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This company announced it was raising prices to pay employees more. Customers were thrilled

When artisanal ceramics maker East Fork announced it was raising prices to increase employees’ minimum wage to $22 an hour, customers cheered the move.

This company announced it was raising prices to pay employees more. Customers were thrilled
[Photo: courtesy of East Fork Pottery]

On Tuesday, East Fork, an Asheville, North Carolina-based company that designs, makes, and sells modern artisanal ceramics and housewares to a fervent fan base, made a big announcement to its 166,000 followers on Instagram. The company said it was raising the price of some of its popular handmade pottery items.

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“On 2/22/22 you’ll find that our Mugs and Everyday Bowls got $2 more expensive,” wrote CEO Connie Matisse, who cofounded the company with her husband, Alex, the great-grandson of French modernist painter Henri Matisse. “Here’s why: on April 1, 2022, we’ll raise our minimum wage from $20 an hour to $22 an hour.”

The increase is an effort to keep company employees in Asheville, recently named North Carolina’s most expensive city for housing, as well as to promote wage equity throughout the country. The post was met with a wave of positive accolades from customers (and nearly 3,000 likes): “I support this so hard,” said one commenter. “I will support it even harder when you guys release the next blue shade.” 

“Setting a living wage for employees has been part of our commitment since the beginning,” Matisse said by phone on Thursday, “but exactly how we do that is the thing we have to scratch our heads on.”

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In April 2020, East Fork raised its minimum wage to $20 per hour, despite the fact that North Carolina’s and the federal minimum wage have been $7.25 per hour for 12 years. The move influenced at least a couple of local businesses to raise their own wages. Matisse says the plan was always to increase it to $22 as soon as they could figure out how. 

With the pandemic, and the “absurd growth and inflation” that ensued, East Fork—which had $11.8 million in revenue in 2021—started seeing an impact on its workforce almost immediately, with employees unable to make rent or forced to move two counties over. Meanwhile, it had been two years since the company raised the prices on its pottery, which requires extensive capital investments to produce.

Matisse acknowledged in her Instagram post that the company’s actions won’t fix the much broader problem of wage disparity. “But until the federal and state government get their acts together, until billionaires start opening up their wallets and giving their money away, until big businesses much, much bigger than ours start putting in the work,” she wrote, “the onus falls on loud-mouth businesses and their fiery consumers—like us, like you—to do what we can, make thoughtful choices, to engage in ongoing personal work to extricate the impact of oppressive systems from our own mental landscapes, and to make a great big fuss wherever we can.”   

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For any critics calling it a marketing ploy, watch out for the East Fork defenders, who jumped into the comments to explain to any naysayers why this is indeed a good thing. And you know, even if it is a marketing ploy—it was fun to do it on 2/22/22, Matisse says, adding, “If our marketing comes from making good choices and being good people, that’s how marketing should be.”

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