Twins Antony and Richard Joseph’s talent for clever design and innovation thinking all started in their dad’s garage in Edgbaston. David Johns talks to the boys behind the Joseph and Joseph empire
As twin brothers growing up together in Edgbaston there wasn’t much the two Joseph boys weren’t into. With a mum who was an architect and a dad who ran the family glass-making business, Antony and Richard were unsurprisingly naturals at designing and building things, taking the odd bike, or other bits of machinery lying around in the garage, apart and rebuilding them again. In one particularly hare-brain moment the duo set about try to construct a full size sand yacht from scratch with whatever they could lay their hands on. “I think it was at about this point that mum said ‘enough is enough’ and we’d be sent off to let off steam and run wild around the Botanical Gardens – it was the place we’d go to when we were especially hyperactive,” says Antony with a slightly sheepish tone to his voice. “The two of us were always busy though, trying different things. Dad liked to give us projects to do and we’d even sweep up for him when there was glass making going on.”
They say that the early years are the most important and formative ones of your life, and that certainly has to be the case with the Josephs – who eventually hit the big time. The very big time! If you haven’t already worked it out, you’ll probably recognise how big if I give them their business title of Joseph Joseph. That’s right, the lads from Edgbaston are the brains behind the coolest-designed kitchen accessories on the shelves. The name that you’ll see on colourful, innovative and brilliantly conceived products in leading stores like John Lewis up and down the country. In fact Joseph and Joseph currently produces more than 400 lines of which 70 per cent are exported to over 100 countries – which means they have offices in New York, Paris, Tokyo, Dusseldorf as well as their HQ employing more than 70 people in London. “I think mum and dad are really proud of what we have achieved so far,” said Richard. “They know themselves how hard you have to work to do well with your own business. They’re both retired now and still live in Edgbaston and take a real interest in what we do. Mum has been known to do some ‘live’ marketing for us by dropping into John Lewis’s kitchen department from time to time!” Antony and Richard are one of two sets of twin boys which mum and dad have ‘had to cope with’ over the years. “Peter and Philip are also both in business together – in architecture and interior design. We also have two sisters, and one of them is an architect too.”
Antony and Richard went to West House School in Edgbaston before moving on to Winterfold House in Kidderminster. They spent their senior years boarding away from home at Stonyhurst College in Clitheroe, Lancashire. “With six children knocking around I think mum thought it was time we were packed off to give her a break,” joked Antony. After senior school the boys went their separate ways for a while, Richard studying at Loughborough and Cambridge and Antony at Central St Martins, London. Both gained degrees in industrial design before coming together again to launch Joseph Joseph in 2003 after realising how very dull and boring the world of kitchen utensils and accessories was at the time. “I guess we started out right at the moment that celebrity chefs, people like Jamie Oliver, were beginning to be seen, which was quite handy,” said Antony. “We started with just four products – our very first one was a functional and hygienic glass chopping board, which we still produce and remains a very popular seller today.” Indeed, while production of all other Joseph and Joseph products happens in the Far East, the chopping board is still made by a workforce of eight people in a small factory in West Bromwich. “It works well, so why change it?” said Antony. “The factory and the people there mean a lot to us, it’s how we started. We’re both very proud to be from Birmingham and while we are now both in London, the place continues to be our roots.”
Richard admits that in those early days they produced “some really wacky things”. He explained: “When you’re small you try to get noticed. We both love product design, and seeing our things on the shelf in a shop is really exciting. We were very much in the ‘doing it to survive’ mode. We wanted to take tried and tested items and give them a real art and design approach. We wanted them to stand out because of the quality of the design and the colours, but also the quality of the finish and how they work. We wanted people to know a Joseph Joseph product just by how it looks and feels and works. It takes a couple of years for a product to come from concept to the finished item.”
It’s all that flair and attention to detail which now sees the business turnover tens of millions of pounds a year with brilliantly colourful and ingenious cooking utensils (how clever are those bowls within bowls!), knives and chopping boards. But the boys aren’t done yet – no way! Earlier this year they went into recycling with their 60-litre Totem waste separation bin – cleaning and organisation in the home is ‘the’ big thing of the moment according to the boys. “But there’s lots of stuff for us to look into doing in the future,” said Antony. “There are some areas which we aren’t into very much at all, there are some we aren’t in at all – stuff like small cookware and electricals. There’s lots we can do in the empty spaces. We have 200 products in development at the moment, but we can’t say too much about them because we get copied so much!” As the nation laps up all things cooking and baking on TV, in books and online, it’s good to know that a couple of mischievous boys from Brum have truly become kings of the kitchen!