Maverick Life


Katherine-Mary Pichulik, ethical jewellery brand designer

Katherine-Mary Pichulik, ethical jewellery brand designer
Illustrative image by Leila Dougan and Malibongwe Tyilo for Maverick Life | sources: Unsplash / Pxhere / pngwave / pinclipart / pngguru / pngwave / EPA/Kim Ludbrook/ Katherine-Mary Pichulik

The pandemic has affected most aspects of life and the world of design, art and culture is no exception. In this series, we talk to artists, creatives, designers and musicians about their work and what inspires them in these surreal times.

Armed with a BA in fine arts and a diploma in pastry making, Katherine-Mary Pichulik launched her eponymous brand in 2013. Her idea was not to create yet another accessory brand on an already-crowded market; instead, she wanted to show “the potential for design to make a significant contribution to the economy while facilitating impact and development for women in Africa”.

For the past seven years, PICHULIK has been growing not only its reach, gracing the ears and necks of Solange Knowles or Meghan Markle, but also finding a place on the shelves of Bloomingdales, Anthropologie and MOMA. Katherine-Mary was named Accessory Designer of the Year by African Fashion International in 2014 and a “South African Gazelle top 40 SMME”.

Each piece designed by her team of dedicated craftswomen is like “a talisman, handcrafted from unexpected, organic materials into distinctive forms that share the stories of brave women and celebrate empowering feminine narratives. Each collection captures a different chapter in a heroine’s journey – an odyssey imbued with mythology, symbolism and transformation.”

Bossa nova earrings, Araci necklace (Image PICHULIK)

Pescar earrings (Image PICHULIK)

Turmeric blazer, Guava frill wrap skirt, Guava classic t, Turmeric high waisted trousers (Image PICHULIK)

The central material of the collection is rope, which is embellished with “a variety of unique cast and found exotic materials, such as fossilised shapes from Niger, brass and recycled glass from West Africa, recycled glass from Ethiopia, Ghanaian agate and abalone shell and combined with rare organic materials such as jade, horn, shell and stone”.

The designer was about to launch the brand’s Fall/Winter 2020 collection when the lockdown was announced and her priorities suddenly shifted.

PICHULIK Fall/Winter 2020 collection

PICHULIK Fall/Winter 2020 collection

She explains: “I am working hard trying to navigate the Unemployment Insurance Fund and relief opportunities available via government and independent funds.

“PICHULIK employs 16 people across our departments and further supports a whole network of local manufacturing businesses. Covid-19 has radically affected our capacity to trade and produce. Our retail points are closed, as well as our retail partners, and until the restrictions of the non-essential goods are lifted we will not be able to distribute via e-commerce”.

This is a reality common to many business owners across various industries, but that doesn’t make it less scary. Pichulik says all the company’s international retail partners, who preceded South Africa in experiencing the effects of Covid-19, have suspended or cancelled orders. “This means that within a week we saw 90% of our revenue streams disappear. We were gearing up for the release of Fall/Winter 2020, so we had invested deeply into this collection with stock, and thus our working capital is currently frozen in inventory that we cannot sell.”

She finds it even more difficult not being able to pay suppliers, partners with whom one has built long-standing relationships. “PICHULIK is based on relationships, we prioritised local manufacturing and sourcing as key to our values and brand DNA and it is incredibly challenging being unable to pay your trusted suppliers, and also trying to navigate how to keep your team employed during these unpredictable times.”

In the little time left when she is not focusing on the brand’s survival and looking after her team, Pichulik indulges in cooking.

“I am cooking a lot! I just got married in early March so I’m enjoying this intimate time with my new husband Xandre.”

She listens to the BBC radio Desert Island discs archives, as well as a Jungian audiobook, Through the Dark Wood: Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life by James Hollis. She cites Barbara Hepworth as her modernist artist heroine. “Her understanding of the artistic process and its connection to wonder, transcendence and nature as spiritual I find very consoling during these times.”

She adds, “I’m making playlists and sharing them on our @pichulikafrica Instagram; doing Latin fitness dance workout videos, which brings me such joy! [Also] meditating daily and getting very familiar with the parts of me that are fearful and anxious.”

Pichulik is also painting in oils, “purely for the voluptuous tactility of the brush and the paint”.

Oil painting Georgina Gratrix and books (Image Katherine-Mary Pichulik)

Oil paintings (Image Katherine-Mary Pichulik)

“I am finding solace in being authentic and vulnerable. Initially, I felt shameful and shocked, but the more I share with my family, colleagues, suppliers and community the more I feel a sense of unity and support in knowing that we are all affected by this in different measures and that the best we can do is work together to navigate our way out of it. Some suppliers are incredibly understanding and collaborative. However, others have been bullying and unethical.

“I think PICHULIK will come out of this crisis transformed. All businesses will be forced to change their operating systems and this will inadvertently shift how we work and we consume. We have really been moved by our PICHULIK community and their support. People have been buying gift vouchers online to support us in these times so we can continue to pay our staff and our suppliers. I am loving getting to know the PICHULIK woman, and we are opening ourselves to collaborate on our platforms so we can share all the talent and beauty of these women.” DM/ML

If you would like to share your stories, ideas or suggestions with us, please leave a comment below or email us at [email protected] and [email protected]

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