Hitting The Mark

Hitting The Mark

Conversations with founders and investors about the intersection of brand clarity and startup success with your host, brand strategist and author Fabian Geyrhalter.

Fabian

EP087 – East Fork: Alex Matisse, Founder

Strategic Clarity + Verbal Clarity + Visual Clarity

Alex Matisse, who made it a strategic point not to name his brand after his famous last name (yes, he is the great-grandson of one of the most influential artists to ever live, Henri Matisse), co-founded East Fork, a pottery brand I cherish and study from the outside for a lot of reasons, all of which you will learn more about during this very sincere and insightful conversation.

 

Alex and I talk about the soul of a brand and how to keep it intact, his dislike of the word authenticity, the constant – which he sees as positive – struggle that drives his artisanal ‘made in the US’ business, and how he and his two Co-Founders created a brand that those who know came to love and even obsess over.

 

Yet another conversation that reminds me of why I love bringing this show to you – and why I love spreading these insights on the often intrinsic art of crafting brands people truly love.

Notes

Fabian Geyrhalter:
Welcome to the show, Alex.

Alex Matisse:
Thank you so much for having me. Pleasure being here.

Fabian Geyrhalter:
It’s a huge pleasure to have you here. We are recording this on the Friday before Labor Day weekend, so a double thank you for you to make this time today.

Alex Matisse:
Of course.

Fabian Geyrhalter:
Let’s start with the story of you building a 36 foot long wood burning kiln to what today is the East Fork brand. It’s a brand that I, as someone who lives and loves and breathes branding absolutely looks up to and gets inspired by. I know it’s a big question, the whole story, but paint our listeners the picture of how one thing led to another and how you always stayed true to your purpose and vision really from day one.

Alex Matisse:
Sure. So yeah, we have a pretty unusual origin story to a lot of the companies that are out there that maybe look and feel a little bit like East Fork and are selling dinnerware or something like that. I founded the company and at that point it wasn’t really a company, I had no dream or desire to, or premonition that what exists today would grow out of what I was doing, aside from I wanted to do something kind of impactful at scale, but I had no idea what form it would take. I had finished three years of very formal apprenticeship. I dropped out of college, I went to go work for a potter that I had met when I was in college. I worked for him for two years in this sort of very specific school of making, then I went and worked for another potter in that same school for what he called finishing school and left the apprenticeship, moved back to western North Carolina, bought an old farm and started building this large kiln and some buildings, met Connie.
But in the beginning I was making pots on a potter’s wheel, firing them in this large wood burning kiln that would hold a thousand to 2000 pieces. We did three, four firings a year and selling them to this collector base of very fanatical people, mostly in the southeast, who bought pottery in this kind of tradition that exists here. And so from the beginning it was always about a love of the ceramic vessel and making things out of clay. And that has certainly shifted in how we do that, but still obviously remains central to what we do. The shift took place a few years in, I’d been making pots, selling them, going to some craft shows. We would have these kiln openings where we would send out a postcard to our small mailing list and people would show up at nine in the morning excited to see the new pots that came out of the kiln and we’d sell them all. And we’d always sort have an event like Connie would cook a bunch of food and it would be this really beautiful community moment, and it was how we made our money.
Few years into doing that, a friend of mine came out to visit and he was just finishing up an apprentice with another potter that was in our little family of potters and said, What do you think about working together? And it was an odd thing for two potters to work together under a studio name that weren’t married. Oftentimes you see spouses working together under a name of a pottery, but rare to approach it this way. But we figured we’d give it a shot and so John came out, John is now our CFO, and we started making work. We’d stamped it East Fork, which I had named it East Fork from the very beginning. Most potters also name their pottery after themselves where we live. So it’s like Mark Hewitt Pottery, Matt Jones Pottery. Those were the two people that I worked with.
I named it East Fork Pottery, I think probably mostly because I was trying to of run away from my last name and wanted something that lived outside of that. People would still ask me to sign the bottom of pots and you can never escape that. Although now actually the majority of our customers have no idea of that small footnote in our history and it’s just a little added bonus when people discover it. But John, I sort of went off track there. John came out, we started working together and we got this idea to design a line of pots that we would make and sell, and then we would go back to the wood kiln and then we would make our art pieces. We noticed ceramics having another kind of moment in the sun. It’s sort of cyclical, maybe every 10 or 12 years it enters the zeitgeist again. So Team Magazine was writing up these potters in Brooklyn and LA-

Fabian Geyrhalter:
I remember seeing that actually.

Alex Matisse:
Yeah, and it was a real thing. I mean it still is, but it had a real moment. And we thought we had something to contribute to that conversation. And we saw all of our current collectors, they weren’t getting any younger, there weren’t a whole lot of people coming in and following in their footsteps, and we wanted to speak to a larger community essentially. So we started putting more work online, and then we bought this little gas kiln from the Netherlands and it was completely computerized. So the switch was driving, I say this often, but it’s going from driving around a Conestoga wagon to buying a Tesla, and it still moves you through time in space and gets you from one point to another, but in a very, very different way.
And buying that automated gas kiln, that was the first big step for us. And we released this line that had different colors, some of them are still in the core collection, some of them have drifted off, some of them have returned. And we sent out a postcard to all of our people saying, “Hey, look at this new stuff that we’re making.” And we expected some people to come out and check it out. Usually for these kiln openings, you’ve got a line out the door by about 8:30 or nine when you open and nobody showed up, not a soul. Normally there might be 50, 60 people milling about excited to buy the pottery. And about 11:30 one little car kind of bumps up the gravel driveway. And so it was a funny start to the thing, obviously it certainly turned around. And around that time, Connie had always been involved on the periphery.
She would follow us around with the iPhone and take photos and put them on Instagram and help with the sales and those sorts of things. But she started to get more involved and then the three of us really got serious and she came on full time. We started hiring some people and eventually the new work that we were making still all by hand at this point took off and we never fired that wood kiln again. And we ended up selling that place when we moved into Asheville when we needed a real manufacturing facility. So that was the early days and the shift. Connie would focus on brand and marketing, and I focused on production and infrastructure and finding new ways to make things. And John is our CFO, made sure we never ran out of money. We haven’t yet.

Fabian Geyrhalter:
That’s good. What an amazing chump from him actually being hands on creating, to do in the finances. That’s unheard of.

Alex Matisse:
I mean, it started when we were doing the kiln openings. Connie and I are pretty horrible at that part and so it was natural. And John’s parents are both accountants, and so they would come out and sit with a little cash box and reconcile the sales from the day. And then John just took that over. He got a letter from the government one time saying, “Oh, you needed to pay this sales tax.” And he filed it and paid the tax and then that was it. John was doing it.

Fabian Geyrhalter:
Should have not done that.

Alex Matisse:
And now our finances, we have board members who have been on the board of publicly traded companies and they say that our financial reporting is bar none some of the best they’ve ever seen. So is he’s both a talented artist, designer, he’s a poet, beautiful writer, and he’s obviously really good at the finances.

Fabian Geyrhalter:
Well, and in talking about legacy and I know this is not something that you want to be affiliated with the brand as you called it, a footnote before. I think it is absolutely remarkable how you moved away from your last name and how you did this very purposefully and how you somewhat as much as you can possibly succeed in it, actually succeed in that. But you are the great grandson of one of the most influential artists to ever live, Henri Matisse. How did you, I have to bring it up because otherwise, you’re succeeding too much in it.
But I’m really curious, and this has nothing to do with really with your brand and this has nothing to do with branding, but how did you navigate the expectations or the pressure, or potentially as it’s so often is the case, even the idea of resisting art altogether, as a profession, obviously you thrive now off of your passion of crafting and you always have and you created something marvelous out of it. But how was it growing up with that constant reminder of your family’s legacy and now you’re in it and you found you complete own path and you’re extremely successful with it. But really when you’re in your teens or when you’re growing up, how was that?

Alex Matisse:
It’s really interesting to see how different people and different families navigate that, having someone in their family that carries that much kind of weight. Matisse was a pretty tough guy. And a lot of the family has struggled in the shadow that he cast and had a hard time getting out of it. I mean he was just so single-mindedly focused on his work and so hard on himself too. But he was very hard on those around him and his children. And so it’s like every generation, I think, you escape it a little bit more and whatever has been passed down from you, the kind of intergenerational stuff, it lightens as you go. But I think there’s some families where it’s all really healthy and everything’s talked about. But it was always kind of this white elephant in the room. We were surrounded by art growing up.
His son, his son wanted to be an artist, but there just wasn’t room for more than one in that family. So he started selling art. So my grandfather Pierre Matisse moved to the states. He sold a few drawings from his father and then he started bringing over these other guys and he brought over Giacometti and Miro for a time and Sehgal and Dubuffet and some heavy hitters introduced them to the US. And so we grew up surrounded by art. My parents were both artists, but it was very much like, you just do it and if it’s good enough and people recognize it, that’s great, but if you have any other motivation for doing this, that’s the wrong motivation.
The only thing that you should do is do what you love and do it as purely as possible in a sense, as opposed to say the stories that we would hear about the Picassos who would maybe trade on their name a little bit more. That was always very, very frowned upon in our family. It’s better to hide under a rock than to trade on your name. So-

Fabian Geyrhalter:
That’s amazing.

Alex Matisse:
It is interesting.

Fabian Geyrhalter:
It really is. And thank you for talking about this because I’m sure it’s not your favorite subject, but it’s really fascinating. I grew up in a family in Vienna, traditional Vienna family where my dad was a big violinist. He was on the stage every night and of course he tried to teach me the violin and then he very quickly realized, I’ve got the zero talent. And then just basically when people asked, “What does one of your sons do?” And he always answered with, “No, he’s normal. He doesn’t play the violin, he’s normal.” So I think there is this certain protection around artists too, where it’s a little bit of that ownership and unless you’re really going to excel, let’s better not. And it’s interesting, I mean there’s absolutely no comparison to your family, but I think it’s always interesting to see how people step into footsteps of generations past without clinging onto something and just creating… That’s why I find it fascinating and that’s why it makes so much sense that the company’s not named after your last name. It would’ve been difficult and disastrous for the brand in many ways. And I’m sure also very successful if you’re that kind of person that wants to create that kind of brand, which you clearly are not.

Alex Matisse:
Yeah. I mean we’ve talked about it. We’re releasing a color that is a sort of nod to Matisse this fall that I’m sure will generate a little press because of it. But there is a funny story of a violin in my family too, and I think it was, don’t know if it was Matisse and his son or if it was Pierre, my grandfather and my father, but one of them put their son, got them violin lessons with an instructor. And went to the instructor one day and said, “So is he going to be a concert violinist or what’s the deal?” And the instructor asked him, he just said, “When it’s time for dinner, do you have to go and physically remove the violin from his hands for him to come to the table?” And he said, “Well, no, he just comes.” And he said, “Well then he’s not going to be a concert violinist.”

Fabian Geyrhalter:
Exactly. No, that’s great. I mean, that’s really it. Are you that passionate about it? Is it your life? Interesting. Yeah, very interesting. And we could talk offline forever about the subject because I’m pretty interested in that too. But I mean, talking about what you created with East Fork over the years, even though it is about art and it is about design and it is about craftsmanship, but it is much bigger than artisanal pottery and now it’s even much bigger than artisanal pottery, meeting D to C and social in all of these elements that any entrepreneur today can take advantage of. And you as a team of three co-founders have taken advantage of it in fantastic ways, but you employ around 115 people or so today you have two factories, you have two retail stores. Last April you raised your minimum wage to $22 an hour in a state that runs on just a bit over seven bucks an hour. Tell us about how you hire at East Fork and how co-create it literally with your employees, with your teams, a culture that is such a big part of your brand?

Alex Matisse:
Yeah. Well it’s a constant creation and its constantly taking input and culture for us. We’re still young enough that it’s not perfect all the time. It constantly needs inputs because it starts leaning, it’s like a helicopter, when a helicopter flies you’re constantly balancing it because it will start to drift this way and then it’ll come back and drift this way. So you’re constantly making inputs to adjust the sort of flight path. And that’s still, we’re so early and so young and we’ve been growing so quickly that that culture is still needing that constant kind of attention and that constant realignment and some things will be going really well and then you’ll notice, oh, okay, the morale is really low here, so you have to go in and figure that out. So certainly I don’t think that we have the most amazing culture, but what we do is we do strive towards constant improvement and doing something in a way that generally it’s not done.
And that’s because Connie, John and I, were not business people. We didn’t go to business school to open East Fork to disrupt something. We are disrupting of some things now I guess, but it’s not like that story of trying to disrupt a traditional business model, we’re trying to do something and we operate within a capitalist framework while recognizing the harm that, that can cause. And so how do we do it as well as we can do it and do things like, recognize that the current wage that we were paying people at that time, I think it was, we had just raised the minimum wage to $20 an hour and then this MIT calculator that we used to calculate the living wage for our market where we operated and clicked up again to 22 and we said, “Okay, well we’re going to try to do it.” And we did that and it added a 100 $150,000 to our monthly operating expense to our break even. And it was challenging.
Then the repercussions of all the COVID stimulus and the overstimulation of the economy started hitting, there was a softening on the consumer markets and we started getting behind our goals, so then we were right on the edge. So we’ve always been just right on the edge. We’ve never been fully super stable financially. We always are kind of leaning into an uncomfortable edge, which I think is good. It’s a little tiring at times.

Fabian Geyrhalter:
Yeah, I can see both of that. Yeah, But I mean, you have been growing continuously and to me, we talked about this a little bit offline at the beginning. I mean this fight for anyone who crafts anything in the United States versus offshoring it and to China or whatever. It becomes a constant struggle and it becomes this good fight that you’re fighting. And I mean with you, just the way that the company has been crafted from the get go, it is absolutely impossible to ever even think about not crafting it in a very authentic way. But one thing that I thought was really interesting, I saw that Connie posted a week ago on Instagram about a site wide 20% off sale, and she was super, super transparent as she and you as a brand always are online as to why you’re having that sale. And I’m not going to read the full post, but I’m going to read parts of it because I felt it was really special and it was interesting and it paints such a good picture of what the brand is really about and what you and I just talked about.
So it goes like this, When the pandemic hit and economy went haywire, our priorities turned from growing our audience to shoring up internal systems, doubling down on workplace safety efforts, securing our supply chain, deepening our commitment to company values, codifying our community partnership program, increasing wages for our associate and generalist level positions, and ensuring that 100 percent of our teams stayed employed with no interruption of benefits or pay. That’s what I was referring to before with the culture, it is actually really special. And then she says, “I’m so proud to say that we’ve been successful in all those efforts, but it’s come at the cost of acquiring new customers at the pace we needed to cover our operating costs. No big deal time to get the customer acquisition flywheel spinning again before our exciting fall initiatives start bearing fruit.” Nice pun by the way, “we’ve got to cover OpEx for August. And so we’re reaching way down into the deepest corners of the back pocket and pulling out a sale.”
I mean, unbelievably radically transparent, saying like, “Hey, we just got to get through August.” We actually need to cover our expenses. I’m a big believer in transparency and radical transparency. I wrote about it in a book I wrote in 2018, but the transparency one comes to expect today, which is a very different transparency on a corporate level than it was 10 years ago or 20 years ago. And then there’s this kind of transparency where you really go a step further and you talk about revenue and you talk about literally you just got to get through this month. Why is this important to you as individuals, as co-founders, as a company? And how does it even spark more brand connection with your tribe? And obviously ultimately sales.

Alex Matisse:
Connie has a really amazing way of doing something that if some other companies tried to do this, it sometimes wouldn’t hit in the same way or it may not have the same effect. I think in part it’s because we’ve always spoken like this, we’ve always… There’s a difference between a D2C company that crafts their copy so it feels familiar and your buddies the sort of copy I’m talking about. And then there’s just this very sincere, open, earnest communication that brings people into your struggles, your humanity in a way that does breed that loyalty, that sense of connectedness, true connectedness to what we’re building. And they feel part of that and they feel excited by it. And it’s like watching a TV show unfold in front of you and they’re are the characters that you know, and their vulnerabilities and their insecurities and their mistakes, their failures, their successes, all those things.
People see it. And that’s why it’s not authenticity. Authenticity is a word that brands knock about. We want to have an authentic brand. This is just being very sincere and open and honest with people. And we try to do that with our employees, we do that with our customers and we do that as a leadership team with ourselves. That certainly flows throughout the organization is that sense of vulnerability that is in East Fork’s DNA, the vulnerability and the recognizing your imperfectness in a way that I think people really like to hear. But doing that there is a dark side to that type of openness and that type of vulnerability, which is that, it’s taken a lot out of Connie.

Fabian Geyrhalter:
Because she becomes the brand.

Alex Matisse:
Exactly. Exactly. She has given so much to this organization because there is no separation there. And so it’s super impactful and there’s lots of other companies that have a really forward facing front person. But also there are times I think when we both sometimes feel like, Oh man, it’d be really nice to have some more separation. Our kids are all over the marketing and then the photo shoots and there’s such a part of it and the whole family story and that stuff is really potent and I think it’s certainly is impactful, but there’s downsides to everything. There’s no perfect way to do something that doesn’t have some unintended consequences that come with it. So we’ve been able to grow this organization and create these super fans who have Instagram accounts just devoted to their East Fork collection and all these things. There’s secondary marketplace now for everything and we’ve done that, but it’s sucked quite a bit out of us in the process.

Fabian Geyrhalter:
It is an amazing trait of a brand one that you cannot, like you said, you hinted at, cannot really create that. Either you have it and you as a company are born that way. Where you just showcase that and you’re vulnerable and it’s okay. And I know not many brands, but a couple of brands that do that. And it’s hard to even call them brands because they’re just people doing something that they really believe in and they happen to become a brand because they have a stamp on them and people love to buy stuff from them. But I mean you as a company you seem to explode over the past four years. I mean there were articles in all major outlets, Fast Company, Entrepreneur, everywhere. You relaunched your website, your brand, super brand-centric, super delightful. And then you also changed your production process a bit in the last four years, I believe, from wheel throne to now be also machine assisted. What sparked or what keeps sparking that push for growth and then, and your co-founders, Connie and John, how do you invite but also navigate growth while keeping that magic that we just talked about? Which shall not be stemmed as authenticity in your eyes, but that magic, how do you keep that alive with growth?

Alex Matisse:
It’s challenging and there’s a lot of different facets of that challenge that have shown up in this process. I mean, the growth for us did start, I have this personal ambition, personal drive to do something big and up scale. And I sort often refer to myself as the kind of small scrappy, loud sled dog at the very front of the pack that is barking a lot and getting all the other dogs excited and just dragging everybody along even though they’re not actually pulling that much. So there’s like this drive for the growth that I think I provide. John and Connie have less of that innate thing within them that is desiring for something never ending and big and of scale. I think that the tension that exists between all three of us there is actually, it’s a net positive because it does force a lot of conversation, it forces a lot of deep inward thinking about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.
We brought investors on early on too, and I pitched an idea of something that was impactful and of scale and I feel lots of different things that continue to drive that growth. But one of those is certainly to provide the folks that enabled this thing to happen early with the eventual kind of expectation that I laid out there. The transformation from making everything by hand, we’ve been working on that for five years. We’ve gone through the industrial revolution in that time. To me, that’s the thing that I was always really, really excited about, passionate about, was finding new ways to make things, new machines, going to old factories that had been abandoned, pulling things out, fixing them up, telling that story. It’s a really interesting story of… It was a relatively small industry in the US but still pretty meaningful. And there were lots of big factories and they’re just aren’t any left, they’ve all been off shored.

Fabian Geyrhalter:
So you literally, I mean you’re basically, you have ghost towns of these machines, because everyone just off shored it to China and suddenly you can go back and repair them and give them a second life.

Alex Matisse:
Exactly. And now we’re buying some new equipment too that’s still being made in countries where they still make a lot of pottery, but early on it was buying all this old stuff for scrap metal prices and nursing it back to life. So all of these little things, that is what makes East Fork or it’s one of the things that makes East Fork, East Fork is that, we never go about things in the easy way. We do everything ourselves. We have an internal creative team that’s really big. We make so much content, everything we try to do, we try to do it with as much exuberance and energy as we can as opposed to a brand that does say a handful of photo shoots a year. I mean, we do a photo shoot or two photo shoots every week for something. And it certainly makes things more complicated. We don’t have an ad strategy, we don’t put money into Facebook. We’ve maybe spent 100 by the end of the year, $50,000 with Facebook this year on significant revenue. So yeah that’s… Now I’m trailing off giving me back on track.

Fabian Geyrhalter:
Oh, trailing off is exactly what this is all about. This is where the magic lies. No, it’s so interesting because the more you talk about the brand, the more it becomes so apparent that really the quote unquote competitive advantage, which is a silly word to use in the world of pottery. But the competitive advantage comes down to telling the story, because if you don’t tell the story and if you don’t give people an insight into the how and the why rather than the what, Because the what is beautiful pottery, which is exquisitely made and all of that, obviously, and creative and all of that. But it’s really interesting to see because that is… I saw this at a surf shop in Venice Beach years ago and it stuck with me. I saw that they were broken in two, they had a glass window in the storefront, a small little local, one of these really dedicated stores.
And so it had two by four over it had a wall over it and they spray painted on it saying, “You cannot steal our soul.” And I thought that’s branding in a nutshell. That’s really when a company turns into a brand and that brand you can’t touch yet, they can fail still of course, but you can’t touch it because they have something that they created over years that so comes from the inside. And if you wouldn’t tell that story, you would sell pottery and compete with everyone else who sells pottery, which are not that many. There are maybe three or five big ones in the US most probably, Or you compete with China and it’s so, it’s this constant race that you are racing in a way based on really your own emotions as people and how you run this. And you need to tell that because if you don’t tell that, it gets really competitive.

Alex Matisse:
It does, yeah, absolutely. I think the experience of discovering East Fork is, you maybe come here because you see an Instagram post or something or you see an ad if we run an ad. And then once you get into, it’s like the story starts slowly revealing. And I think customers start to understand, “Oh well this is an interesting company. This is different than a lot of other things. I’m being communicated to in this new strange way.” I think it’s alluring for people and you sort of peel the layers back like an onion.

Fabian Geyrhalter:
Totally. Totally. Totally. And I mean it’s the little things too. So the joy that I get when scrolling through your website from simply seeing the East Fork logotype slowly change to drawings of pottery, it’s really hard to describe in words. I’m completely obsessed with this, I think it’s so genius because what happens is, as you scroll down the website, the East Fork logotype, one letter at a time slowly turns into a little piece of pottery. That sounds really cheesy right now, but it’s totally not, it’s done in a really nice way. And to me, the coolest thing is that the register R is still next to it. So at the end you’re basically, when you scroll down all the way down, it’s like seven pieces, I guess seven is the name, seven pieces of pottery and outlined. And next to it has a register R. And I mean, I don’t know, was that just a little thing that the agency came up with? Or is that deep of meaning?

Alex Matisse:
That was our friends, Helen and Josh who own an agency called Fuzzco based in Charleston. They designed that component I believe. Those little, the crown drawings, we did the crown drawings. We were going back and forth because we had worked with them. They’re the only, well, we used an agency to build the website, but the actual branding, that new branding they did. And that was an interesting experience for us, that was the first time that we, really first and only time, we did a branding exercise with an external agency. It was the most money we’d ever spent on anything at that point in time. But it was impactful and we are still friends. We actually live in a house that they designed and renovated in Flat Rock and they’re good, good family friends. That’s amazing that I have to credit to Fuzzco who does amazing work.

Fabian Geyrhalter:
Well, but it’s beautiful to hear when an extremely expensive and risky and usually running against time, brand effort like that when you go in and you’re scared as anyone would be because of the financial part and the time involvement and all of that. But when it turns out the way that it has, and I would include the e-commerce and the web folks with the relaunch of the site. It’s one strong brand that before, was I’m sure strong too, but now it just added that layer where it turned into an experience of storytelling where before it was maybe just storytelling. And I feel like there’s a huge difference. And I wonder if you feel that ROI, if you sense that and if you start feeling like the tribe is actually, there are more people coming and it’s actually a success and it wasn’t money wasted.

Alex Matisse:
Oh, it was absolutely a success. I mean, it was the first time before that our little East Fork stamp was some old letter press stamps that I had found, a font that I had found, I don’t know, at some antique store or something. So if for us what it did is that it actually was like that point where we started to think about, okay, East Fork is a brand, and we just never thought about that sort of component of things before in that way. So it made us take ourselves a little bit more seriously maybe like that first step. And that was back in maybe 2000, gosh, when we first did that it was 2017. And then we were really lucky, we have an amazing photographer, an amazing art director. The photo shoots that they do are just unbelievable. We can do them quickly, that stuff is also really super, super impactful. The photography that they put out it’s amazing. And it’s because we do it ourselves, I think in large part. And we’ve assembled a good team to do that and with under Connie’s tutelage and guidance, it really stands out and there’s going to be some really fun stuff coming out. And nothing is done easy, they’re going to go do a photo shoot, they’re going to hike to the top of this mountain that we like to go camping at to this little creek, and they just go the extra mile. They’re going to-

Fabian Geyrhalter:
Literally.

Alex Matisse:
Schlep all the pottery up the parkway and down into this little hanging valley with this beautiful creek that I like to fish for brook trout in and do a photo shoot and it’ll be unbelievable.

Fabian Geyrhalter:
But see, because it is directed, everything is like, if you want it that way, you need it that way, you believe in art and design and how it all comes together. So it’s at the core of the brand and you can see how it bears fruit online when you scroll through Instagram and when you… Hey, we’re coming slowly to an end so I’ve got a couple more questions that I absolutely need to squeeze in. The first one, now that you’ve been co-running this company for a good amount of years, what does this often misunderstood word of branding mean to you? And we talked a lot about it too in different ways. But what to you is branding? What does it entail? How do you feel about it? If you have any emotions towards it?

Alex Matisse:
I mean, the first thing that comes to mind is this little Ad I saw on Instagram the other day for an agency and it said, “Brands aren’t built, No brands aren’t born, they’re built by agencies.” And I was like-

Fabian Geyrhalter:
Of course the last part is the question.

Alex Matisse:
Right. Right. And I think there are all the components that are of external that solidify and strengthen the East Fork brand, but the real thing is underneath all of that, and it’s much harder to put a finger on, and I mean we’ve done it throughout this conversation. But it’s all those things that are more than just a really, really top tier agency coming up with a brand book for an organization to follow. It’s like everything beneath it that is actually, that’s where the juice is. And it’s much harder to quantify and it’s much harder to execute and do. So it’s like what makes mediocre art and great art. And so that’s I think what’s underneath that East Fork brand is all that stuff that we work so hard we think about, we ring our hands over.

Fabian Geyrhalter:
One of my questions is, what’s next for the East Fork brand? What are you excited about in the next six months? But you already talked about a lot of things that are gonna come up, that you’re going through right now. Last question before I let you go and I know your voice is slowly giving into, it’s the Friday end of the week. So if we would take your entire brand, and we talked about it now for a good 45 or so minutes, and we will put it into a filter and outcomes only one word or two words that you feel, and this is not you as the spokesperson of East Fork because I know there are two other people that you would have to run this by. But to you just now intrinsically, what is one word or two words that can describe the brand? Like for Everlane it’s transparency, for Liquid Death it’s mischief. What is it for East Fork?

Alex Matisse:
I mean, we’re not like any of those other brands, and so we wouldn’t choose one word. The one word that would come to mind would be sincerity. But I think what accompanies everything we do is this open hearted, earnest, striving to do something in a way that’s different, that’s better, that is going up against the status quo. And so that to me is what’s at the heart of everything we do. Is knowing that we are imperfect and that there’s constantly room to improve and challenge the ways of doing things. And it makes things much more difficult, but much more exciting and people respond to that. So if you want that one word, I think it’d be sincerity.

Fabian Geyrhalter:
See, I squeezed it out of you after all. Well, where do you want people to go to learn more about East Fork?

Alex Matisse:
You can find us at eastfork.com or @EastForkPottery on Instagram. And you can slowly start digging deeper in both of those places.

Fabian Geyrhalter:
And there’s a lot to dig into. I spent a good two hours before this show. Just going through your Instagram and being completely sucked into it. So careful to those who actually venture into that world. Hey, thank you so much for taking the time. Again, this is right at the cusp of a long weekend. You took a good hour out of your day. It was such a pleasure and thank you for all of the insights that you shared with us.

Alex Matisse:
Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me and asking such good questions.


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