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Claycups designer Katherine Mahoney on why clay is the way

By September 7, 2019No Comments

Claycups founder Steve Dyer had a vision, Sydney ceramicist Katherine Mahoney had the know-how – together they have revolutionised the reusable coffee cup market with a natural material that continues to stand the test time. Here Mahoney shares her thoughts on why clay is the ideal way to fight the War On Waste…


When did you first discover your passion for ceramics?
My brother was working in a pottery in Kent. I went to visit him and I fell in love with everything: the stacks of pots, the wheels, the clay covered floor, tightly packed kilns, ribbons of trimmed clay skimming off leather hard pots and more. I was taken as an apprentice and have been following my dream ever since.

How did you and Claycups founder Steve Dyer start working together?
I designed a range of bespoke tableware for his cafe at the time, Pusher. In those days not many cafes took a whole range, most just ordered coffee cups. Right from the start Steve wanted to make a reusable takeaway cup, so we decided to look into it. But it was a little while before it happened.

Katherine Mahoney (above) in her Sydney Studio. Image by Greg Piper

Was the concept of using clay instead of plastic for a takeaway cup a response to the War On Waste?
Well the War On Waste TV program came after we had started making the cups, but, to be honest, it couldn’t have come at a better time. The whole idea of using clay and not plastic is at the root of what I do. It was really, really, important for us to keep that green message coming through. You know: here’s something you can reuse not throwaway and, of course, being a purist, why would you even think of drinking from paper or glass or plastic when you can drink from clay? The whole feel is so much nicer.

Do you feel passionate personally about reducing your waste? Has your lifestyle changed much since you went on the Claycups journey?
I do and it has! I am so much more aware of the recycle-reuse issue than I ever was before. I always carry lightweight shopping bags in my handbag, so I can easily refuse plastic bags, even in an emergency. We are also now avid composters and so proud of how little we put in our bins. I have a “scrunchies” recycling bag in the kitchen and my studio, along with paper, and regular recycling. When I pack pots I use paper whenever possible and use bubble wrap donated by friends. In fact, amongst my friends I am the drop off point for boxes and packaging and I can reuse it all!

Can you tell us about your studio? Where do you make your ceramics?
I am lucky enough to have a studio at home tucked away at the bottom of my leafy garden. There I have a lovely quiet space in a wooden cabin that houses my wheels and glazes. The shelves are full of pots at all stages of the making process. My kiln lives in a separate tin shed and gets so warm and cosy – it is the place to be in winter on firing days!

Was it there that you made the first Claycup?
Absolutely. We didn’t realise how popular they would be. I made a few samples and they sold out within the hour. Steve said, “Get 100 to me as fast as you can.” And then he wanted another 100 after that, and we have not stopped running since then.

What inspired the look of the cups?
It had to be a cup that would hold “x” number of ounces, work well for baristas, fit under the coffee machine properly and have a lid that was easy to attach with an excellent fit. We had many meetings in my kitchen considering how to get these things right then Steve just held up a paper cup and I went, “Wow!” I just loved the simplicity of that shape with the funny turned over rim. Basically it was that I liked a really simple form.

 The glazes on the cups are so beautiful, what inspired them?
They are the textures and the colours I see around Sydney. Those are the colours of the sea, the colours of the granite and the rocks where you sometimes get those lovely speckled textures. They come from the Australian landscape. I make all the glazes myself and design them to be attractive with coffee in them.

Why use clay for a reusable coffee cup?
The appeal of a simple, natural material is huge. To take a piece of the Earth and make it into a functional item is extremely satisfying. After all, man has been using clay since around 14,000 BC to make pots and sculptures.

So we’re back to where we started?
Yes, that’s a nice way of looking at it. The studio clay movement is very strong at the moment and it’s probably because there’s so much technology around us that we want to touch base with something human that has the mark of the maker on it. I think the more we move into the technological age, the more people are keen to have something unique and bespoke.

What is it that you love about working with clay?
Oh, so many things! The material is so luscious, so pliable, so forgiving, but yet always the master. The immediacy of working with clay is hugely attractive for me and its versatility astounds me. So many things are made from clay: tiles, sculptures, and tableware… It’s the most wonderful and challenging material.

What will happen to a Claycup at the end of its lifespan?
At the end of its lifespan a Claycup could be used in so many ways. A cracked one could be home to a plant, a broken one incorporated into a mosaic or the shards used in the bottom of a large flower pot to help with drainage, or they could be broken up and used as rubble under a pathway. Ultimately, a broken piece of pottery could be excavated hundreds of years later and be wondered about by historians – or, given more time, simply erode into tiny pieces and become one with the Earth again.

Text by Helen Barry. Images by Greg Piper.

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