Wedgwood: The changing face of fine china

Ulrik Garde Due, of the flatware institution, explains how the company is evolving to meet the needs of modern consumers


There's a sense that fine china isn't something people buy anymore. But they just buy differently now – differently even to how they were buying just 10 years ago. People are into cocooning, so they still want to buy good quality things for their home, rather than the cheap and cheerful. They don't want tableware for big, set-piece dinners for 20, both because they may live in smaller homes and because they simply don't eat that way anymore. They sit in the kitchen and see eating as part of a wider interest in gastronomy.

Their taste isn't that different to that of their parents – they still want a certain timelessness. But they also want what they buy to be less ornamental, more functional and, above all, to be relevant. They're not about to buy precious pieces just to display on the mantelpiece. Nor are they into complete sets – they like to mix and match. Their approach to fine china fits the times we live in. And that's what Wedgwood has to do too.

To be honest when I was approached about the job I was surprised that Wedgwood still existed. And that kind of reaction is what we've been seeing with consumers out there. But Wedgwood is an unpolished jewel. It's waiting to be revived. In fact, there's a huge opportunity for it. Think about luxury English lifestyle brands now and I'm not sure who owns that position. Twenty-five years ago it might have been a brand like Laura Ashley, but not anymore, and I'm not sure Asprey has quite done it either. There's an opening.

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That doesn't mean that, while we must be modern, we should move too far away from our roots. It's about working with the archives, pulling ideas from them, and twisting those ideas where needed. It's something we've already done with Jasperware, a material Wedgwood was once famous for, using it to create pots for use rather than for show, but each having a marbling effect that's unique to it. In 1759, Josiah Wedgwood, the company's founder, was a real innovator – so there's still room for experimental, almost art pieces. He helped shape the fashions of the time. And we want to bring that back.

We also want Wedgwood to be seen in context again, for being British, and what could be more British than drinking tea? We've created a tea conservatory concept – part tearoom, part shop – that will tour across the US and Asia. We've even created our own tea blends to drink from our china too. It's experiential, which is an important part of anyone's appreciation for a brand these days. We launched it at this year's Chelsea Flower Show – Josiah's son John founded the Royal Horticultural Society – and were amazed when some 50,000 people came through it over five days. What we found was that a lot of people have fond memories of Wedgwood that they want to re-live. Wedgwood just needs freshening up to make it right for them again.

ULRIK GARDE DUE is the President of Fiskars Living Business, which owns Wedgwood. Something of a business turnaround expert, Garde Due has previously held senior positions at Burberry, Georg Jensen and Temperley;

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