As the cool and muted light of a wintery Brooklyn morning spills onto shelves upon shelves of ceramics serried like ranks of soldiers, Re Jin Lee, the artistic spirit and founder of Bailey Doesn't Bark, tends to the day's order of operations. Since 2008, the Brooklyn based design studio has offered functional ceramics made by hand. Wearing a smock streaked with iridescent glazes reflective of her sprightly disposition, Re was gracious enough to inspire us with her creative process, delving into a multifaceted background of fashion design, artistry, and motherhood to help us fully understand the complex highways of her journey.
What are your specific cultural affiliations and how do they manifest in your work?
I was born and raised in Sao Paulo, Brazil to South Korean parents. This combination of cultures has had a great influence in my design aesthetics. When I was younger, I had absolutely no interest in Korea - going there was extremely boring. But now that I'm older, I'd love to go back because there's a huge ceramic culture there. I remember my mom had huge vases and ceramic pieces in my house growing up, and I'm beginning to appreciate them more and more. Aspects of Korean culture have already begun to take form in my pieces without any conscious effort on my part."
Are there any specific themes that resonate throughout your work?
"A lot of my background tends to shine through. After receiving a BA in Fashion Design and design certificates from Central Saint Martins, London College of Design and Istituto Europeu di Design, I moved to Los Angeles to pursue my career in fashion design and styling. When I make a collection, it tends to look like a fashion show, with opening, transitional, and concluding pieces following a logical progression. It's as if I were preparing them to walk on a catwalk."
What led you to veer away from fashion?
"I wanted to be a fashion designer for all my life before I discovered ceramics. But soon I grew weary of the industry after years of styling and designing. I had retained a love and talent for drawing, and after thinking about how I could make them stand out, I started hand-painting them onto ceramics, and I felt great doing that. I got a great response. It felt right."
What's been the single most impactful experience since you've embarked on your ceramics journey?
"I tried to mass produce pieces for the sole purpose of wholesale, but that changed when I had my child in 2012. Before a woman gives birth, she undergoes a nesting phase, where she wants to clean and organizing everything in order to prepare for a new life. At that time, I purged everything from my business and it felt so good. I realized that mass production wasn't my forte, and I proceeded to restructure my business by going back to hand-making pieces in smaller batches. Having my child was monumental to the success of my business - I realized that I didn't want to work for my business, but rather wanted it to fit within my lifestyle. Once I adopted that framework, everything else came together."
Your pieces explore different written and graphic styles. What are the main sources of inspiration that you draw from, and how do you tie them all together?
"Usually, if nothing comes to mind, I sit down and try to sketch out preliminary ideas. I could be washing dishes or taking care of my baby, and the idea will suddenly surface. My theory is that you are constantly feeding your brain inspiration just by looking at something. I'm constantly being influenced by the outside world, even if I don't want to. When I go with an idea, the pieces just fall into place."
"Bailey Doesn't Bark?"
“I'd gotten Bailey around the same time I started my business. At the time, people would ask how her behavior was and I'd say Bailey doesn't bark! I wanted to lead a life where I could have people and pets around that I love, so I decided starting a business of my own would be the best decision."