After growing up in Bridgeton, New Jersey, Adler discovered an interest in pottery at summer camp when he was 12 years old. He attended Brown University, studying semiotics and art history, but spent most of his time at the nearby Rhode Island School of Design making pots. His RISD pottery, including Chanel inspired teapots and Sevres inspired urns, reflected his interests in pop culture, early hip hop culture, contemporary art, and fashion. His professor told him: “You have no talent, you need to leave and give up on your dreams and go become a lawyer.”
After graduating, he spent three years as an assistant in the entertainment industry before returning to pottery, despite his former teacher’s disapproval. He said in a 2013 interview that “…every creative person, and every craftsperson, should have a naysayer to rebel against.”
In 1990, Adler started teaching classes at Mud, Sweat ‘n’ Tears in New York City in exchange for free studio space. With those pots on hand, he cold-called the buyers from Barneys New York, received an order, and became a full-time production potter. In 1993 he founded Jonathan Adler Enterprises LLC.
He started as a production potter, producing on his own for years. He later worked with Aid to Artisans, a non-profit organization that works to help artisans in developing countries by connecting them with designers in America. While in Peru visiting pottery studios, he was inspired by South American textiles and started designing pillows, throws, and rugs inspired by the work he found there. Adler opened his first store in SoHo, Manhattan in 1998 and today his designs are sold in 30 stores and over 1,000 retailers. His designs include pots and sofas.