If you believed Cathy Pope, you’d think that her successful designer jewellery business is the product of luck – but after an hour of asking her about how she found herself at the helm, it’s clear that it’s more about hard work and a good eye for the beautiful than anything like luck!
With a degree in film and television, Cathy kicked off her career far from the jewellery world, working in advertising both in London and then back home, in the lifestyle and financial media. Like a number of creative women I’ve met, Cathy wasn’t a fan of corporate life, describing herself as “bored brainless”, and so she started dress-making every evening. I think it’s fair to say that a pretty significant proportion of New Zealand’s creative output is coming from people who work a fulltime day job and then start working again when they get home! That love of designing and creating opened the door to a role in costuming on Lord of the Rings, which in turn allowed her to start doing styling for TV and film. Imagine if you will, working on various styling projects and continuing with dressmaking – Cathy was very busy.
During this time, Cathy met a woman who would change her life with a simple gift – a string of agate beads. These sat on a mirror in Cathy’s room for a long time, until one day she was inspired to put one bead on a chain and presto – the first Chunky Choker was born. It was perfect with its strong, simple design and high quality genuine gemstone, and every time Cathy wore it, it was in hot demand. Eventually a store in Christchurch saw her wearing it and asked to stock it and so Cathy took the plunge, changing up her styling work to more fluid TV commercial work and creating space to start building her jewellery brand.
Just before Christmas in 2012, Cathy Pope jewellery was featured in Viva and the demand really started to grow. That’s the moment where a brand becomes a business, and a designer starts to become a true jack of all trades. Cathy explains “people don’t realise how hard it is until they’re doing it. Us New Zealanders have great tenacity, but there are some really lean years in a small business – often it gets worse before it gets better. Being on top of the business side of things is crucial”. That focus on business means Cathy has given a huge amount of thought to where she sources her chains and gemstones from, so that she can ensure she gets the high quality her customers expect. She travelled to India and knocked on doors until she was satisfied she had found reliable sources of gemstones who were also running a sustainable, ethical business. She’s since spent years returning to India to keep nurturing her relationships and checking things are tip-top. She also works with businesses in Italy (where specialty chains like the box chain on the spinner necklace are produced) and China.
Over the past five years, Cathy has built an understanding of what her customers want and value, and she’s particularly lucky to connect with her customers personally through her studio where customers can come to try on the jewellery and shop. This has allowed her to refine her designs, letting ideas percolate away and feeding her creativity with a broad range of inspiration, until one day “it just pops!”. She loves giving women bolder, punchier designs, saying “a lot of women come of age and they find freedom in fashion”. It was that interest in fresh, interesting design that led to the recent launch of Cathy Curates, a collection of resin jewellery that Cathy has recently launched and which has been incredibly popular. It perfectly complements her designer collections, giving women the opportunity to buy something at a smaller price but with the confidence of great design.
I was curious about Cathy’s studio approach, and what she saw as the benefit to this approach over stocking retailers or keeping her business online. Cathy explained that naming your brand after yourself means that customers want to know you too, so having a separate studio at home means she gets to meet those customers and build a relationship – an experience she obviously loves and relishes. While online is here to stay, Cathy believes in the power of explaining the story of the brand to customers and says retailers who embrace that approach are the ones who do the best at selling the product. It also seems like a great excuse to have some really great parties, like the customer event Cathy hosted around the pool at home complete with everyone’s fave cheeky Kiwi, Anika Moa. Showing her customers hospitality is important to Cathy, and bringing Cathy Pope to other towns and cities allows her to see more of her customers.
After pop-ups in Napier, Tauranga and Christchurch, there was huge demand for a pop-up in Wellington, so Cathy has teamed up with Flox and Ema to bring their collections to the city this weekend, at Prefab (find out more about the pop-up here!). Their relationship started with a project in India about 18 months ago, where Cathy, Flox and Ema (as well as photographer Sacha Stejko) ran workshops at a local school for two days, before returning to New Zealand to run an exhibition to raise funds for the communities they’d worked with in India as well as Kidscan In NZ. I’d recommend popping along to Prefab on Friday evening for a glass of rosé and an opportunity to meet the ladies in person – and to try on all the beautiful treasures. I’ll see you there!
The Wellington pop up kicks off at 5pm on Friday 25 May and runs until 4pm on Saturday 26 May at Prefab Hall (conveniently located to allow you to grab a cup of coffee and a delicious pastry then mosey on over to look at a few gorgeous bits and pieces on a Saturday morning!). All the details are on Facebook, here: Wellington Pop Up!