When Edith and Brian Heath began making ceramics in the late 1940s, their style didn't resemble much of the dinnerware that was popular at the time. Many people were purchasing decorative sets with floral motifs or gold-plated rims, often made overseas. But the Heath designs emerged from a philosophy and a set of values—through unadorned forms, simple glazes and exposed rims, they allowed the natural materials and human hands to come through. The final product told the story of California clay and California craftspeople. And that's still true.
We're employee-owned and committed to a living wage for all; and we're continually working to lower our ecological impact. When people approach us today to talk about Heath, they often reflexively hold up their empty hands, as if holding a bowl, because the feeling of the object is as vital as the object itself. Each time we see this gesture, it's an affirmation that the original intent of Heath's design still resonates—simplicity, with integrity, is enough.
The original intent of Heath's design still resonates—simplicity, with integrity, is enough.
As we enter the new year, we're thinking a lot about what enough means in 2022. We can't ignore the fact that we're nearly two years into navigating the pandemic, and grappling with a feeling of nostalgia for the times before. Yet we also know that there were things about the old "normal" that simply could not and cannot continue. To aspire for success became synonymous with growth, expansion, wealth and being constantly busy. But those signals of success don't often reflect a deeper sense of abundance. They represent more—more money, more stuff, more commitments—but by definition there's no end point, no arrival. During the past two years, we've had the privilege to be able to slow down and really ask ourselves what amounts to enough for us as individuals and as a company. The answer is pretty clear: If our business can support the wellbeing of our employee-owners, respect and renew ecological resources, and continue to develop creatively, then the conditions are right for progress.
We believe that creativity and making are important human endeavors. In a culture where commerce is necessary to support these activities, we exist to show that a balance can be struck without compromising what we value. That pursuit is what motivates our work every day. The pandemic forced a reset, and prompted us to make clear choices about where to push forward and where to let go. As a result, Heath today is an intentionally smaller business than we were two years ago. There are many things we like about it, and overall we're in a better place to remain sustainable for the long term. There are always new complexities to contend with, but we are gaining a sense of steadiness in accepting that change is guaranteed and perfection is not the goal.
While there's plenty we're ready to leave behind from these difficult two years, there's a renewal of focus and spirit that we don't plan to let go.
As we head into the next year, we're holding onto this powerful reconnection to what really matters. We're currently writing our next six-year vision, focusing on how we remain aligned with our values. By articulating the ways our approach to business has changed for the better, we can keep those positive shifts moving. It's a challenge to find an equilibrium between inspiration, motivation, and knowing what's enough in a society that's constantly telling us to want more. While there's plenty we're ready to leave behind from these difficult two years, there's a renewal of focus and spirit that we don't plan to let go. It's clear that we don't need to default back to the same old hustle for who we think we should be. After all, we know who we are: a couple of California designers with deep respect for our company's past, and great imagination for the future.
With gratitude, Cathy and Robin
PS – Leaving you with some inspirational reading that we've done over the past year, some new and some classic.
Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer Worth re-reading until the lessons and wisdom in this book become habits.
Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, by Anand Giridharadas For most of us that have read this far, what's "our part" in creating the social disparities that we wish didn't exist?
Dare to Lead, by Brené Brown We really hope this is not just "a moment"—amongst other things, seeing people for who they are and not for the things they do.
The Unknown Craftsman, by Yanagi Soetsu A classic to keep returning to. The importance of finding true beauty in imperfection, simplicity, and humility.
A Wild Idea, by Jonathan Franklin A biography of Doug Tompkins, who went from being an influential force in business to an influential force in conservation.
Designing Design, by Kenya Hara Resonating in particular are thoughtful chapters on the unexpected qualities of moderation, and the freedoms generated by the attitude of "this will do."
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig A philosophical classic, leading to a great rumination on why it's also so hard to explain what design is—in particular, good design.
Sustainable Home, by Christine Liu A refreshingly straightforward and practical guide for new habits that lower your ecological impact, like packaging-free grocery shopping and making your own toothpaste.
Assembling California, by John McPhee The geology of California and how it came to be, and a reminder to stay humble in the presence of forces that are much bigger than us. Really humble.