March 05 2020 – Mercantile London
International Women's Day (March 8) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women's equality.
International Women's Day (IWD) has occurred for well over a century, with the first IWD gathering in 1911 supported by over a million people. Today, IWD belongs to all groups collectively everywhere. IWD is not country, group or organisation specific.
To celebrate female achievement for this International Women's Day we speak to Sue the Director/Designer behind jewellery brand Côté Caché, about herself and the successful business she created.
How did you get started in jewellery design?
I think it started from when I was a child. I always enjoyed making things with my hands. The first thing I ever made was a pencil case when I was 9 years old. I remember all the kids in my school had bought really cool ones, but I decided to make my own. I decorated it with photos of my favourite singers from a magazine. I enjoyed making it so much that I remember it clearly.
Then later I started making my own t-shirts and then my friends started asking me to make t-shirts for them too. So for a while I ran my own little t-shirt shop from my bedroom! Eventually I had enough money to buy an mp3 player and that made me so happy.
I think from those early experiences I developed a love of designing and making. When I went to University in South Korea I decided to study metal-smithing because it was the beauty of craftsmanship that appealed to me. Making something from raw materials, like a sculpture, giving birth to something. As a woman I've always had that need to create, to turn something raw and ancient from the earth into something new, precious and beautiful. It's very fulfilling.
How do you keep up with industry trends?
I'm always browsing fashion magazines and social media. I enjoy reading those things so I'm always picking up trends and industry directions. It's especially interesting for me to compare the differences between here and Korea. Sometimes I see one trend go from the West to East, sometimes from East to West, like what I think is happening now. I like to try to anticipate trends just before they happen. But really I think that so long as what you create is genuine and inspired, it will become its own trend.
What are you working on right now?
I'm always working on so many different things. I've got a new necklace design coming out soon that is based on natural shapes, uneven lines. Like nature. I've just got the original moulds done for that. I'm also designing a kind religious themed collection. But not conventional religious iconography, something a bit weirder. It's very exciting.
What are the biggest challenges you have faced in getting your brand started?
Well starting as an immigrant has made things especially difficult. I'm here on a entrepreneur visa so I had to make a business model that satisfies the conditions of that. In a way it’s good because it means I have to work harder than I might do if I didn't have that kind of pressure. But it's also more pressure.
It was also very hard having no money to invest in the beginning. I was actually amazed when people bought my designs at the little farmers market where I started. I really didn't think people would even notice, but they have and now we are growing, which is such a blessing and I'm so grateful for that.
Then there are the constant issues that I think every designer faces, like making a name for yourself in a saturated market, trying to show people that your work is different, and of course all the work you have to put in to protect the brand from counterfeiters and people who want to profit from your hard work. Also just trying to find a way to make enough profit to be able to keep going, while also trying not to let that need affect the integrity of your vision.
There are many challenges involved in something like this. It's like raising a baby I think. You want to protect your child but you also want it to grow up healthy, which means exposure to some difficult situations. In the end I think anything worth doing is not going to be easy.
What are the best/worst aspects of London living in terms of starting a business?
London is great for opportunities. There are so many markets available, although you have to be determined and patient to get into them. But that opportunity is there. And in terms of retail and shopping this is such a central place for that. The fashion is so varied and vibrant here too that there is so much to absorb and so much on offer.
I don't think I would have got anywhere if I wasn't in a city like London. I love this place- its mixture of cultures, its open-mindedness, its willing to give people a chance. But it can also be pretty brutal here. The competition is extremely high, and the benchmark for success so much higher too. I think London is a great place to start, but its hard work.
Can you explain the thinking behind your brand name?
Côté Caché literally translates as, 'Hidden Side'. It took me a long time to choose that name. I wanted it to speak to the heart of what the creative process is for me. Which is revealing and expressing your true self, your inner, hidden nature, the part of you that doesn’t get a chance to be seen in day to day life. It's like that part of you that you keep hidden but that you want to reveal at the same time. In that sense it goes beyond creativity and just speaks about being genuine, and accepting that. For me Côté Caché means the kind person we all could be if we weren't afraid of being judged. I think that's a message worth putting out there.
But in the end I want it to mean something different to everyone. Because in the end I'm just making jewellery, but it's you that are seeing the beauty in it. You're the one investing it with something beautiful, because you've got that beautiful thing inside you to give to it. Not the other way around. That's how I see it anyway.
I also wanted it to represent the passion I feel for making things artistically, and to me nowhere represents passion and art better than Paris, which is why I wanted it to be a French name. Having the name in another language means that you have to discover the meaning of the words too, unless you speak French! I think that’s kind of fun and it represents that journey of discovery to some extent.
Lastly, being a Korean immigrant I'm a product of multicultural influence. My brand name reflects that multiculturalism too- (French inspiration, Korean designer, made in London).
Côté Caché captures it all for me, and I hope it captures something for others too.
How do you remain unique in a saturated market such as jewellery design?
In a way nothing is truly unique. Everything comes from something else. Even you and I. We all come from somebody else. Really it's about combining things in new ways. I'm from a different culture, thousands of miles away, so everything I see here I am combining in my mind with something else. The old and the new, the traditional and the progressive, the good and the bad.
But really whether my designs are unique or not is more down to what the individual who wears them sees. If you can see yourself in a design, then it is as unique as you are.
Who or what influenced you in choosing your career?
Vivienne Westwood. Nature. My mother. Lots of things. There's some mystery in why I ended up on the path I'm on. I think it's like that for everyone. I just feel blessed and grateful, and I like the fact that I don't fully know what got me here. Mystery is magic.
Which woman would play you in a movie?
Natalie Portman, so everyone would think I was as pretty as her!
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I think I always wanted to be an artist of some kind. My grandfather was really great at drawing, and I always loved watching him work. At one time I wanted to be a dancer also. Dancing is a lot like making something, except every shape and design you create you let disappear in the next moment. It's beautiful.
Who is your favourite female artist?
Agnes Martin. Her art works are very simple, but create complex impressions. It looks very ordinary, but the more you look at it, the more you understand it and the more is revealed.
Who is your favourite female author?
JK Rowling. I love Harry Potter!
Favourite London Borough?
I like so many, but I'm most used to Lambeth. There are lots of little interesting places to find in Lambeth.
You have a day off from work - what would you do with your free time?
Wander around Central London as a tourist again and try to imagine everything new. Explore all the little shops in the alleyways and maybe find a little treasure hiding somewhere there.
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