Chupi Sweetman is one of the most acclaimed Irish designers working with metals today, transforming shiny, malleable materials into highly sought after pieces drawn from Irish nature. Her eponymous brand has featured in magazines across the world and is beloved across social media.
However, her journey to jewellery stardom wasn’t the linear story you would think. In fact, this leading star of Irish design and #HTCdesign ambassador has taken what the philosophical would call the road less travelled, but it’s helped her get to where she needs to be. (Hint: on your person.)
We take at look at her career lessons and inspirations to see what it takes to become the next Chupi.
Try To Be Different
Chupi doesn’t follow trends. She goes with her gut, and her innate sense of style pays off – check out her Instagram photos, shot with the HTC One M9, for evidence of always getting it right.
Up until the recent past, most Irish women aspired to traditional Claddagh rings, sterling silver earrings or crowded charm bracelets as adornments. Now, when asked what they’d treat themselves to during a trip to the jewellers, the answer is without hesitation, short and unanimous: Chupi.
Chupi strives for uniqueness. Think rings shaped like errant swan feathers, silver wild ivy earrings, simple necklaces with 14k gold acorn pendants and bangles and rings cast from actual hawthorn twigs, the ridges of the bark apparent to sight and touch. She even made her own pieces for her wedding to Brian, her long-term partner, casting her and husband’s ring from the same tree, “My ring was cast from a twig and Brian’s cast from a piece of the bark.” Chupi didn’t just stop there, creating bespoke pieces for all her bridesmaids to thank them for the huge part they played in her and Brian’s big day. DIY brides, eat your heart out.
Chupi used the HTC One M9 during her Japanese honeymoon: “These striking Tori gates are at the entrance to every temple marking the change from sacred to profane. They definitely ensure you can’t miss the temples!”
Take Your Time
However, Chupi’s ‘journey’ to jewellery design wasn’t as serendipitous as liking bright and shiny things and incorporating a brand. Chupi has cut her teeth in Ireland’s creative scene since her late teens. She counts healthy cookbook co-author and designer-stocked-in-Topshop as lines on her impressive CV. One of the main reason’s she started designing was her granny. “When my grandmother died, she left me a beautiful necklace, and I asked myself the same question, what would I leave? I’ve always been fascinated by jewellery, good jewellery; serious jewellery marks a moment, an event, a time in your life.”
Chupi’s career shows us that trying different things can only help you be better when it comes to achieving your dreams – be open to experiencing everything.
“The bright lights of Tokyo were hugely inspiring. Looking out at all the lights at night was like a galaxy of constellations. Stars have always inspired me so much so that I recently designed a set of zodiac star sign necklaces.”
Always Have A Hobby
Chupi only started out a jewellery designer in the precarious climate that was 2011 after her then fiancé and now husband implored her to start making the pieces she was creating for herself on a grander scale. So, if you have a creative pastime, like knitting or creative writing, which elicits endless compliments friends and loved ones, take some time to consider whether or not that is what you’re meant to be doing. Chupi Sweetman is just one of many gifted hobbyists who have channelled their talents into a money-making endeavour. Supermodel and Instagram star Karlie Kloss has a cookie business and wedding dress designer Vera Wang was working in fashion magazines for years before becoming the go-to name for amazing and iconic gowns.
“Hats and sundresses were in order for some design time in the sun! Here I’ve thrown on my Thirteen Leaves in the Forest Necklace that instantly dresses up any outfit.”
Look Everywhere For Inspiration
Chupi’s delicate and textured designs are inspired by the nature that infuses Ireland’s enchanted landscape. As a result, her work is wholly distinctive and immediately recognisable as uniquely Chupi. “All of my work is inspired by nature,” she explains of her design process. “I start with an acorn, a feather, a twig and then fill my journal full of pencil sketches. I was brought up in the wilds of West Wicklow, deep in the very beautiful Irish countryside, so that has really influenced my aesthetic.”
In recent months, Chupi has been looking beyond Ireland for influences. A few weeks ago she visited Japan on a belated honeymoon, using the HTC One M9 to capture anything that intrigued her maven mind: “The bright lights of Tokyo were hugely inspiring. Looking out at all the lights at night was like a galaxy of constellations. Stars have always inspired me so much so that I recently designed a set of zodiac star sign necklaces.”
A glimpse at the photos of her recent trip to Tokyo might serve as an indication for what we can see in upcoming collections. Japan has been on her bucket list since she was ten, so a belated honeymoon provided the “perfect opportunity” to explore this stunning country. When she wasn’t indulging in deep fried chicken feet and ‘the best ramen’, she was scouring the place for inspiration triggers. “While in Japan we escaped the hustle and bustle of Tokyo to an amazing tiny island where our days were spent eating amazing home cooked food and lazing on the beach drawing new designs in my sketchbook,” she says. “So without a doubt Japan will be a huge influence on the new pieces.”
“We came across so many gorgeous temples in Japan. This one had two of my favourite things combined to make a huge gold flower!”
Imperfection Can Be Beautiful
This self-confessed magpie – check out the photos of her workspace for confirmation and her fabulous Instagram account with images made even more perfect thanks to her phone of choice, the HTC One M9’s built-in photo editing features – doesn’t look for symmetrical perfection in her picturesque surroundings. “I adore all the beautiful flaws of natural things inspire me,” she says. “No two twigs are the same in nature, and I love the beauty of this, it never ceases to inspire me.” She purposefully doesn’t mass-produce collections, wanting to make her designs as singular as possible to her customers.
Social Media Is Key To Modern Business Success
If you know anyone of discerning taste, no doubt you’ve seen a glimpse of Chupi on their social media feeds – if ever there was a designer whose pieces were destined for Instagram, it’s Chupi. She is a maven when it comes to broadcasting the brand at its digital best, using the HTC One M9 and its 20.7MP camera to capture her work and share it with fans.
Chupi has followers all over the world and gets a kick from seeing how each person wears their own Chupi. “We absolutely love seeing how people style their Chupi pieces,” she says with genuine sincerity. As for her favourite ways to communicate visually with fans via the medium of her smartphone? “Instagram is my favourite channel as I adore all the gorgeous photography, but I’m also obsessed with Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter. You can see all our pretty things, sneak peeks and behind the scenes by searching xchupi on your favourite social media channel.”
Her phone is the one gadget she can’t live without. A top-of-the-range smartphone is akin to a limb for the designer slash entrepreneur. See something that triggers an idea for an entire new collection? Snap it. Have a thought about how to make Chupi even more of a talked about brand? Just scribble a note on one of the many apps that promise productivity.
“How amazing is the texture on this crustacean? Wild and natural things are my biggest inspiration, it’s amazing the imperfect beauty that can be found all around us.”
Always Be Open To Change
Another key feature that is distinctively Chupi is the materials she uses. “I love working with gold,” she says, of her trademark metal. Chupi’s HTC even matches her work – the HTC One M9 comes in gold on silver and gunmetal grey, perfect for extending the ‘Chupi’ look. “Gold will always be my favourite, but there are some strong advocates for silver in our studio, so we also do our key pieces in silver. I have started to fall in love with rose gold; it’s so warm against your skin; it really makes you glow.”
While Chupi’s first collections focused heavily on metalwork, her movement towards gemstones shows she is confident about expanding her company. She’s not afraid to take risks, especially when the results have such beautiful potential.
Her gemstones rings where emerald hues are set within golden or silver cast twigs are currently the must-have accessory du jour. “I love shiny, sparkling things and one of my favourite things is to go visit my gem dealer and look at the beautiful gemstones, I am working with Morganite and Emeralds for our new Chupi Classics collection.”
“Lots of lazing took place on our own secluded little island and being surrounded by the beauty of nature in such a relaxing setting and away from the hustle and bustle of the city really got the creative juices flowing for A/W 15.”