You’ve probably seen some of Franca’s ceramicware at a West Elm, design store, or a museum shop in New York City. More recently, they’ve started working with the New York Times, engaging in an ongoing collaboration producing a series of custom mugs for the renowned publication.
Franca, founded by the duo Sierra Yip-Bannicq and Jazmin De La Guardia, originated from their meeting at Pratt Institute in 2008. A few years post-graduation, they combined their talents to create a unique ceramics studio, grounded in the concept of lingua franca—a shared language despite diverse backgrounds. Sierra and Jazmin, possessing French and Chinese heritage and Uruguayan Cuban roots respectively, mirror the varied inspirations that shape the ceramic pieces they craft.
Their slip casting studio at Franca sets them apart in the United States, allowing them to produce volume efficiently despite their small team. Products take a couple of weeks from start to finish. Once the design is finalized, Franca makes a solid, marginally larger, positive shape primarily because clay shrinks. Once that’s done, a test mold is made and dried. After it’s all dry, liquid clay is slipped into it, dried for a couple of days before the object is cleaned up on the wheel or by hand and then fired in the kiln.
Gwen, Franca’s production lead, emphasizes the patience required in ceramics. She explains that even experienced artisans need time to adapt to different studio processes and material sources. “Every time you go to a new place that does ceramics, they have their own system, their own tools,” says Gwen. “Making a mug in one place is very different from making a mug in another place.” Unified training, skills, and standards for each piece are necessary for Franca to operate as it does, and allows employees to round out their own abilities.
When asked what makes them stay as makers in NYC, Sierra is quick to state that it is the fondness for the city and the ease with which they can pitch their products. Sierra says, “I have really only lived in New York. And so I couldn’t really imagine starting Franca somewhere else. We’re really close to trade shows here and that kind of helped us in the beginning. We were able to showcase our product and our brand on a much more affordable scale.”
Regarding what would make the operation of Franca smoother, Sierra articulates the desire for greater accessibility to grants and certifications, streamlining the application processes. She also hopes for reduced utility costs (ceramics appliances are not inexpensive to operate) and more affordable commercial rents, emphasizing the unique challenges faced by studios like Franca in the city. And it would be fabulous if the city got a ceramic materials supplier soon—Franca relies on suppliers in upstate New York or outside of Philadelphia to get their raw material.
Navigating the ceramic landscape in NYC is no small feat. Ceramist Tiffany says, “In general, doing ceramics in New York City is really hard. It’s kind of Sisyphean. Everything’s more expensive. Shipping is harder. But there’s a lot of great people here with a lot of good talent. A lot of work to be inspired by. So we just keep doing it.”