Ernestina Potts is the Head of Campaigns at Virgin, a role that brings her all sorts of one-of-a-kind projects, from scouting out new music talent to fundraising. Last year, it was only natural that she combine her wealth of communications and branding know-how with her passion for startup culture and set about her own business. Dissatisfied with the lack of affordable statement earrings, Milk Tooth was born. With her graphic designer husband, Mark, they create unique jewellery, and also offer the vintage pieces they love to travel the world discovering.
Most recently, Ernestina asked our very own sister company, B to create a limited edition notebook for the release of Richard Branson’s new autobiography, ‘Finding My Virginity’, that would be gifted to his closest companions. Using vivid paper stock and vacuum-packed in space age silver, the book was a red-hot encapsulation of the ever forward-thinking company. It was an exciting project for all involved, and a dream come true for us to have the opportunity to make our own products!
Ernestina’s unrivalled entrepreneurial spirit is exhilarating, so we couldn’t wait to chat to her. We talk about her love of antique stationery and her desire to play a role in modern feminism.
Can you tell us about your background?
We are a husband and wife team, Ernestina and Mark Potts. I started off my career in TV production, which was great for learning about creative thinking and idea generation. I then moved into brand communications, working mainly with the BBC and Virgin. Both are really creative companies so I’ve worked on some brilliant projects - from seeking out new music talent, to helping launch new flight routes, to engaging celebs in fundraising campaigns.
Mark is from Yorkshire originally but we now live in Leyton, east London, which is a really vibrant and fast changing area that we both love - despite originally moving there for affordability reasons only! Mark trained as a graphic designer and has been working as a creative and design director for 15 years. We've been lucky enough to work on a couple of experiential projects together - and loved it, which was part of our drive to create something together with Milk Tooth.
What inspired you to start Milk Tooth LDN?
We started trading standout vintage pieces in 2016 and then launched our first original designs from May 2017. Basically we're creating the products that I was lusting for but couldn't find, and hence our strapline - dedicated to the pursuit of statement earrings. I love seeking out interesting jewellery, but found it challenging to find stuff that wasn’t super pricey or dime-a-dozen off the high street.
A big part of our motivation was also about wanting to build something together and put our skills and passions directly into something that we could define. We love spending our spare time and holidays hunting through flea markets and vintage fairs, so that was a real inspiration as well. It’s about fresh design inspired by the best of the past but done in our own style.
Can you share some hidden go-to spots for finding vintage gems?
Paris and New York are our favourite cities for vintage shopping. It’s hard to get bargains these days with the exchange rate as it is, but it’s still worth it for inspiration alone.
In Paris we normally stay in La Marais since it’s pretty central and has a casual but trendy vibe with an array of great bars, cafes and restaurants to fulfil all your Parisian clichés. Twice a year it’s also the location for the most remarkable sprawling flea market on Rue de Bretange. You could spend days browsing and it’s more than enough reason alone for a trip. We try to go at least once a year.
In New York there are loads of great options, but a personal fave has to be going fancy and checking out Chelsea Flea Market. Here you’ll literally be rummaging through stalls manned by the fashion forward ladies who inspired Advanced Style. These are seriously stylish women dedicated to high fashion, so their hauls are exceptional. And even if you can’t afford anything, the people watching is legendary.
Tell our readers about Milk Tooth’s vivacious new collaboration with London based illustrator Maria-Ines Gul.
I knew Maria’s work from Rookie Magazine and had loved the commissions she’d done for Gucci and Girls. As well as liking her distinct style, I am a fan of her subtle and witty comments on feminism and we discussed that when we met during celebrations for International National Women’s Day.
We are really quite different in terms of our creative approach, but it worked because we respected those differences. Maria’s work is always thoughtful, but executed with simplicity and impact. I tend to be instinctive and overly complex, so it made for a good team. Fundamentally we share a love for playful and avant-garde fashion and design - plus a passion for colour!
The range started as an irreverent comment on feminism, but first and foremost we always wanted the end result to be wearable and beautiful. We discussed and mood-boarded the concept for quite a long time before doing any actual designs. Maria wrote a short poem that really helped us focus and then guided us from there.
The limited edition collection features nine 24 carat gold-plated pairs of earrings, which fuse Maria’s organic shapes with our signature bold and abstract finishes.
What does femininity mean to you?
I wouldn’t want to say for anyone else, but for me it’s not about gender as such, but more about characteristics, with creativity, warmth, empathy, power and pride at the heart.
How does stationery play a part in your creative process or everyday organisation? Do you have any favourite tools or guilty pleasures?
We have a ridiculous amount of notebooks in our house. They are so easy to buy, but we must not write or draw fast enough because most of them only have a couple of pages used! They do look nice though - and making our working space, which is also our home, look good is all part of the experience.
I’m a bit of a magpie so am normally swayed by pretty patterns or colours, whilst Mark is a bit of a paper quality nerd. He always has a Muji 0.4 width erasable pen on him, as it’s a good value, reliable option and creates a nice light line for notes and quick sketches.
We have a fairly decent antique stationery collection that includes a few heavy duty pieces, such as a cast-iron hole punch on a wooden base from the 1920s. We never use it, but it looks nice on the shelf! We also have a couple of lovely old paper embossers from companies gone by. It’s amazing how little pressure you need to put on to create a beautiful clear mark, even on the thickest paper.
What independent businesses or brands have made you go ‘I love what you do!’ recently?
Apart from Papersmiths... I recently discovered Mean Mail and it’s now my go-to for cards for my girlfriends. They are simple and pretty for sure, but mainly because they just make me laugh! Plus I met the Founder Vicky and loved her ambition and hearing how she employs her Mum to manage production of the cards.
Recommend a podcast, book, article or exhibition we should check out this week?
I haven’t been myself yet, but we get a lot of inspiration from all things ‘80s New York and will definitely be checking out the Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibition. With a similar source but different vibe, anyone who can make it to London this weekend should prioritise getting tickets for The Final Night in Paradise, which is an audio-visualisation soundtracked by DJ Harvey and featuring footage from legendary New York club, Paradise Garage.
What are your goals and dreams for 2018, both personally and for your work?
In the immediate future, we have a trip to Tokyo coming up and have a couple of meetings lined afterwards that could be really exciting, both for a new stockist and a potential partnership. But even more than that, I’m hungry for the inspiration and can’t wait to see a million things - I don’t know when we’ll have time to sleep! It’s a cliché, but I love how dedicated to quality some Japanese brands can be and I can’t wait to absorb and learn.
In the longer-term, we want to build a brilliant brand that is synonymous with consistent, distinct and fresh design. We want to become the go-to choice for inspiration and shopping when you’re looking for fashion that will excite you and make you feel amazing to wear.
In terms of the macro picture, we want to play a role in modern feminism, naturally! We’d love to help smash the weird assumption that to be taken seriously you need to fit in a box and evoke the image of a middle-aged man in a grey suit. We want everyone to feel confident to embrace and revile in their own personal styles.
Milk Tooth LDN is the only fashion house dedicated to statement earrings. Our mission is to encourage creativity and confidence through empowering bold jewellery. And the philosophy behind that is simple - embrace your own style, buy things you love, feel amazing.