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The “Jilly” mug effect

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P.E.I. potter Suzanne Scott with the popular pink mug that everyone wants to get their hands on. Photo: Dave Brosha

P.E.I. potter Suzanne Scott with the popular pink mug that everyone wants to get their hands on. Photo: Dave Brosha

How a blush pink coffee mug kept the wheels turning at P.E.I.’s Village Pottery 

It took 47 minutes flat for the 50 blush pink mugs at P.E.I.’s Village Pottery to sell out on a recent summer day. It was the second time in a week that the New London pottery shop had restocked the mugs customers have started calling “Jilly” mugs — a hot commodity since Canadian influencer Jillian Harris ordered four in spring 2020. 

Ever since, the family-owned and operated business can’t keep them on the shelf. When they announce on social media that a new batch is out of the kiln, people bring lawn chairs and queue long before opening (sometimes sparking line friendships!) outside their shop. Mugs are limited to two apiece.

“April 7, 2020. I will never forget that day,” says potter and owner Suzanne Scott on receiving an Instagram stories notification that Harris had bought four of their blush pink mugs, mentioning Village Pottery to her followers. 

Harris, who was opening a new headquarters, was on the hunt for items for her office, and had put out a call looking for local businesses to support. A mutual follower suggested Village Pottery’s blush pink collection. Harris’ signature colour is pink. 

Scott says she didn’t think much of it at the time, as Instagram stories are fleeting — lasting just 24 hours. 

The mugs though quickly sold out. Scott made more and posted on her social media when restocked. Harris shared that. The mugs sold out again. 

CBC did a story, which Harris contributed to further fueling demand. 

“I remember thinking about how we were going to handle this influx as we’re just a small studio,” says Scott. It was mid-April 2020 — amid the first wave and uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic. She didn’t want to lose potential customers. 

After introducing a formal waitlist, Scott received 1,000 orders the first day. The shop wasn’t open, and she didn’t know if she was going to be able to, due to COVID restrictions. The go-ahead to open — with limited capacity — came around the end of May. 

“That’s when the lineups started.”

Almost two years later, the craze is still strong. 

“I’m still shocked every time there is a lineup. And it seems to get longer. I’m so grateful for it all,” says Scott.

She says part of the appeal may be that they’re a small batch studio. It takes about three weeks to make the straight, cylinder-shaped 16-18 oz mug with a flared lip, bringing a certain exclusivity as there’s only going to be a set amount coming out of the kiln. 

Many also find the mug pretty, with its light pink exterior and clear white glaze inside.

It was a glaze her mom — Village Pottery founder and potter Daphne Large Scott, who started the business in 1973 — had mixed and put on a shelf until on a whim she tried it again. Scott posted the resulting products on Instagram in fall 2019 to a huge reaction, leading her to believe the products would be popular.

“Jillian took it to the next level.”

Demand has been incredible. 

In July 2020, she whittled the waitlist down to about 100 people, so she opened it again. In an hour, she had 650 names, skyrocketing to 1,500 in three hours, when she closed the form. 

Scott says those mugs took longer to finish than anticipated, particularly as she was waiting for her own special arrival. Scott and her fiancé welcomed their first child in April 2021. 

After completing these orders, she switched to doing restocks only and now operates on a first-come, first-served basis at the shop. 

The phenomenon’s timing couldn’t have been better. 

At the pandemic’s start in early 2020, Scott remembers wondering how her tourism-dependent business would fare. 

“It really saved us,” she says. “We’re dependent on tourism. If it wasn’t for this, we would have had a huge loss. We’re very thankful.”

The craze even helped other makers. Potter Robert McMillan, who throws the blush mugs on the wheel in his Stratford studio and fires them in the kiln before Scott glazes and fires them again (making the mugs is a big team effort, she says) has seen his business increase. Scott says other potters, like Jaw Pottery and Alicia Kate Pottery Co, whose work she’s carried in the shop, also saw increased sales. 

While some customers come only for the mug, many others have discovered the wide range of products Village Pottery — P.E.I.’s longest running pottery shop — sells, plus their selection of candles, weaving, jewellery and more, from mostly island artists. 

Scott, a former female athlete of the year at Holland College where she captained both the soccer and basketball teams, says she loves seeing how happy people are when they get a mug. They’ve also seen disappointment when people don’t. She says her staff, which includes teenage employees, have handled the crowds well. 

Not only do people queue for the mugs, but they also line up whenever Village Pottery’s signature lupin mugs drop. These round “belly” shaped mugs have a flared lip and lupins carved in the side. “They’re unique and pretty and hard to make, so we don’t have as many,” Scott says. “There are lots of lupins growing wild around the shop. It’s very Village Pottery.” 

The New London shop, still with its original 1855 floor, is rife with history. Located in a former general store on Route 6 — in the north shore community where Lucy Maud Montgomery was born — the house was picked up and moved twice. Once by Scott’s parents, who moved it just down Route 6 in 1995 when the land they’re currently on became available. At the time, they also acquired the yellow house next door, running it as Potter’s House vacation rental. After Scott bought the business in 2017, she turned it into Potter’s Parlour, an ice cream shop and café. 

As for balancing it all, including a newborn baby? 

“It’s been crazy. Totally crazy.”

She says she’s used to juggling a lot, but a new business cropped up without her planning for it and Scott says she’s been trying to adapt and learn how to make it work. 

She says her staff, parents, family, and friends all helped make it possible. 

“I’m really grateful for that.” 

Shelley Cameron-McCarron

East Coast Living