International Women's Day: MUD Australia

Q&A with Shelley Simpson, founder of MUD Australia.

Tell us about your role and your business...

I founded Mud Australia in 1994 in my garage in Sydney. We make porcelain homewares by hand in Sydney. Since then, I’ve designed every piece in our permanent collection and opened 13 stores globally. Mud is all about the journey and the people for me.

Tell us about your career journey so far.

I’d describe it as organic, fulfilling, hard work. I started my ceramics journey 30 years ago with no professional training and instinctively taught myself and developed our unique process of slip casting from there. I’d always been creative, with a love for music and theatre in my 20s, and Mud has always been an extension of me. My design process is introverted, I design pieces that I need and want in my life, with input from friends and family along the way.

In its early stages, I started off selling my pieces directly to my community at markets. We slowly grew and expanded to trade and wholesale and now to our own retail outlets. But personally, I still love nothing more than spending a day in our studio, glazing, opening kilns and working with our team on refining, adapting and improving our processes. My focus these days is to create a workplace that is safe and welcoming, that our team enjoys.

Have you faced any obstacles you’ve had to overcome in your business?

Climate change is a huge concern of mine and we’re always working on adapting and improving our process to minimise our carbon footprint, as well as offsetting where needed. I truly believe we can never do enough and we can’t wait for government regulation or incentives. Taking our sustainability journey into our own hands has been incredibly satisfying yet of course challenging.

Which women have inspired you most throughout your life?

The team of hardworking creative women behind Mud Australia – more than 78% of our business identifies as female and I am constantly inspired and empowered working alongside them.

What made you choose Marylebone Village as a destination for your restaurant/store?

Marylebone Village is an area that I always love to visit when I am in London - it is so Central yet still feels like a village.

What do you love most about being positioned in Marylebone Village?

We’re in great company with design friends David Mellor and Vitsoe nearby. Oh and we’re not hard pressed to find a great martini or meal around the corner.

What does this year's IWD campaign, “Inspire Inclusion”, mean to you?

I think anything to further increase the inclusion of women is great. Over the years I have experienced my fair share of discrimination and I don’t want that to happen to future generations of women.

How do you “inspire Inclusion” within your business?

I have actively worked over the last 30 years to foster diversity within my team and create opportunities for people from all walks of life. I’m a big believer in learning by example and employing people from all walks of life not only enhances the business performance and productivity of the team, but also shows our employees the possibilities when you are inclusive.

Based on your own experience, what advice would you have for women wanting to get into your industry, or start a business of their own?

Don’t be afraid to ask for help, learn from those around you and listen. It’s not an easy journey but it's incredibly rewarding when you see the community that you start to build around you.

Do you have any tips on how to run a successful business?

Time. For me, a lot of the success has been slow and steady, learning as I go and trusting my gut. Finding the right people to go on the journey with is also really important and always do the hardest thing in your day first!

Have you put any changes or policies in place to help women succeed within your business?

We don’t have any specific policies in place because we’ve worked hard to engrain equality into our culture. There are no gendered roles in our business despite quite a physical manufacturing production process. I have carried out every role and know that it is possible. We offer flexible working for working parents, and we endorse pay equity regardless of gender.

What is your favourite song to make you feel empowered?

I Am Woman by Helen Reddy – this might seem obvious but I have a lot of wonderful personal memories associated with this song – one being my four-year-old son singing it word for word 18 years ago.