LFB sat down with Mia Moss of Moss Keramik to find out a little bit more about what it is like being a creative with a local business here in Berlin.
Hello! My name is Mia Moss. I’m originally from Milwaukee, USA. I went to university to study metalsmithing, but found clay towards the end of my studies. I live somewhere between my two passions: visual and tactile craft, and my passion for community-building and empowering social entrepreneurship.
LFB: Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got started in your field?
Mia: I fell in love with clay at this magical place in Madison, Wisconsin, USA called the Midwest Clay Project. Started by two professional potters and academics, it was a place which fostered a love for ceramic at all levels. Here, beginners rubbed shoulders with professionals. We worked together and were inspired by one another. We could take classes or become monthly members, and had access the studio whenever we wanted. The sense of community was the thing that drew me to the space most of all. There is something about pottery that is naturally community-building.
LFB: Can you tell us how Moss Keramik came to be?
Mia: I started the label Moss shortly after moving to Berlin. But I had a lot of trouble finding a space to do my ceramics. In the meantime, I focused on textiles and worked from home under the name Moss Factory. I started messing with ceramics again in summer 2016 when a met a local potter willing to fire my work in his kiln. Still working from home, I made a small collection this way.
In November 2016, I lucked out and a space opened up for me in a community studio in Friedrichshain called Liebertee. I only got this space because I had worked from home, lugging my fragile, unfired ceramics through Berlin public transport to my friend’s studio for 6 months. Because of this, I had a body of work to show to qualify for that space. What did I learn from this? Take baby steps and make do with what you have. You always have more resources at your disposal than you think.
This March I made the transformation from Moss Factory to Moss Keramik. I put down the textile work and decided to focus intensely on my ceramics and to make a business happen.
LFB: What is it that makes you love working with clay so much?
Mia: I touched on this a bit already, but I love how ceramics helps to build community; not only in the pottery studio, but also the relationship between maker and user, between creator and culture. We build these intimate, daily objects people use every day, by doing so we sculpt the visual culture of our communities.
I think a lot about “folk art”, i.e. the mostly-functional art that everyday individuals make— craftspeople and non-professional artists. This is the art that is generally left out of the history books – but this is the art that truly defines a culture, which creates an interesting play between power and humility that intrigues me and pottery is one of the oldest forms of folk art.
LFB: Can you tell us a bit about your creative process?
Mia: I’m one of those artists who doesn’t have an “off switch”. I’m always looking at the world around me and being inspired by street graffiti, overgrown grass,people and their personalities. I absorb all this, focusing especially on color, which is very important to me. I sketch a lot.
Then I have two work modes. The first, informed by my artistic background, is experimentation. I try out new “sketches”, or just let my hands decide what to form on the wheel. I dip pieces in random colors of pigment, to see how the colors talk to each other.
After I’ve found some form that I’m completely in love with, I go into production mode. This is inspired by the more established potters I work with and is a custom of all professional potters— make the same piece over and over again! It might sound boring, but it’s kind of like a meditation and it’s extremely rewarding. I save that for the moments I’m in the studio, feeling uninspired.
LFB: Why Berlin?
Mia: Berlin is an incredible place. The feeling of possibility here is in the air. I idolized Berlin when I was a young art student, never thinking I’d get the opportunity to actually live here! It’s one of the only cities left in the world where an artist has the time and space to “incubate”. It’s a slow, relaxed city, much like where I’m from, so one doesn’t get stressed out here. There’s plenty of green, quiet spaces to think.
LFB: What is the best part about being a small business in Berlin?
Mia: There is a lot of opportunity here to sell your products and to meet other creatives. There are so many craft markets I couldn’t even count them and amazing retail and gallery spaces. Rent is low compared to other big cities, so costs are kept down. One can establish oneself without a lot of startup capital and there are SO many other creatives here! It seems like every other person has a side hustle or creative gig. Collaboration opportunities are endless. Inspiration is endless.
LFB: What is the hardest part about being a small business in Berlin (and in general)?
Mia: In Berlin, well, I guess the difficulty lies in standing out from that crowd. It sometimes feels competitive, even though there are enough opportunities to go around. This is one of the reasons we started Berlin Kreativ Kollektiv – to find a space where we creatives can work together and put community over competition.
LFB: Should consumers always support local first?
Mia: Yes, but it’s not the responsibility of the individual consumer to make these choices. It’s the responsibility of our whole culture.
I talk about community a lot… but the power here again lies within our community. First we need to develop a culture that values a connected community network of personal relationships. When we are connected to each other, we develop a social responsibility to one another. We want to buy from our friend down the street and we know our neighbor’s aunt makes the best kebab in Berlin.
Why is this important? Because when we spend money locally, it stays within our community. What goes around, comes around. When we invest in our neighbors, our whole neighborhood prospers. The power really lies within us.
LFB: How many years have you been doing what you do?
Mia: That’s hard to quantify. I’ve been an artist forever making and selling things. The first time I tried selling online was in 2010, but I didn’t take it very seriously. I guess I decided to make a living off my handmade work when I moved to Berlin in 2014, but my current project, Moss Keramik, was only founded this year.
LFB: What kind of advice do you have for people who want to start their own business?
Mia: Persistence. It’s a long process. There are so many things you need to learn and skills you need to acquire. Learn as much as you can from others and team up with other makers in your area and form a mastermind group. Be open and give as much as you receive, you don’t have competitors, only colleagues. It’s not as glamorous as it may seem on social media, but if it’s what you love, you have to do it.
LFB: What kind of advice do you have for people who have already started their own business but are struggling?
Mia: Be patient. If this is what you want to do, don’t give up. If this isn’t what you want to do, would you have come this far? Entrepreneurship is hard work!
Try to identify the points where you are struggling, be as specific as possible. If you can’t think of why you are struggling, it’s time to get another opinion (form a mastermind group). Then find real, specific step-by-step solutions, write it all down and set yourself deadlines. If you’re struggling with your photography, takes some classes or hire a photographer. If it’s your branding, read up everything you can about the subject. You couldn’t imagine how many books have been written on the matter. Be proactive, ask questions, stay curious.
Photography: Rae Tashman