with Katherine-Mary Pichulik and Tracey Chiappini-Young
It’s important to mark an occasion; we do it at the end of each year and the beginning of the next whether it’s the start of a new calendar year or our own personal milestones. To mark ten years — the first double digits — is true cause for celebration. But it’s also a significant moment to acknowledge the hard-won growth, the thrills and the lessons learnt.
It feels amiss to say PICHULIK came from humble beginnings because bold creative expression, an insatiable curiosity and the unwavering vision for what it could be were so rich and real from the start. But this passion has been honed over the years with dedication, consistency, some difficult decisions and many joyful ones. PICHULIK’s moment is shared with a formidable team, a community of people who not only wear the brand but have a personal connection with it, and a contingent of designers from Africa who’ve stepped onto the global stage.
On the very special occasion of PICHULIK’s 10th birthday, Founder and Creative Director Katherine-Mary Pichulik and Joint CEO Tracey Chiappini-Young look back over a decade of building a beloved brand, and toward a future of possibilities.
Where was Pichulik 10 years ago?
Katherine-Mary: PICHULIK was operating out of my kitchen in my one bedroom apartment. PICHULIK the brand also included my various hustles including catering, and writing. I was showcasing as an Emerging Creative at Design Indaba.
What is still true for the brand ten years later?
Katherine-Mary: I think we have stayed loyal to our medium: rope. Over the years we have explored its tactility from resin to casting it. We continue to manufacture and procure in South Africa retaining our 97% locally-made quotient. We remain committed to telling powerful feminine narratives, collaborating with like-minded women and retaining a sense of curiosity and creativity in how we design and share the brand.
Tracey: We remain a small family of passionate African women creating handcrafted artisanal jewellery in our atelier in Cape Town. Our designs remain bold and distinctive, combining cast-brass and precious stones with our signature rope to create sculptural and unique forms.
What has brought you the most joy in the last decade?
It is impossible to choose just one event. Building a business from the ground up is such a roller coaster of highs and lows. The onslaught of COVID and the immediate loss of 90% of our revenues was undoubtedly the low point. The subsequent two years were peppered with the most extraordinary moments of joy and pride:
The release of a capsule collection with Danish luxury brand By Malene Birger in Copenhagen in 2021.
The launch of a capsule collection with Lukhanyo Mdingi at Paris Fashion Week in June 2022.
Our selection as one of the top emerging African design brands by IFM-Birimian in Paris in August 2022.
The launch of our SS23 Algiers Collection at Paris Fashion Week in September 2022.
The launch of our SS23 Algiers Collection with SOHO House in Cape Town in October 2022.
Being selected by Conde Nast as a global brand partner for the launch of the new Atlantis The Royal in Dubai in December 2022. Every VIP guest was gifted a PICHULIK bracelet.
PICHULIK´s selection as a brand partner for Cape Town´s Gucci Weekend in November 2022.
Being selected by LVMH as retail brand for Starboard Cruise boutiques in December 2022.
The incredible success of our Between Us Campaign in December 2022.
The launch of our new signature scent Obsidian in February 2023.
What has been your proudest moment?
Opening our 8 Watson Street Atelier last year. To find a home for the brand where both retail and production and operations can live cohesively together.
How have you grown personally alongside the brand?
Katherine-Mary: I believe all businesses are beautiful mirrors for one's own personal themes. You are confronted by your fears and limitations and can use these as opportunities to grow and learn. My business has taught me about boundaries, about self worth, standing in my own power and trusting my instincts. Initially when you start a business you say “yes” to everything, and are boundless. Over time you become discerning and are able to follow your gut and make decisions that work better for both you and the business.
Tracey: Joining the PICHULIK family has been an extraordinary journey of personal discovery. Having worked in the corporate sector for over 20 years, I have learnt more in three years than I learned in the previous 25 years. There are no IT departments to fix your desktop. There is no finance team to do your accounts. There are no shareholders to fund your salaries. There are no specialists to solve your problems. You need to figure out everything yourself starting from a place of complete humility and trust that you can and you must. It is a very empowering place to be. Every member of the team has a can-do attitude and does what needs to be done on a daily basis. There is no expectation that someone else will do it and no one takes their salaries for granted. We have to make it happen!
What are some of the themes, stories and places PICHULIK collections have explored over the years?
Every collection is an episode in the odyssey of a female protagonist. Initially the themes were about travel and cultural history but as the years have passed they have started to speak to greater universal themes. In the 2017 Fall Winter collectionAmawe explored the history and allegory of the Japanese pearl divers. In our 2018 Spring Summer collectionHarvest Moon we explored pagan rituals of harvest as powerful tools for regeneration and healing. 2019 Fall Winter’s Talisman for Rainwas a prayer for water during the Western Cape droughts. 2020 Spring Summer entitledPlenty celebrated abundance and generosity amongst women, as a pivotal mechanism within communities. 2021 Fall WinterMagiwas mystical and spiritual and was designed during Covid.
Spring Summer 21 Nascent mimicked the awakening of society out of social distancing and welcomed a new period of change and growth with new beginnings. FW21Circetook inspiration from Madeline Millers’ revisionist-feminist Greek mythological novel as an opportunity to reframe difficult women/witches as healers and powerful heroines. SS22 Kokomo explored the metaphorical Summer we all craved post Covid. It was jovial and light, inviting a sense of play. FW22Terra Therma explored themes of fire’s cyclical power to regenerate and transform. Most recently we released our SS23Algiers collection which tracked my ancestry and the power of lineage.
What is your favourite thing about the PICHULIK community?
Katherine-Mary: I would want to be friends with most of them! The jewellery feels like a symbol for a members club of like-minded women. PICHULIK women are smart, kind, interesting, intelligent and curious.
Tracey: PICHULIK women are abundant and generous-spirited. They support other women and celebrate their success. They are passionate about the African continent.
Please share a core memory associated with the brand?
Katherine-Mary: I think when we hosted a dinner with SOHO House, or when “The One Who Sings” previously addressed as Zolani Mahola sang an acoustic live concert upstairs in our atelier. In both instances the room was crammed full with PICHULIK women, the air was humid and the electricity of connection and community was palpable.
Tracey: Sitting with Kat at a little cafe in Paris after releasing our collection at Fashion Week and dreaming up our Between Us Campaign.
No limits: Who would you invite to a fictional PICHULIK 10th birthday bash?
She has evolved into a mature, wise and resilient young adult with wonderful friends around the world.
Bonus question: What were you like as a 10 year old?
Katherine-Mary: I was a bit of a loner, I spent my time writing in my journal, hanging with my mom or cousins, doing various arts and crafts and reading. Primary school I did not quite find my place, it was in high school amongst the art and drama kids that I found my tribe.
Tracey: A bookworm who wanted to explore the world. I dreamt of summiting mountains, paddling through the Amazon and swimming with dolphins. I wanted to write like Sylvia Plath, dance like Phyllis Spira and play tennis like Christine Evert.