Mainstreaming Bangladeshi Tableware

Billy Lloyd, an award-winning master designer, is the architect behind Monno Ceramics international success. Monno’s ceramic tableware designed by him graced dining tables across five continents. A potter turned designer, his design philosophy is inspired by ‘less is more’ minimalist approach. The creative director of a local ceramics giant spoke to Colors Alvia Zaman Shristy about his design ideas, his journey with Monno and the story of the company’s success in the international mainstream.

Billy Lloyd has created magic for Monno Ceramics

The trace of a smile graced his face when he said ‘I was coincidentally born in 1984, the same year as the establishment of Monno Ceramics.’ Billy humoured that perhaps working for Monno had been predestined. Born and brought up in Oxford, he had spent the majority of his life there. He discovered his love for ceramics early in his secondary school days while attending St. Edward’s School in Oxford. Naturally, throughout his school life, he made an effort to go out of his way to learn all he could about ceramics, design and art. However, right before college, Billy decided to take a gap year to city hop across Europe. He spent the time-consuming various forms of art which proved to be useful later in his life.

Thereafter Billy enrolled in an Art Foundation course in Oxfordshire by the end of which he was further determined to pursue a Bachelor of Arts in Ceramics. Billy had often wandered off to London- his primary source of art inspiration- during holidays. He was massively drawn towards and in the course compelled to finally move to London in 2003. There he began to work towards his BA in Ceramics at the Camberwell College of Art and Design under the prestigious University of the Arts London (UAL). At college, he got to work with a variety of materials and garnered invaluable knowledge about the different techniques of pottery. Immediately after graduating from UAL in 2006, he assisted Lisa Hammond at Maze Hill Pottery for a year. He then moved on to a four-year-long apprenticeship with a leading ceramicist- Julian Stair. Under his mentorship, he found a flair for making modern tableware suitable for everyday use.

A big break was awaiting him at the end of his apprenticeship with Julian in 2011. The esteemed Cockpit Arts Award was bestowed upon him that year. The creative excellence that he displayed was recognized by Priscilla Carluccio on the selection panel. The award consisted of business support provided by Cockpit Arts as well as a subsidized studio space for one year. It was there in his very first studio that he realized a greater dream- to become a product designer. 

Billy’s dream came to life when he designed 50 unique mugs, named ‘An edition of Fifty Mugs’. The designs used a combination of five geometric shapes, various handles and two surfaces. They were bought together as a collection for Sir Terence Cornan by his wife as a Christmas present. The story brought a lot of attention to his work and thereby an exclusive collaboration with The Conran Shop. This meant that his designs now went on to be manufactured by another company- Stoke on Trent. In this way, he established a foothold for the first time as a designer in the industry. 

As his career progressed, the demand for his tableware was on the rise. Much of his precious time was spent making pottery.  A successful career entitled even more recognition. In 2013 he was nominated for the Homes and Gardens Designer Awards. There he met his biggest motivator- renowned product designer Robin Levien RDI who was quick to point out how Billy had an extraordinary sense of design and a hunger to learn more. Hence, Robin encouraged him to commit to becoming an industrial designer as opposed to a potter. Thus began his journey to self-discovery. He considers himself lucky to have found both a friend and mentor in Robin.

With a positive attitude and a renewed passion for design, he strived to make a name for himself as a designer. His intricate craftsmanship and aspiration towards new ventures proved to be rewarding when he was awarded a scholarship from the Royal Warrant Holders Association’s charity: The Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust (QEST). Quick on his feet, he utilized this opportunity to learn in one-to-one workshops from expert model and mould makers.

Soon after receiving the QEST award, he started working his way up to big clients all over the world. He has so far in his career worked with Akzo Nobel, Brindisa Kitchens, Brown’s Hotel, Conran and Partners, Cult Ceramics, Heritage Crafts Association, London Craft Week, Spring Restaurant, The Stafford Hotel, SE5 Architects just to name a few. As he became a respectable name in the business, Robin suggested that he exhibit his designs. The following years he went on to display his work at Fortnum and Mason, Royal Academy of Arts, Somerset House, London Design Festival and Clerkenwell Design Week. 

However, the annual exhibition that monumentally influenced his career is Ambiente in Frankfurt. He first attended Ambiente- the world’s largest homewares trade show- back in 2014. In 2017 he was awarded a place in the Talents Dining exhibition of Hall 4.0 at the event. Talents is known to promote young designers who make a significant impact on their respective fields. This acted as an opportunity for him to display his latest tableware collection by the name Rapha. It was there that he was introduced to Monno Ceramics’ collection. Billy was immediately impressed after seeing Monno’s exhibition stand and collaborated with them in 2018 as a freelancer. The next year he was invited by them to come for a tour of their Dhaka factories. They proceeded to offer him the position of Creative Director which he agreed upon. “It was an easy decision on my part because as people they were not only warm and hospitable but also had strong work ethics,” he said. To this, he added: “Ever since, we have bonded like a family, and that led to setting up a design studio for Monno here in London. I am truly grateful for the creative freedom that the job entitles as well as their faith in me.” 

Billy Lloyd with his Monno Ceramics team

Most of his time in Dhaka is spent at the factory. The highly skilled craftsmen continually keep inspiring him. Outside of it, Billy wholeheartedly enjoys indulging in the flavorful world of Bangladeshi cuisine. Recently, under his leadership, Monno has launched a brand-new flagship showroom in Banani. It has been carefully curated with all of Monno’s collection thus far. This trusty super brand is a popular household name in Bangladesh. Hence, he is mindful of the rising demand from the middle-class working people of Bangladesh while designing. He noted that the restaurant business has been booming since his arrival, especially cafes. So, he has made the best out of it by working with several up-and-coming restaurants. Not only that, but the team is also collaborating with influencers to highlight their modern yet practical everyday tableware. 

During his tenure, he has refurbished several aspects of the company. He has torn down the age-old image to reinvent how Monno is perceived as a brand. The tableware wasn’t the only thing that got remodelled in the process. The new marketing material and exhibition design adopted by him has significantly improved the brand identity. An overseas design studio, as well as a showroom, has come into existence. Monno UK in London, United Kingdom is the hub for all internal design and is led by the man himself. The company has been rebranded, complete with a digital catalogue and website through which people from North America, Europe, Asia, Australia and Africa are ordering their products. 

Billy, along with his team, is marching on with hopes of venturing into the remaining two continents and establishing a strong foothold into the global market. Elated with the current market response from retailers and hospitality businesses alike, he is beyond excited to manufacture the tableware with their own logo across all the corners of the world.

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