High Profile: Stonedware
There are moments when we choose to jump off a cliff and hope we grow wings before we hit bottom. Starting your own business can often feel a lot like that. I have learned that there are those with a quiet voice embedded deep within their ear that whispers, “why are you walking in line with everyone else? You are a bird, so fly already - there’s the cliff.” As much as they try to mute that whisper, ignore it, dismiss it, they inevitably end up jumping because they realize there was never a choice not to. Ariel Zimman is one such bird. She never thought too much about starting her own business, but once she indulged that quiet voice, she ascended as a leader in the smoke ware design space.
Ariel, owner and artist behind Stonedware Company, is making a name for herself in the green industry with her contemporary and unparalleled geometric pieces. Featured in Style Caster as one of the chicest smoking products, each piece is handmade and glazed showing slight variations from its mate. Sure, there’s beauty in clean lines, but there’s truth when you can see touches of the hand that made it.
We approached Ariel to collaborate on the featured piece for our Commencement Collection because her work embodies the new face of the "Green Rush": founded and built by a woman with an emphasis on quality and design.
Ariel is among a generation of makers and creators who are merging art and commerce in a new renaissance of entrepreneurship. In 2015, Ariel hit the ground running by premiering handmade pipes that look unmatched to anything most smokers have ever seen. Her style is distinctly her own with her signature geometric shapes that strikingly contrast with the round edges of a classic bowl. “After making a few spoon shaped pipes that we see all the time, I thought, wait a second, I know how to work with a material that can take on so many different forms, why submit myself and others to a shape we’ve seen so many times. It was like a strike of lightening - all of a sudden I knew I wanted to make pipes that were non-traditional form that were meant to be decor in your home and a functional piece. That’s how the root of the business got started.”
Why submit myself? That line punched me in the gut. Why submit myself? Why do any of us submit ourselves - ever. We are the material and we are the artists. This is what working with Ariel has been like. Her bravery to disconnect from the confines of submission and create a life and a movement that is unequivocally hers has been both refreshing and motivating.
Surprisingly, as gorgeous as Ariel’s Geopipes are, they weren’t what launched Stonedware to the next level. “Right when I was in the middle of designing the first round of Geopipes and really getting those going is when I made a few of the Bernie Sanders pipes.”
When most businesses were staying out of the election, Ariel leaned into her own beliefs and donated 10% of each Bernie pipe sold to the Sanders campaign. It’s this renegade spirit that makes us so proud to partner with Stonedware for our premier featured piece. And it paid off in a big way. Her Bernie pipes quickly went viral, and in early 2016, she received national attention from CNN, Glamour, Playboy, and The Huffington Post (just to name a few). We like to imagine that Bernie himself saw this, and smiled knowing thousands of people were feelin the Bern to support his campaign.
Ariel’s modern eye for design and focused drive has positioned her at the forefront of the green industry, in particular. She puts to rest the fallacy that artists are not business savvy as she has built her successful ceramics brand, which is featured in shops like Serra and The Apothecary Shoppe.
Ariel has over 20 years of experience as a ceramicist and shows that expertise with each pipe. Each one is handmade and designed to fit naturally within your palm - ergonomics is important, even when smoking!
Before the clay was even mixed, we worked with Ariel to find just the right inaugural colors: Palm green, Paloma Pink, and Sky Blue, all finished with an iridescent mermaid glaze. Inspired by Venice Beach, a place where land and water collide to create an energy of eclectic, creative vibrancy; where just breathing in its sweet and salty air will leave you feeling buzzed. And like Venice, the Stonedware X Barbari collaboration explores the way sunlight plays off the water, white sand, and waxy green palms - in both a prismatic and ever-changing way.
Once we found our colors, it was time to get to work on production. Each piece undergoes a 17 step process from slip (liquid clay) to our finished product, each step thoughtfully and proficiently handled by Ariel. Watching her, it is clear to us that she was no stranger to hard work. Ariel’s path to entrepreneurship is rich with history which began over 100 years ago. Her great-grandparents emigrated from Lithuania and started Zimman's fabric store in 1900, which is still owned and operated by the family. “You’ll never work as hard for anyone as you work for yourself - I was very much raised with that frame of mind” Ariel tells me.
Ariel admits that she never had a desire to run her own company. “I remember after graduating from college, I really didn’t want to be self-employed because I saw the struggle. I didn’t want to have to struggle like that. But when I was working at Mudshark, I was so disheartened by the fact that people were designing products, but they weren’t even making it them themselves. And I just started thinking that my ideas have value, so I just decided to stop complaining about it and start making my own stuff. At least any gain is my own gain. In the same hand, any downfall or setback is all mine.”
I don’t know if there’s a person out there who hasn’t felt that exact same way at some point in their life - disheartened by a person, or organization you are so invested in. But then you see what’s behind the curtain - sorry, Dorthy, there's no wizard.
Since that moment, Ariel has been on her grind, while being her own wizard! That confidence in self, in knowing the value of her ideas, is what turned a bucket of slip into what Stonedware is today - a high end brand name.
“I’ve never seen anything that’s just for me. I’m not ashamed to smoke and I want to do it out of something beautiful.” I couldn’t help but smile and think yes - this is the next wave of design. To break away from the marching line, and embracing that inner voice that tells you to fly - to be unashamed of who you are and what you like...and of course, to smoke out of something beautiful.