art gallery! I still pinch myself. Life is what we make it. Do what makes you happiest. Money is important in that it affords opportunities, but I believe that it should be the afterthought – the bonus prize when you fulfil your passion and share it with others.
Tell us about your studio space – it’s beautiful!
My studio is a converted galley kitchen, located downstairs in our home. We have a large two-story villa, C.1890. When we bought the house, it was functioning as two separate flats, upstairs and down. As we had children, we converted it into one big family home. The downstairs kitchen was a commercial kitchen space for my chai and yoghurt at first, then when I stopped making these products it was surplus to our needs, so we converted it into a pottery studio. I love it!
To fit with my sustainable principles I made the decision last year to convert our house (including studio) to solar power. It takes a huge amount of electricity running my kiln – which is often these days, with both bisque and glaze firings and the amount of work I am now producing.
Slowness is a Kami and Kindred value. Tell us what this Slow approach means, practically, in your business?
Kami & Kindred adopts ‘Slow Fashion’ principles. Slow Fashion is the movement of designing, creating, and choosing garments (or in my case jewellery and homewares) for quality and longevity. The idea is to create and purchase well-made, timeless pieces that can be enjoyed for a lifetime rather than ‘fast fashion’ trends. Slow fashion encourages slower production schedules, lower carbon footprints, and (ideally) zero waste. It also brings a more human element into it rather than mass-manufacturing production methods.
In addition, I have a ‘make to order’ business model. Orders placed by stores are made to order, in a timeframe that I set that works in with me being a full-time mother. I don’t rush, I take the time needed to create pieces that are without faults, imbued with my energy and love for the craft. Wheel-throwing ceramics demands a different kind of energy, flow and focus than I have had ever experienced before. When I’m not in the right space to create, I lose pieces and often the hours spent throwing are wasted. I have to work to deadlines, but within that time the pieces are made on my terms and I’m really grateful for that aspect of my business.
My selection process for stockists also includes this value. Owners of conscious stores that have a similar philosophy and understand that good things take time, there is a process, that I’m a mother, not a factory, and are happy to get in the queue and wait for their ceramics.
Kami and Kindred pieces at use in Hayley’s own home, including the loved Shell Jewellery Dish
What have been the most valuable ways you’ve learned and honed your craft?
I’m completely self-taught with the exception of the hand-building pottery class I took years ago. I have learnt the technical skill of this craft through patience, and dedication to practice – from researching, and visually through videos of ceramicists throwing on the wheel. My inspiration comes from within and from looking at the world around me with an eye for design.
I invested in a complete studio set up very early on as our local clubs had a policy that you could not be a commercial potter if you were a member, but I would recommend those interested in trying ceramics to first join their local club, take a class, talk to others and soak up all the knowledge you can before going out on your own. Pottery equipment is really expensive so the longer you can access club equipment and experiment the better!
Tell us about a couple of career highlights of the past two years?
Some of my favourite stores around the world that I have frequented over the years (either physically when visiting the country, or online) have reached out and asked to supply them with my ceramics, that gives me a buzz! I feel really honoured to be both in their stores, and have my products next to such incredible other makers. It’s a very cool feeling walking past a storefront and seeing your pieces in the window or in hard copy in a magazine!
I was also recently selected to exhibit my work at a National Art gallery, that was certainly a highlight and a “Who, Me?!” moment.
Above all else, I really love connecting with people and knowing what I do brings them happiness. There’s a real disconnect when supplying stores my products wholesale – I have no idea who these are sold to, as opposed to when people are shopping via my instagram or website. I often get emails saying thank you for their ceramics, and that it has brought them real pleasure.
How has your work evolved in the past couple of years? This could be your aesthetic style, or your working process/approach…
It has evolved tremendously! It’s always changing, which I love so much. But it does all have a very particular underpinning aesthetic and style, which shows through all my work. My ceramics are distinctively ‘Kami and Kindred’ – that wasn’t planned, it just results naturally. I started by hand-building jewellery only, and later produced wheel-thrown functional homeware pieces. I look back at the first wheel- thrown pieces I made a few years ago and can’t believe how much my work has progressed!
I’m now more precise, and can produce multiples of pieces that are consistent in shape and size eg. plates that stack well and matching sets. My proficiency and confidence has grown, and with it my ability to attempt more challenging pieces. I have developed my own personal throwing style and methods that work for me with the occasional inspired tip from fellow ceramicists.
I have my core clays and glaze formulations, but I like to experiment with other clay bodies and glazes when I can. As I’ve mentioned previously, my favourite part of all my business ventures has been the design phase – whether it be website creation, a food product, designing labels and print collateral or styling shoots. I have my staple pieces which are hugely popular like travel mugs and incense holders, but I bring out new pieces regularly too in limited numbers and really enjoy having creative expression over custom orders for stores too.
Above: Matisse earrings. The Kami and Kindred brand began with modern jewellery, and Hayley has just released her latest collection, Seaside Wayfarer. This collection uses a combination of Japanese porcelain and stoneware, all handmade by Hayley herself. The gold pieces are designed by Hayley and made in Italy.
What sacrifices have you made to work for yourself and follow your passion?
Aside from ending my career as a nutritionist to make ceramics full time, it also came with leaving a stable income. Sometimes it’s weeks or months between pay days, depending on when I fulfil orders, so not having the regular income has been a real learning experience and hard at times.
I have sacrificed and continue to sacrifice time with my family and friends, which is really hard. The upside of that is that my daughters see their mother as a hard-working, successful and independent woman and that is an important value for me to instil in them. The bonus of this work is that they can grab a bit of clay and play while I work beside them.
Physically and mentally the work can be demanding, and I need to balance this so it doesn’t take too much of a toll.
What are the key challenges (overall, or more ‘current’ challenges at this stage of your career)?
Juggling work and mum life, definitely! I try to work when the girls are at school, and be mum/present when they are home, but over the years as Kami and Kindred has grown that’s not always possible. I sometimes struggle with the guilt of working when I should be spending time with them but again, remind myself that it’s not often and during those times they are seeing their hardworking, independent mum as a role model.
Saying ‘no’ to orders or stores can be hard. Keeping up with demand and fulfilling multiple large store orders in a timely manner, often 6-12 at any one time can be a challenge too.
Hayley and her family in their villa home
Holistic wellness is obviously an important value in your life. What are some of the important ways you take care of yourself (physically, spiritually), or what are your wellness recommendations for busy creatives?
Absolutely. Proper nutrition, daily movement, adequate sleep and creating time for myself and loved ones are some of the non-negotiables in my life these days. With three busy daughters and long days in studio, those things sometimes aren’t achievable every day, but I do try.
I’ve also learnt to let go and not push myself too hard constantly. It’s so easy to get caught up in the business of life and put yourself last. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt over the years, it is that you need to turn up for yourself if you want to give the best version of yourself to others.
Some lovely self-care practices I adopt and recommend are: gentle yoga, walks, drink plenty of water to help keep you focused, eat lots of plant-based whole foods and getting together with my close friends to wind down and drink some wine together! I am also extremely fortunate to have a chiropractor on hand to adjust my spine from hours hunched over the wheel.
Some tips for busy creatives: Create separate music playlists for work, exercise and downtime (music really helps me work and get in the flow), learn how to say no, carve out time in your schedule (especially if you work from home) to socialise with friends and family and have alone time doing something that you love, create a network of creatives to inspire you and to share, chat or meet with regularly – it’s amazing how full your cup feels when you get lovely feedback and have other minds to bounce ideas around with! Adequate rest is also so important, a well-rested mind is always more creative!
How do you organise your workload / how do you organise your time, especially being a mum?
I gave up trying to adhere to a strictly planned-out week a while ago, so now I just try to loosely plan my days as I feel there’s less pressure on myself that way if I don’t get it all done, or something else comes up, especially with the kids. I’m still figuring out how to distribute my time between all the things I want and need to do in a day, but normally my days go something like this:
Weekday mornings are spent getting my girls ready for school. We try to walk to school as often as possible, so I know that if I can’t fit in exercise that day, at least I have walked for 20 minutes. When I’m back home I’ll have my breakfast in the sun and start planning my day. If my workload is really heavy, I spend all 6 hours in the studio while the kids are at school.
If I’m mostly on top of the work, I will exercise in the morning and maybe meet a friend for coffee, do housework, and a little work in the studio or on updating my website.
Afternoons are spent playing with the girls and helping with their homework, preparing dinner and simultaneously making lunchboxes for the next day (my mornings flow so beautifully if I’ve prepared everything the night before). Then there’s the eternal housework chores, bath/book/bed for the girls and in the evenings when Hayden has worked later we sit together when he comes home and have dinner, maybe a glass of wine or a negroni while we share our day.
In terms of managing workload, I write down all my orders in a notebook and date them, then look ahead 3 orders and try to make them all together to fill the kiln – say in each of those 3 orders there might be a total of 60 travel cups, so I start on those, then say 20 ubud vases, 20 mugs etc. I almost always have 6 large orders at any one time, plus website orders, so I do work every day in the studio – either making, firing, glazing, wrapping/packing, updating my website and answering emails, taking and editing photos of new homeware pieces or jewellery collections, updating social media etc.
It’s a lot to manage, but I feel that’s a big part of my success, that because I do all those things, each and every part of Kami and Kindred is authentically me and matches up. I think people can see the passion and love in everything, from photos to product. I wouldn’t achieve the same result outsourcing any or all of these elements.
What are a couple of more deeper-rooted lessons you’ve learned that you could pass onto someone else?
Working with clay has taught me not to be so attached to material things. Everything is impermanent. I can open a kiln one day and a whole lot can be ruined and needs to be thrown away. You can pour so much work into something and do everything right, but at the end of the day, it’s in the hands of the kiln gods and you just have to accept that you’re not in total control – and that’s OK.
Another really big thing was that although I’ve always loved good quality things, being someone who now fully understands the amount of time, love, passion and energy that goes into a product makes you fully understand the true value in quality items. Without someone appreciating that and paying for it, you couldn’t afford to continue to create those beautiful things for the world.
Pour Over Coffee Set (can also be used with tea, as Hayley is doing here)
What is a dream project of yours! (Let’s speak it into being!)
When the kids are older and Hayden has finished his term as president (of the NZ Chiropractors’ Association), I would love a studio space with a store front, seperate from home. I have always loved interior and fashion design, and I envisage a store with some beautiful pieces for the home, my ceramic homewares and jewellery, some loungey linen clothing pieces, and an area for an espresso machine so you can sit down between shopping and relax whilst listening to some good music.
For now, I’m happy with my in-house studio and the freedom to manage my days how I want, to be free to parent, help at school, exercise, meet with friends – without the stress of managing staff, opening daily, extra overheads etc. One day the time will be right!
Who are some other ceramicists or creatives you admire?
Florian Gatsby – UK. He’s incredible. I love how he shares his process, in a very detailed and beautiful way. I’ve learnt a lot from his videos and knowledge he passes on. His ceramics are next level – so precise, so planned out, so methodical, beautiful muted colours and simple forms.
Tortus – Copenhagen. Tortus wheel-throws large vessels, he’s mesmerising to watch. I don’t make pieces anywhere near as big as his and truely admire the skill. He also has amazing arms!
We love a good recco – What’s your fave music / podcast / series / drink while throwing clay?
I love this Apple Music playlist- Pure Yoga – at the moment. Other fave albums to listen to whilst working would be Fiest, Portishead, Tora, Petite Biscuit, Tiny Ruins, Madeline Peyroux and Banks to name a few!
Drinks – I fill up a 2L bottle of water in the morning and have that next to me to sip on during the day. I love herbal tea too so usually have one of those next to me. I love Orchard St teas, they are all so good.
I’ve tried to do the whole podcast thing whilst throwing, but find my mind just needs to focus on what I’m making – background music is definitely my thing to help my flow state.
Looking back at yourself, what things have been instrumental in your success in your career?
Authenticity has been a key driver. I try not to follow any trends and in fact I actively move away from them to try to keep my work original, distinguishable and genuine. Everything I have done has been an extension of myself or my passion, and is authentically me – from the way I style a shoot, to the colours I use and forms I produce. I have found freedom and success in self-belief, making things that I love for myself and if people want them that’s great, if not, that’s ok too!
I have sacrificed and hustled to get where I am, I’m definitely not an ‘overnight success story’! Consistency and hard work are instrumental in success.
I’m very grateful to have created a successful business and I hope it lasts for many more years. I never really know where my work will take me next, it’s always a surprise and so varied which keeps me inspired. Sometimes I get asked to make brides/bridesmaids earrings, other times a series of coffee/tea cups for hair salons, or create pieces for galleries, I just go with the flow and it’s lovely as I really value change.
My own design store Sunday is proud to be a stockist of Kami and Kindred. Our first beautiful drop is coming soon, including a Kami and Kindred X Sunday exclusive piece.