Luke Wright graduated from ceramics school at Indiana Wesleyan University. But like a lot of arts majors, he hesitated to try and turn his passion into a career.
Rather, he started a construction gig with his dad. Then his father started to speak more seriously of retirement, and the younger Wright started wondering what would be next for him.
He missed pottery — he loves the connection clay has to life. “Without water, clay is merely dust with no life,” he wrote in an email. “Without water, humans cannot have life, a reality many people in the world face.”
He rented a garage, and thought he’d try to make an old trade relevant today. “I thought, maybe I can just try to start the pottery business, sell on Etsy and just see if I can make enough money to get by.”
As he was getting his footing, a friend’s sister moved back to town. Whitney was a few years into her jewelry business, Bel Kai. She stopped by the garage now and again, and when Luke decided to transition to making ceramic jewelry, he asked for her advice.
That was 12 years ago. Their relationship and the business have grown in tandem. The couple married and have four sons. MudLOVE had $1.6 million in revenue in 2018 and is on track to have $1 million in revenue this year, after two years of downsizing. The couple employs 40 people and their products are sold by around 1,200 local sellers across the country.
What it takes to get a business running
They have a brick and mortar store in Warsaw, Indiana.
“The first two years of starting a business are pretty critical, you’ve got your nose to the grindstone and you’re working till one or 2am,” Whitney Wright said. “It’s just an intense time. The fact that I already understood that, because I had done that, too, and understanding his need, right at the start of a relationship. You just don’t feel as alone in talking through it.”
MudLOVE has always been more about the income for Luke — very early, he said he felt God calling him to do something more with his business.
The ceramic bracelets, with words such as “loved” and “be the change,” sell for $12 on MudLOVE’s website. They also sell other ceramic products, such as mugs for $28 and other ceramics such as ring dishes for $10, and initial jewelry for $16.
The company donates 10 cents of each sale to nonprofit Water for Good, which uses the funds to drill and maintain water pumps in the Central African Republic. MudLOVE quantifies it as “one week of fresh water,” on its website. Since its launch, it’s donated $500,000 to the Indianapolis-based organization, Luke said.
“These little words on a bracelet seem small, but it makes a huge difference,” Luke Wright said. “We just hope that people will continue, and we’re so thankful that they have up to this point, using it for good. Water is sort of a result of the transaction, but the transaction goes way beyond clean water.”
The company is also partnered with nonprofit Vida Plena, which employs women in the Dominican Republic. Vida Plena pays women “well above” minimum or living wage in the Dominican Republic, its founder Josh Porter said, to weave MudLOVE’s Viona bracelets. MudLOVE then purchases the bracelets from Vida Plena.
The couple plans to open a flagship store in the garage where their marriage and business were born.
The Wrights’ tips for business owners:
- Focus on the fundamentals of a business early on, such as defining values and a mission, key products and a branding plan.
- Make your business more than about yourself.
- Focus on the journey rather than the destination.
“Businesses are the most powerful man-made tool on earth, they can either be used for good or for not (bad/neutral),” Luke wrote in an email. “If we want to see change happen in the world, I believe it will happen through sacrifice, integrity, and transparency in businesses.”
This story and others on Times of E are made possible by a sponsorship from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is a private, nonpartisan foundation that provides access to opportunities that help people achieve financial stability, upward mobility, and economic prosperity – regardless of race, gender, or geography. The Kansas City, Mo.-based foundation uses its grantmaking, research, programs, and initiatives to support the start and growth of new businesses, a more prepared workforce, and stronger communities. For more information, visit www.kauffman.org and connect with www.twitter.com/kauffmanfdn and www.facebook.com/kauffmanfdn.