How did she do that? Cathy Pope on launching her eponymous jewellery brand

11 September 2018
By Fashion Quarterly

Disillusioned by the corporate world, this costume designer turned jewellery designer’s pursuit is not one without great spiritual growth, creative ability and determination.

At age 45, Cathy Pope reveals how she launched her eponymous jewellery brand and where she’s headed next.

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Can you explain your career path to date?
It’s been varied but the overriding theme has been creative.  After school I did a Bachelor of Communications degree followed by my OE in London. Back in New Zealand, I was selling advertising for a magazine company (ACP) all the while running a dressmaking business as a hobby on the side. In 1999, I became disillusioned with the corporate world so I joined the costume department on The Lord of The Rings and went on to work in film, TV and theatre in Ireland and back in NZ until 2013 when I launched Cathy Pope Jewellery. My focus now is 100% Cathy Pope Jewellery but I still dabble in costume styling for TV commercials.

What do you love most about your job?
The absolute creative freedom it allows me is my biggest joy. I enjoy being in charge of my own time and being able to self-manage. I love visiting my manufacturers in India and seeing them turn my drawings and designs into tangible works of art and I especially enjoy the challenge of learning about jewellery construction, gemstones and pushing design boundaries.

What is your biggest accomplishment at work or a moment you’re most proud of?
Five years into the business I’ve learnt so much but the most important thing I’ve learnt is to trust my decisions. In the beginning, I left no stone unturned and tried almost everything, so five years on slowing it down, listening to my intuition and reworking the business to best suit my lifestyle was a big accomplishment.

Slowing down the amount of collections I produce, allowed me to align my core personal and business values of producing quality, ethical and collectible jewellery, which in turn enabled me to create better and more thoughtful designs. The results have exceeded my expectations in terms of growth and the positioning of my brand.

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What is the biggest obstacle you’ve overcome, as it relates to your career or industry?
Imposter syndrome. I was never encouraged to pursue a creative career even though I was naturally creative from a young age. Calling myself a Costume Designer first and now a Jewellery Designer was difficult because I was never formally trained so I felt like a fraud for a long time. I’m over that now and am really proud of what I’ve achieved. I just took the back road to get there.

What do you believe has been the key to your success?
My success generally comes down to the combination of natural flair, creative ability and sheer determination.

What do you wish you’d known at the start of your career?
That there were more opportunities available to me. I remember feeling very uninspired by the options presented to me when I left school so I just followed what my friends were doing. Despite having a great education, the educational system in the ’80s didn’t encourage people to pursue creative careers like it does now.

What’s something that you’re really excited about in your industry right now? 
I’m excited by the personal growth aspect of what’s happening for small business owners in New Zealand and internationally. I’m interested in the notion of crafting a successful life in business that suits you rather than it being all about the bottom line and burning yourself out. My interpretation of success has changed as I’ve become older and wiser and owning a small product business has certainly been the hardest job I’ve had, yet it’s the most satisfying because I make the rules, set the targets, manage my time and am ultimately responsible for the outcome. I find it inspiring and energizing to meet other women in similar roles and to support and uplift each other.

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What is your life motto?
Never let fear decide your future.

Who’s your female icon or inspiration and why?
I’ve always admired Vivienne Westwood for her strength, determination, sheer talent and rawness.  The fact that she invented punk in the 60s, and is still one of the most innovative and best fashion designers in 2018 is beyond inspirational.

What are your top three tips for landing a job in your industry?

  1. Understand business. Working for larger organisations first can teach you lots of valuable skills. You also need to be able to understand and execute marketing strategies, social media, be able to budget and manage finances, be astute, trust in yourself and take risks.
  2. As a creative it’s so important to be a good designer. Don’t copy but learn where and how to find your inspiration to create things that are new and innovative.
  3. Have some life experience behind you, try lots of things before you decide to go out on your own because being a small business owner is really tough.

Which blogs/magazines/websites do you check religiously?
I really enjoy a classic, quality magazines like Vogue and Vanity Fair but enjoy following Lyn at @Iconaccidental, Advanced Style, Iris van Herpen for next level fantasy design. For design and jewellery inspiration I love the work of Swedish illustrator Stina Persson, jeweller Kathleen Whittaker and British ’60s jewellery designer Andrew Grima aka Grima.

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Who do you most admire in business? Why?
Jacinda Ardern inspires me as a role model for all women. I don’t need to list how amazing she is as most of us already know but she feels so relevant and relatable and has made politics so much more accessible and interesting for NZ women. (She also has great taste in jewellery!)

The one beauty product that keeps you looking fresh?
Weleda Skin Food worn under my foundation gives a really fresh dewy look that lasts all day.

What’s the outfit that makes you feel confident and empowered?
I love a jumpsuit and heels. I feel effortlessly dressy.

What are your favourite traits you are drawn to at work or when hiring?
I like quiet, thoughtful creative types and my friend Sal who helps me with my business is like this, as is my husband who does my art direction and gives me solid advice. I’m quite a strong, forthright person so this match is ideal but I always enjoy well-considered and substantiated conversations when it comes to business.

You have already achieved so much, but what’s next for you?
The sky is the limit really. I’m slowly designing my life to be what I want it to be and my business is growing in all the right directions. I don’t aspire to have a huge brand. My work is very much an extension of my personality which is so deeply ingrained in my innate skills and abilities. There is a strong crossover with my personal life and career and I’m enjoying sitting on this magic carpet so who knows where it’ll take me.

Photos: Supplied


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