The KPMG Women’s Irish Open takes place this week in the spectacular surroundings of Dromoland Castle in County Clare.
Leona Maguire and Áine Donegan will capture much of the attention but this is a deep field of talented players and the winner will be a deserving one at the end of 72 holes on Sunday.
Apart from the winner’s purse from the €400,000 prize funs they will also take one of the most interesting contemporary sports trophies that will be played for on the island of Ireland.
When KPMG sat down to plan out their approach to this year’s event one of the key ideas put forward and brought to life by the Ringers agency was the creation of a bespoke trophy.
It has been designed by Chupi Sweetman who was part of the KPMG Going for Growth programme supporting female entrepreneurs.
After ten years in business, Sweetman has since become one of Ireland’s leading female entrepreneurs, scaling a one-woman operation to a luxury jewelry brand that sells in more than 70 countries worldwide.
We sat down with her ahead of this week’s action to find out more about her, the business, and the trophy.
SFB: So tell me a little bit about yourself and the business and the connection to KPMG that has brought you to Dromoland. It started off as a one-woman show but what was the inspiration for jumping off the cliff and growing as well as you have?
CS: That is one of the best descriptions of entrepreneurship I’ve ever heard. Definitely, I always think about entrepreneurship is like being a mountain climber.
You climb a mountain and you get to the top of the mountain and you rarely pause and go, great, I climbed the mountain. Instead, you just look to the next mountain. And where’s the next mountain and what are we going to do? And I would say that about the team. We are definitely always looking at the next mountain.
So I started my career very young. I was 21 when I got scouted by Topshop. I was still in university at the time and went to design for them straight after graduating.
I Loved it. I was on a three-week contract and renewed that contract 100 times over the course of six years. Had an amazing time working for them. It was a rollercoaster, but a really, really good experience.
And then I had an early mid-life crisis. The joy of starting work young.
I was working in design, loved it, in a very commercial role. And then my husband proposed and I really just fell in love with engagement rings and fine jewelry, and him of course.
So if you ask any woman to tell you the story of her life, they’ll tell you it by the pieces of jewelry she wears.
It’s her engagement ring for the day she fell in love, it’s her wedding band on the day she got married, and these kinds of big milestones that we mark with jewelry.
And I thought, okay, Ireland is incredible at storytelling, incredible at technology, incredible at manufacturing, and we still have a huge, really well-developed jewelry manufacturing base.
We were at that point where, you know, kind of post Celtic Tiger, a lot of our friends were choosing to leave Ireland.
And I thought, actually, let’s build a brand here instead. Why don’t we build a brand worth working for, we can build a global business out of Ireland.
So we started from our spare room, a tiny little house in Portobello.
It’s our 10th birthday this year. We’ve got 40 people on the team and we are selling in 70 countries around the world.
We make the jewelry that marks the biggest moments in your life. So engagement, wedding, the day you fall in love, the day you get married, equally the day you get divorced.
We did a big fundraise last year, raised nearly four million through a series of partners and that’s now funding scale.
We’re about to open a showroom on the old French connection on Clarendon Street. Four and a half thousand square feet of retail.
We’re opening in, cross your fingers, please Rob, we’re opening in about eight weeks. So yeah, a beautiful business built with an incredible team.
SFB: I’m sure it will be a great success. So where did KPMG come into the picture?
CS: Back in 2014, when the business was a year old, I heard about this programme called Going for Growth, a female entrepreneurship program.
My dad’s an economist. So I would say doom is the family game on the one hand, but also opportunity is the one on the other.
And so when you look at male versus female entrepreneurship the split back when I started for every nine and a half men who want to build a business of scale, which is a million revenue and 10 employees, you had one woman.
How is that equal? Why wasn’t ambition equal? Well, because a huge part of it is you can’t see it, you can’t be it.
I applied for the program in 2014. And have kept a copy of my application just to remind myself that when I applied, I had two employees, if I count myself.
And the biggest number I could imagine turning over, this was like wildest dreams because you have to state your ambition, It was 1 million euros, the biggest number I could possibly imagine.
I did the program and KPMG were phenomenal. I remember meeting some of the tax partners and the KPMG partner saying, let me take you for coffee. Can I do anything? And I was like, I’m not worth your coffee. I genuinely am not worth the price of a coffee right now.
And that came full circle. And now we’re a client. They were a key part of delivering our success. So it’s been a journey. I always think entrepreneurship is a little bit like an overnight success that only takes 10 years.
SFB: I’m completely with you on that. I’m 12 years old this year, but I was late for coming into it.
I love your story about the moments in your life. And, jewelry is powerful and it’s emotional and it’s great what you’re doing. But the design of a trophy is a little bit of an outlier for a jewelry designer, I would imagine. I can understand the logic of it, but it’s not something I’m guessing that you’ve ever done before.
CS: This is our very first trophy. We’ve been approached over the years but I’ve always said no.
But when KPMG and the team reached out, I was like, actually the timing’s right. We’re 10 years old. This is about female entrepreneurs backing female athletes.
The ratio of male to female entrepreneurs is now five to one, and you can see similar advances in sport.
Look at the support for the girls in green versus the boys in green. It was lovely seeing Ireland really getting behind them at the World Cup.
Susan Spence from Softco is part of Going for Growth as well. She’s one of the lead entrepreneurs on it. Susan is the sponsor of the Irish women’s hockey team.
It’s great to hear her talk about why they chose to sponsor the women’s hockey team and how they’ve now become a sponsor of the men’s team. That’s equality.
SFB: Tell us about the process of designing the trophy.
CS: So the design was really interesting. We normally work on things that are no more than one inch in size. So moving to scale was really interesting.
We have an incredible group of people who make everything and make it possible. We knew partnership was the key to delivering the trophy. So we reached out to The Foundry down in Dublin 8.
Rob, they are incredible. They are a third-generation casting company, using techniques that have been around for thousands of years. It is like walking into Mordor. You know, you’re talking about pouring liquid brass, and you’ve seen some of the videos. They’re off the charts in terms of what they do.
They helped us bring it through with their expertise in casting and our design work,
I sat down with some of our design team. We worked through what we really wanted the trophy to feel like.
Imperfect beauty is the thing that excites me, wild beauty.
You know, we can 3D print anything. You can buy a trophy off the internet for 25 quid on Amazon that will serve your trophy moment. But what drew me to this one was the idea that it is the crown of laurels that will be worn down for generations.
It’s an incredible trophy. It’s cast from a real twig. So when they lift that trophy on Sunday, they’re going to be holding these beautiful Irish twigs cast in bronze. It’s got a crown of laurels around, wrapping around it, so it’s got that idea of the celebration of their win, and then it’s on a base of reclaimed oak.
It’s actually all these beautiful elements of Ireland, and like there are flaws in it, there are little marks, because it is quite literally handmade by these incredible craft people right in the heart of Dublin.
The beautiful thing about trophies is that they become so storied and I love that, that idea of it.
SFB: As a one-off trophy, this is a perpetual trophy, is it? So this is the one that will be handed down to generations? Will the winner have a replica that has gone through the equal casting process?
We’ll have to think about that. They definitely are going to need something to hang on to, but I think they have a year’s worth of guardianship before it passes on to the next athlete.
KPMG could have very easily gone with an off-the-shelf trophy, but they wanted more. It was a huge risk coming to us who normally work in very tiny things to produce something at this scale but we think it has worked.
We will be chatting to Chupi on Sunday in the Hospitality area at Dromoland Castle.