Chupi Sweetman is founder of the multi-award-winning jewellery brand, Chupi. At 21, Chupi was scouted by Topshop making her the the youngest designer to ever to work with the label. After six successful years, Chupi left to establish her own brand. Aesthetically influenced by imperfect natural beauty, each piece in her collection is designed, manufactured and finished in Ireland.
When you were a child — a toddler — were you always interested in making things?
I guess I’ve always been a designer, Ive always made things. At one stage I told my mum “I want to be a fashion designer” and she got me my first little sewing machine when I was five. Which is insane when you think back on it! Growing up my mum told me and my brother we could be whatever we wanted to be. Why can’t my daughter be the next Irish fashion designer? Someone has to be. My mum was amazing and she made it all possible.
You studied fashion in art college, can you tell us a bit more about that?
Those first couple of years, I was running my little womenswear label out of Cow’s Lane in Temple Bar and I loved it. I thought “well, if I’m going to see if this is what I want to do then I better go to college” so I went and I did fashion in Sallynoggin.
What I loved about a PLC (post leaving certificate course) is that, especially for design, it’s really hands on. You can go and do a four year degree and just hate it. So I wanted to figure out really fast if I wanted to do fashion.
You were scouted by Topshop at 21. Was that terrifying or exciting?
It was absolutely terrifying! I didn’t have a bloody clue what I was doing. I had no idea. On the first night of Topshop’s launch we sold out! It was incredible. It was an amazing feeling of making things that connect with so many people.
The next morning we had no stock to put on the rails. There was nothing. I’d no idea that you were meant to have “replan” — which is incase a store sells out, they have the same amount in the back room so you can put it all out again. Except we didn’t. So for about a week I had nothing on these rails in Topshop, just empty hangers. It was so bad. It was a baptism of fire and I learned so much. But there were things I didn’t learn too. I was so busy surviving that I wasn’t really learning.
That nonsense of “find something you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” is rubbish. Find something you love and you’ll work so passionately because you’ll care about why, and that’s so much more important.
After six years at Topshop were you burned out?
Yeah I did feel burned out. I felt ready for a new challenge. I felt bored. Why be bored? Be challenged and frustrated and exhausted and tired but never be bored. Bored is a danger sign for me. And I was like “this isn’t challenging me anymore.”
Tell us about starting your own business.
I wanted to unlearn all of the mistakes I'd made the first time around. I think one of the biggest mistakes I'd made was I'd never asked for help. We think our mistakes are uniquely ours and we are uniquely stupid. I wanted to ask for help. I reached out, I worked with Going for Growth, which is an amazing female entrepreneur network. There's so much support now if you want to go be a woman in business.
Did you encounter any obstacles as a woman in business?
When I was 21 and I had this huge account with Topshop and I needed a credit card and I went into the bank and they said “come back when you’re a year in business.” And my boyfriend at the time got a credit card — as a student — with five thousand quid! And I couldn’t get one as a designer because I was a 21 year old woman, because I didn’t look like I was going to run a successful company. I ended up using his credit card to run my company.
We need to revolutionise Irish design. Put it on the world map. Why can’t Ireland become the home of the best designers in the whole world? And that’s your job, that’s the next generation.
You have a mostly female team, what do you think about gender balance on a team?
It's not about us versus them. It's about strengths. We’d love to hire more guys. Men and women act differently, we’ve different needs. I'd hate to work on an all female team. And I'd hate to work on an all male team. I love having both sides. We have two dogs — a girl and a boy — for the same reason. We’re better together.