[MADE] Store and Gallery is the brainchild of long standing creative comrades Chupi Sweetman, a jewellery designer and Kate Nolan, who co-founded the ethical fashion organisation Re-Dress, heads up the European co-ordination of the Clean Clothes Campaign Ireland and most recently set up Irish fashion label We Are Islanders (with Rosie O’Reilly and Deirdre Hynds). The vast white space serves almost like a gallery for the clothes which it exhibits, a careful curation of some of Ireland’s most talented designers including Natalie B Coleman, Manley, We Are Islanders, Danielle Romeril, Sorcha O’Raghallaigh, Jill de Burca, Edel Traynor, Beatriz Palacios and of course Chupi’s own designs.
A volatile retail atmosphere hasn’t deterred Chupi in setting up shop, thanks to a pretty risk-averse disposition. Illness as a child meant that her mother Rosita Sweetman, a journalist and co-founder of the women’s movement, dedicated herself homeschooling both Chupi and her brother. The liberal way upbringing left her believing that you can be anything you want. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my brother and I both work for ourselves,” she says. This attitude has led her down a colourful path, from publishing a cookbook at 18 with Gill and Macmillan to getting scouted by Topshop, just a year into her degree in fashion design. Six years later she “fell in love with sparkly things”, retrained as a goldsmith and set off on a new project, launching her eponymous label Chupi. As her multi-award winning jewellery brand continues to grow, Chupi carved some time out of her busy day to talk to Totally Dublin about the big plans that she has for this latest project, which brings her ever closer to world domination.
How did [MADE] come about?
Kate Nolan and I have worked together for years on different projects. We have really different styles and skillsets. We work really well together. We’d been talking for ages that Dublin needed a place like this. There’s a whole wave of Irish design happening, especially with the year of Irish Design last year. All these companies came out of it. So we said we need to do something about this. Last year 15 Irish brands went to show at London Fashion Week on schedule. You don’t get that. Aisling Farinella has been the most incredible pioneer for taking Irish brands abroad. So we came back all fired up and said let’s do it. I wanted to do one that was our people. We wanted a way to display Chupi and to work with these other designers. We’re not going to focus on it just being Irish. Our criteria for [MADE] is “made with love.” We make everything in Ireland and that’s not always possible. They know who makes it, they know how it’s made. They know that it’s made with responsibility and love.
Why did you decide on the Powerscourt space and were there any stores internationally that you were inspired by?
I think, in a way, e-commerce has kind democratised all of that. We just got in Pinterest and were looking at all the inspirational retail spaces. I was over in New York a lot last season with my label and I was walking into all of these shops and saying, “Yes I would live here!” It’s about that curated lifestyle and open spaces and that kind of loft feeling. Reformation is the most beautiful shop you have ever seen.
Exhibitions are another aspect of the store. How are you hoping to develop this in the future?
I don’t believe in luck but I do believe that meeting the right person at the right time can have a huge affect on what you do. There are all of these talented people. First was the Resonate exhibition which came out of ID2015. Look at all these amazing people. We have Sophie Longwell coming up, a glass artist… [she’s] part of my team, she does glass knickers, the most paper-thin glass of these ridiculously frilly knickers.
Another I’m really excited about is Conor Merriman. He is bringing his degree show, Hansel and Gretel. We are also hoping to have an exhibition with the Repeal campaign. We went for Marriage Equality last year, it was incredibly important. I made their wedding rings. I’ve never had anything more negative and more positive to anything we’ve posted on social media. If this was apartheid in South Africa I wouldn’t say well this is the status quo, let’s let it be. So we’re hoping to give Repeal a space coming up to Christmas.
You stock a lot of Irish designers. What are your thoughts on the current support situation for Irish designers?
I’m kind of funny on that. We never had any financial support and I think sometimes people get caught up in that – that we need more grants, more funding – but actually, I think the thing that really changed and helped me more than anything is mentoring. People at the right place, at the right time. That’s where we need to go with fashion, and not get hung up on this idea that government funding is going to fix it. I think Ireland gets caught up on the Arts Council and [asking] “how will I do a collection?” You don’t need a collection, you just need three beautiful things, and do them and do them well. From the manufacturing side of it, that could do with some support. It is hard for young designers to get their first part of manufacturing underway. But that’s also the colleges’ fault for not helping them to get more commercial at an earlier stage. So much of what they do is theoretical. That’s wonderful, but how much more exciting is to create something that is commercial and viable.
Are there plans for [MADE] to play a role in supporting young designers?
We have plans to create a mentoring programme, where we will bring over incredible industry people from the UK to help take them to the next level – not financially, you don’t need money. Money would be amazing but we never received a penny and we made it.
The idea that you need money in itself is a hindrance because some people might then think, “Oh, I don’t have the money, I won’t even try”.
Exactly! My grandma gave me 3,000 quid when I was 21 and that was it. I built the whole thing on that. That was incredible and not everyone gets that, but the idea that you need to have this huge web of cash before you even start is such a barrier.
The balance between commerciality and creativity, is it something you’ve struggled with?
People see commerciality as a dirty thing. What is commercial? Designing things people love. Pick the people you are designing for. Sometimes design can end up quite self-indulgent. Commercial design just means you’re designing things that lots of people love, and what is more fun than that? I love the idea that things I make are loved.
The selection of designers in [MADE] tread a line of being very “out there” while remaining commercial.
That’s kind of our [MADE] customer. They buy their basics in Zara, but when they come to us they want something that little bit cooler, that little more risqué. I have this incredible Jill de Burca skirt. It’s black with a really tiny woven flower all over it. I mean it’s just a black skirt, but it’s this A-line shape and it’s almost slightly see-through, so it’s that little bit risqué. It’s a beautiful piece but still quite commercial. So that’s what we’ve done with the [MADE] designers. They’re not H&M, but they shouldn’t be. They come to us for special pieces that matter.
What are your future plans for [MADE]?
We want to get online. It’s our first Christmas this year, we are on the countdown. We’ve got an amazing new team. We’ve got the former manager of COS as our new floor manager, and then we’ll be looking at getting [MADE] online and taking Irish designers around the world. So that’s the next exciting stage for us as well as developing the mentoring side of the business.
Drop into the [MADE] Store and Gallery on the top floor of Powerscourt Town Centre, South William Street, Dublin 2 or find them online at madedublin.com
Words: Róisín McVeigh