Amanda Gunawan, once weary of ceramics after spending many reluctant hours of her childhood shopping in Singapore pottery stores with her mother, now passionately curates a collection that embodies the essence of omiyage, the Japanese custom of bringing special gifts home to friends or family from a place you visited. In 2023, she launched OWIU Goods—an extension of her interiors firm, Only Way Is Up Design—with a series of sculptural ceramicware hand-crafted in her Los Angeles studio.
The idea to create a ceramics line stemmed from an unexpected source: an OWIU team-bonding exercise during the pandemic. “I wanted to find a way to reward our team for all their hard work during that period, so I got everyone a membership to a nearby ceramics studio,” she says. “It wound up being the perfect activity that forced everyone to be present and disconnect from the rest of the world.”
When creating her pieces, Gunawan takes her cue from the natural world. “We experimented and experimented and went down to the one thing that we feel human beings have this inherent connection with, and that was nature,” said Gunawan, “That explains why we went with these landscapes of forests, dark coastal [scenery], meadows and beaches. We wanted an ‘art piece’ to be functional, but also to represent this level of depth and connection, [that has the ability] to transport you back to a memory that you might have of a place—an object that transcends beyond ‘It’s a piece that I use for my cereal.’”
OWIU Goods’ in-house potters use landscape photos from Gunawan’s travels as a jumping-off point—perfecting the glaze color to exactly resemble the swatches of a forest, for example. The team works meticulously with the images, which are featured on the brand’s website and adorn the walls of the studio.
Comparing the process to working off of a brief provided by an architecture client, Gunawan and her team collaborate to translate the visions into tangible ceramic pieces. This symbiotic relationship between the architecture firm and the ceramic studio helps inform the brand’s custom creations. “Because we are a design-build company, I’m already thinking about designing [ceramic objects] for people while designing the space,” says Gunawan.
From Los Angeles cafes like Proof Bakery to exclusive collaborations, OWIU Goods’ influence is growing rapidly. The brand’s pieces are sold in a selection of retail stores throughout the United States—including Nippon Kodo, LES Collection and Shoppe Amber Interiors—and many clients also come through the design side of the firm.
Gunawan says social media has played a pivotal role in the growth of OWIU. “[There, we can] explain our positioning and show visually what we are as a brand,” she explains. “I think that’s very important for a brand like ours, because after hearing all these stories, you realize how connected it is to nature, and you become more connected to the brand.”
What started as a team’s shared passion has evolved into a vision for the future. Gunawan and the OWIU Goods team aim to convert the ceramic studio into a residency space for artists, creators and designers. The brand is on the brink of a new chapter, exploring the potential of ceramic tiles—a promising addition that adds to its talent for redefining spaces. “We have plans to release an entire line of glazes inspired by a team trip to Japan, as well as candles,” she says. “We will also be hosting more pop-ups across the globe—our goal is to cultivate more of a community by offering classes, events and experiences.”