Top 20 most frequently asked questions:
1. Where are you located?
Our studio is in Nabeul, which is on the Mediterranean coast about an hour south of Tunis and just north of the resort town of Hammamet. We are an American-owned company and our headquarters is in the US (offices and US warehouse are in Clinton, near Seattle, Washington).
2. How long has Le Souk Ceramique been in business?
We started the studio in Nabeul in 1997 first and then established the US side for administration and North American distribution.
Since 1997, we've grown to 40+ employees in Nabeul and the US.
3. What are working conditions like in Tunisia and specifically at Le Souk Ceramique?
We have uploaded videos of our studio on You Tube, Facebook and on this website. As evidenced by these videos, our studio is well lit, well ventilated and clean. Our salaries are well above minimum wage and industry standards in Tunisia. We pay fully into the national health care system and Tunisian social security. For July and August in the full summer heat, our employees leave at 2pm for the day, though July and August salaries are paid in full. Males and females work side by side and we comply with Tunisian law that bans the veil in the workplace. We are planning to get certification as a Fair Trade studio as permitted by the Tunisian government. Prior to the January 2011 revolution, it was not possible to get third party certification but as the laws change,
we hope to have the proper inspection and certification.
4. Are Le Souk Ceramique items foodsafe?
Yes, we buy only foodsafe paints and glazes. We comply with US FDA regulations for lead and cadmium, European REACH regulations, as well as the even more stringent California Prop 65 standards. We buy all our glazes from a few European manufactures, such as Fritta, Ferro, Esmaltes and Colorobia. These glaze manufactures produce highly sophisticated, foodsafe materials. Furthermore, we have our designs tested at a third-party laboratory to assure compliance.
5. Are Le Souk Ceramique items really hand-painted?
Yes, we paint each piece free-hand. This means we use no stencils or decals or machinery in our artwork. To legally claim an item as "hand-painted" one need only paint a tiny aspect by hand while painting the rest by machine, yet it can still be called "hand-painted". At Le Souk, as you can see in our videos, we paint each piece from start to finish free-hand.
6. How come the same design or item can look different sometimes?
Because of the team approach and because each person paints their part free-hand, no two pieces will ever be identical. Furthermore, we mix each batch of color by hand, so color intensity can vary over time. Also, as you watch the videos, notice how each person has a different water ratio to their batch of paint.
Each time someone dips their paintbrush in water and then the glaze color, the color density will be affected. Furthermore, we paint a hundred or so of the same item at a time. So the items painted first will have dried longer than the more recently finished items. This will affect how the glazes fire in the kiln. And finally, items placed higher up in the kiln might have a shade difference compared to items lower in the kiln. In sum, there are a lot of reasons why no two pieces are ever alike.
7. Who comes up with your designs?
Some of our patterns are our take on traditional North African designs. Patterns such as Honey or Sabrine are found all across the region in ceramics, tiles, mosaics and other venues, though the colors for Honey and Sabrine are specific to Le Souk. Other patterns are our own creations, such as Sauvage, Azoura, Citronique and Solena. At any given time, we aim to paint 8 or 9 active designs. All of our designs are copyrighted.
8. Do you do private designs? Yes, we can do that but we do have minimum quantities to abide by. If you are interested in a private design, please send us the artwork to review and we can discuss whether it's something we can do. All of our designs are copyrighted and we will respect the intellectual property of your artwork with respect to a private design program.
9. What is the process for hand-painting the pieces?
We use a team approach. No piece is painted from start to finish by just one person. First we paint the design outlines, such as the black honeycomb pattern for Honey or the the blue lines for Tabarka and then each piece is passed to a different person for each color. So for Honey, the first person does the black lines, the second person does the green dots, the third does the red dots, the fourth does the yellow dots, the fifth does the tiny black dots and then the sixth person does the black edge work as the finishing touch.
10. How many shapes do you make?
We currently make 31 different shapes and sizes. We do make small changes every year usually but we're pretty stable with most of the bisques. If you do have a suggestion on a new shape, please let us know.
11. How do you make the shapes?
We hand-make each piece. For the round pieces with volume (halloware) such as pitchers, mugs, tagine lids, utensil holders, etc. we thrown each piece on a potters wheel. For other flatter round pieces such as plates, platters and serving bowls, we use a hand-gauge. For square or oval pieces, we use a hand press moulde. You can see videos of this process on our website as well as Facebook and You Tube.
12. Where do you get your clay?
The clay we use is from northwest Tunisia in a region called Tabarka. This is the clay for our regular line of all our serveware in all our designs such as Honey, Sabrine, Aqua Fish, etc. It differs from the clay for our Cookable Tagines though.
13. What's the difference between Cookable Tagines and Serving Tagines?
There is a huge difference. First, the clay. Our cookable clay is "refractory", meaning it can be used directly on the stovetop at low temperature for slow cooking. The clay is able to absorb the heat without expanding and cracking. The clay we use for our Serving Tagines, as well as all our tableware,
is clay from the area near Tabarka, Tunisia (in the northwest). This clay is not refractory, meaning it cannot be used on the stovetop but it has a good coefficient of dilatation, meaning it conforms well with our glazes. The colors show well and the glazes bind with the bisque while crazing is kept to normal levels. With every order of a Cookable Tagine, we include a sheet explaining the difference as well as care instructions for the Cookable Tagine and a few recipes.
14. What is crazing?
When heated and/or cooled, the clay piece will expand or contract at a given rate. The glaze will do the same thing but to a lesser extent. If the coefficient of dilatation is out of range, meaning the clay or the glaze expand/contact too much in relation to each other, the result will be excessive crazing. These are the little micro fissures in the glaze. It's inherent in all earthenware and not a defect when kept to reasonable levels. It's not a matter of hygienic safety but more aesthetical value. A little crazing is inherent but excessive crazing is not appealing.
15. Are your items safe for the dishwasher, microwave and oven?
For the dishwasher, yes, our items are all fine except the Cookable Tagine. We recommend hand-washing this piece. All of our other 31 shapes in all the designs are fine. As for microwave, yes, again they are fine with the caveat that they will get hot to the touch after a bit. The red clay from Tabarka is not the best at heat transfer to the food or drink. The clay absorbs heat as well, though you will not damage the piece with use in the microwave. As for the oven, our regular ceramics are only safe for light reheating.
16. Who are your typical retailers?
The individual store-owner, in the middle-upper niche of the marketplace, is our preferred partner. This includes kitchen and gourmet stores, upscale home décor businesses, coffee shops, wineries, and finer gift shops. We do supply selected large high-end retailers, but you will not find Le Souk Ceramique items in big-box discount marts.
17. Do you sell directly to the public?
Our primary business is to supply and support our fine retailers. They are listed on our “Where To Buy” tab in this website and we encourage you to visit their stores. Additionally, our ceramics are available online through various websites and in some retail catalogs. If none of the above options are viable for your situation, please contact us directly. Our Clinton, WA warehouse has neither a showroom nor a retail sales area though. Our studio in Nabeul is likewise generally closed to the public, though we can accommodate visitors if you happen to be traveling through Nabeul.
18. Do you do wedding registries?
If there is no retailer near you, we are happy to help you set up a registry on your wedding website. It is easy. Kindly call us for information.
19. How do you ship and do you drop-ship?
For the most part we ship with UPS. We do not charge any kind of packing or handling fee. We bill you only the amount UPS bills us.
On some occasions like show specials or seasonal sales specials we will cap freight charges or even offer free freight. If the order is large enough, usually around $1500 or so, we would ship by pallet if your store can accommodate receiving such a shipment. As for drop shipping, yes, it is a service we offer. Please contact us directly for more details.
20. How do you contact retailers for updates and information?
We do not send out broadcast emails or spam. With your permission, we will email you about new designs, sales or seasonal incentives, upcoming trade shows and the like,but this will always be a personal email, not a broadcast. We will also fax this to you if you prefer. We do not rent, loan or sell any customer information whatsoever. No exceptions.