Ice + Dust Pottery: From hobby to thriving small business

Halley Immelt turned to an unusual source to kickstart her side hustle—her full-time job.

Brittany Moseley
Halley Immelt, founder of Ice + Dust Pottery, in her home studio

Halley Immelt always assumed she would get back into ceramics.

After picking up the hobby in high school in the early 2000s, she went to college, first as a fine arts major before settling on graphic design. After graduating in 2009, she worked as a page designer for the Delaware Gazette and spent a couple years designing for the American Motorcyclist Association. Today, she is a senior graphic designer at CoverMyMeds.

Along the way, she continued to think about ceramics and told herself if she ever had an extra couple thousand dollars, she’d build her own art studio. She assumed it would be a hobby for retirement, but in 2017, she got the chance to kickstart her pottery dreams sooner than expected, thanks to her employer.

“We have this program called CoverMyQuest where you have a chance to pitch an idea for what you’d do with a mini grant of $4,000,” Immelt says. “It has to be something completely unrelated to work. In 2017, I got up the courage to do my little three-minute pitch and pitched this idea of starting this studio in my basement.”

Halley Immelt, founder of Ice + Dust Pottery, at work in her home studio

Even four years later, Immelt still seems surprised she was one of the winners. “People go on these incredible trips and do these incredibly selfless things, and here I am being like, I want to play with clay,” she says, laughing.

Immelt’s coworkers were excited about her playing with clay. As she began throwing pottery again, she would bring her practice mugs into work for people to use. “It became this cool thing if you were able to get one in the morning,” says Immelt’s friend and coworker, Jessie Hunter. “I think people started to really understand that it was somebody within the business that was making them. It’s just a cool thing to promote somebody you work with.”

When Immelt received the grant, she had a moment of panic. “I was like, oh crap, now I really got to do this,” she recalls. But she also says the grant kickstarted something in her. “I think if I hadn’t won the grant, I probably would have just sat there and kept dreaming about it,” she admits. 

Immelt didn’t have a concrete business plan when she started, but based on the expenses associated with ceramics, she knew the hobby would have to fund itself. Late nights spent scrolling through Instagram showed Immelt how other makers were—excuse the pun—making it work business wise: promotion, promotion, promotion.

"Say what you will about Covid, but what I've seen in the last couple of months is people really jumping in and supporting small businesses like my own," says Halley Immelt of Ice + Dust Pottery, pictured here in her home studio.

About the business name: Ice + Dust is a reference to what comets are made of. Immelt is named after Halley’s Comet, but after a lifetime of people mispronouncing her name, she decided to pick a different moniker for her business.

It’s easy to see the appeal of Immelt’s products. She makes speckled, cozy housewares that are as beautiful as they are familiar. She sells a variety of bright and pastel mugs as well as geometric trinket dishes, planters and home décor. She is equally at home creating kitschy Ohio mugs—one of her most popular items—and quirky planters in the shape of skulls and kittens. 

“She was just one of those artists that stood out,” says Megan Green, executive director of Craftin’ Outlaws. Immelt was an emerging artist during the 2018 show. “She had everything you would want in a vendor: a great variety of price points and products.”

Before Covid-19 hit last March, Immelt was already planning to scale up her online sales, so when 2020 craft shows and markets began to cancel one after the other, Ice + Dust was actually in a good place. “[In 2020], I think I tripled my online sales from where last year was,” she says. “It was incredible. Say what you will about Covid, but what I’ve seen in the last couple of months is people really jumping in and supporting small businesses like my own. It was amazing.”

After a busy holiday season, Immelt is looking forward to buying a larger kiln for her home studio, experimenting with new products and boosting her sales. “My goal for [this] year is $27,500 because that was the income I made at my first newspaper job out of college,” Immelt says.

Brittany Moseley is assistant digital editor.

Ice + Dust Pottery

Business: Handmade pottery

Owner: Halley Immelt

Employees: 1

2020 net income: $22,000