India 2018, what a trip! Best one to date and an absolute joy and pleasure to be able to share my experiences with my customers through my Instagram and Facebook stories and posts. I visit my manufacturers in India most years to build on our relationship, to get the details of my designs just right, oversee sampling, view new gemstones and discover new technologies to push design boundaries. This year I did the same but I also did some wholesale buying for my new Cathy Curates diffusion brand which will be available to purchase at my end of year event and online in the next 3-4 weeks. I have a strong idea of what my customers like now so keep your eyes peeled for big, strong and bold gemstone designs!
When I started Cathy Pope Jewellery I was making all my chunky chokers in NZ myself but because I’m not an actual jeweller I knew I needed to find one. As much as I’d love to manufacture in NZ, it just wasn’t financially viable. In the beginning I worked with a jeweller friend who taught me how to draw and I also met a retired gemstone cutter who would help me understand the technicalities of stones (strength, costs etc) and he often cut the exact shapes I wanted from acrylic so I could send that as a template to India.
The question was, how do I grow my business and make sure that I stay true to my values. So in 2014 I jumped on a plane to India and started the ground work myself.
Let me be very clear about one thing, I was terrified at the prospect of doing this by myself. I’d been to India twice previously and it hadn't been great. The first trip was by myself and my 6 weeks was halved after I was harassed and stalked by a hotel owner (I put that down to bad luck) and then got sick with jardia. I was home after 3 weeks and felt defeated. But something about India got under my skin and I ended up fund raising for an orphanage I’d visited when I got home and raised $11,000. A few months later I met my husband and he’d always wanted to visit India so we planned a trip 6 months later. As expected, it was much easier the second time round and I was almost invisible when I was with Martin. Groups of young men literally pushed me aside in a scramble to get a photo with him like he was a celebrity. He wasn’t quite sure how to handle all the attention but it certainly took the heat off me.
Back in 2011 Cathy Pope Jewellery didn’t exist. So my third trip to India in 2014 was to find a manufacturer. I booked a 10 day trip, stayed in a western style hotel and I was nervous, to say the least. I remember the anxiety just trying to leave the hotel for the first time. I’d been recommended a travel book called Love Jaipur by an Australian travel writer which hand- picked stylish and nice places to visit which was turned out to be my bible.
I found the traffic, poverty and chaos exhausting and wasn’t sure how to approach manufacturers or who to trust. But I was very fortunate to hit the jackpot the first time. I visited a retail shop who manufactured (like most jewellery shops in Jaipur) their own wholesale stock and they invited me to their factory where they made me some pieces on the spot and I could see how the factory operated. The workers looked happy, wore clean uniforms, conditions were clean and safe and he paid them a fair wage with a pension scheme and health insurance. And so they became my first manufacturers.
I’m so fortunate to have such amazing people creating my work and I’m proud to be able to share my story with my customers. Here are just a few of the people who make your jewellery and bring my designs to life. For me it’s important to acknowledge the specialized talents of the people behind the scenes.
My next trip to India was about 8 months later. I soon discovered that designing a full collection and working through technical design issues was difficult to do over emails and time delays so building the relationship was paramount. I jumped on a plane again, armed with lots of new designs and plan for forthcoming collections. This was also a steep learning curve for me because don't forget I’m a designer not a jewellery maker so the lengthy and technical process was fascinating and new to me. I learnt a lot on this trip spending most of my days sitting in the factory discussing, approving, changing and fine tuning designs. I was also very aware that I was putting all my eggs in one basket and perhaps I needed to visit other factories to compare the conditions and quality of work. I’m so pleased I did because it proved to me that my factory was ethical, clean and provided a safe environment. Some factories I went into were unbearably loud, had poor ventilation, low lighting and were stifling hot.
Each trip has got easier and this month was my sixth in ten years. Finally I can say I had the smoothest and most enjoyable trip ever. I met a new manufacturer who has extremely hi tech capabilities and access to a greater selection of gemstones. I also have an even stronger friendship with my existing manufacturer who I continue to enjoy working with.
I took myself away to Jodphur for a few days just for a change of scenery and to do some jewellery designing. This trip was very last minute and unplanned so I didn’t have as many new designs as I’d hoped before I left. Designing in NZ is difficult with the distractions so this was the perfect chance to isolate myself and focus. And what a perfect place to do it! My hotel was like a desert resort and I stayed in a luxury tent set in an idyllic garden with the most beautiful pool. Jodphur is in the Rajasthan desert so a few degrees hotter than Jaipur and walking around in 35 degree heat was challenging. I spent a day wandering through the old blue city with a guide and sampled street food and learnt about the history but the rest of the time was spent drawing and researching jewellery.
Three days later I was back in Jaipur armed with new designs I took to my new factory where I sat with the CAD designer and together we worked through each design in precise measurements and detail. One of my most exciting updates is the new custom designed silicon slider earring backs. These are a sophisticated new butterfly system that have the CP lazered logo and are high performance as they slide easily and sit firmly on the earring post. These will be available before Christmas and will be on the new collection 5th Symphony and all future collections.
After so many trips to Jaipur it feels like home now and I’ve met some wonderful local expats working in the field of jewellery and clothing design. I have an American friend who is developing a collaborative shared work space for creative entrepreneurs called The Makers Space.
I stay in a small family run hotel where my French friend Florence lives next door in an apartment. She’s a shoe and jewellery designer and is great company after a long day at work where we drink wine, watch Netflix and eat pizza or dahl. It’s feels just like home.
India and I have had a long love affair and it hasn’t been an easy one. I’ve managed to establish some boundaries in terms of dealing with the poverty, injustices and differences and instead focus on the beauty and possibilities in this vast and fascinating place.
This trip was real food for the soul, an opportunity to keep working on growing my small business with the people on the other side who bring my designs to life. I’ve come home feeling incredibly grateful but also proud of everything I’ve achieved so far with Cathy Pope Jewellery. Social media makes everything look so perfect but beneath the surface there are so many moments of self doubt and worries. It’s all been worth it and thanks to the support of you my wonderful customers I can keep riding this magic carpet!