From Family Traditions to Pottery Powerhouse: Sarah Davis’s Journey with SJD Ceramics

As a young child, Sarah would sit on her grandmother’s lap at the Saskatchewan lake house, doing pottery. Reflecting on that precious time, she doesn’t recall feeling a specific connection to the art; it was more about time with her beloved family. But something must have been planted, as now Sarah has launched SJD Ceramics. She’s a teacher, businessperson, and third-generation ceramic artist, with more than 27,000 followers on Tik Tok.

When Sarah was a teenager, her mother started doing ceramics in their hometown of Tsawwassen. She put her name down on the co-op waiting list. But by the time Sarah was heading to Victoria to start UVic’s Business program in 2019, after two years at Langara School in Vancouver, the waitlist hadn’t budged much.

Finally, in 2020, Sarah had the chance to take a hand building course at Uvic—then COVID hit, and everything shut down. The problem was, she had fallen in love with pottery. Sarah bought a wheel, and her garage in Tsawwassen became a studio. She decided to start making pottery Tik Toks and build her community and following. This pushed her to develop and extend skills quickly. Sarah had to create eye-catching, big, and compelling work to attract and maintain her audience. She still did not consider this a business option but a very time-consuming hobby. Her social media gained traction. It was here, in 2020, that she learned about the Centre of Innovation entrepreneurial co-op at UVic and applied.

Once again, Sarah found herself thinking about the waitlists. Surely she could not be the only person who wanted to do pottery but was stymied by lack of access. In the incubator, she learned to “look for the problem”. BOOM. She knew what the problem was and how to solve it. She applied and won a $5000 Co-op Award and bought a second wheel, clay, glaze chemicals, shelves/cupboards and made some necessary renovations to the garage so it could become a studio. Sarah decided to start a pottery co-op and a ceramics company.

At first, Sarah cold-called people she knew. She had a “what I offer” pdf. It didn’t go great. Then a friend suggested posting it on Tsawwassen Loop, a 12,000-member strong Facebook group, and Sarah built a website. Her classes sold out. She had been running semi-privates, but that was no longer sustainable. It was a turning point for the business.

The Launch Program meets twice a week on Zoom. The speakers are experienced, candid, and interested in the businesses that the students/entrepreneurs are launching. Sarah stressed the commitment of The Coast Capital Innovation Centre team, “they foster a positive environment where people can bounce ideas off everyone. It’s so inspiring.”  From accounting to crafting an effective email, from negotiating contracts to the best ways to share COVID restrictions, the team has been a huge support.

Sarah had not anticipated the community-building aspect of starting a pottery co-op. Anyone can come in and practice in her studio and connect with a common interest. On the sales end of the unexpected, Sarah was thrilled to be offered a contract to create gifts for Aritzia head office staff who had worked on an ecosystem project. She quickly learned how to emboss, complete, and deliver custom vases within five months.

Starting and owning a business solo means “if you don’t like something about it, it’s on you,” shares Sarah.  She sells mugs, vases, etc. at markets, and has found a niche with fire sales on Tik Tok. To date, she has sold roughly 450 pieces and offered 200 class spots for students. Her classes all sell out within a week and she now has four wheels. Also, Sarah’s student base has tripled since she began.

She’s thrilled with her time with the entrepreneurial co-op and encourages prospective young entrepreneurs in school, “Don’t wait until you feel like you’re ready. Just go for it. Ask for help.” Sarah graduated from UVic this Summer.

Written by Gillie Easdon

The Coast Capital Innovation Centre has been made possible through a partnership between the University of Victoria and the Coast Capital Federal Credit Union. Since 2016, Coast Capital has committed over $1.5 million to support entrepreneurs and innovators at UVic.