Port Richmond ceramics company Felt + Fat
was founded in 2013 by Nate Mell and Wynn Bauer. In May, over 200 Kickstarter donors raised $26,256
for the young Philly business, which provides custom-made tableware to restaurants such as Fork
, High Street on Market
, South Philly’s Laurel
and other fine dining spots in Brooklyn
and beyond. They also offer direct sales to individual consumers through their website and wholesale distribution through shops across the country.
According to Mell, Felt + Fat would have continued without the Kickstarter infusion, but it helped them grow much faster than they could have on their own, adding a new kiln to their studio, acquiring other smaller pieces of equipment and bringing on board a paid employee.
"It’s been full-time since day one," says Mell of the hours he and his partner have put into the business; that said, they also worked part-time elsewhere while the company grew. Mell spent about seven years in local restaurants, which helped him connect with chefs who were looking to showcase their locally sourced ingredients on custom Philly-made tableware.
This past summer the founders were able to quit their part-time jobs and focus exclusively on Felt + Fat.
The name is a homage to mid-20th century German sculptor Joseph Beuys -- they liked his artistry and use of materials, most notably soap and animal fat.
"We were just trying to make a name that could exist in a few different realms of craft and art and design," explains Mell.
The founders have perfected a slip casting method for their unique wares, which feature different textures, finishes and colors, including a distinctive swirl. They also make their own porcelain.
"To a degree, it’s kind of like cooking or baking something. It’s a recipe," says Mell of the specially "tweaked" clay and mineral combo they use. Initially, they were mixing the ingredients themselves, but now a distributor does this for them; they then add water and the necessary materials to cast their plates and cups.
In slip casting, the liquid clay -- or "slip" -- is poured into a plaster mold. Wherever the slip meets the moisture-wicking plaster, a hard edge forms. When that layer is thick enough, the excess slip is poured out of the mold. What’s left forms the body of the cup or plate. When dry, it's removed from the mold and fired in the kiln.
All that takes time and space, which Philadelphia has in spades.
"Philadelphia is a particularly good place right now to be an artist and a creative person, because of the rapid growth of the moment," argues Mell. He appreciates the large client base a Philly location offers, without the living and studio costs of New York City.
Next up, the duo are hoping to expand into lighting fixtures and furniture accessories; they eventually aim to open a local showroom for their wares. They’ll certainly have more space to experiment: In January, Felt + Fat (currently at 3237 Amber Street) will expand to a second location in a Kensington studio building at the corner of I and Venango Streets.
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Nate Mell, Felt + Fat