Dreams Do Come True, Just Ask Sweet Poison Cupcake’s Tempest Paige!
Tempest Paige is giving Cinderella a run for her money when it comes to happily ever afters. From being a Harajuku street fashion lover to owning her very own Harajuku street fashion store called Sweet Poison Cupcake in New York City, her story is truly a dream come true! We had a little chat with Tempest about what it’s like to be a business owner and how her relationship with Harajuku fashion has evolved since her days as a mere enthusiast.
Please introduce yourself.
Hello! My name is Tempest Paige. I am 25 years old and I am a business owner and participant in the Jfashion community for almost 13 years.
How did you get into Harajuku fashion?
It was a mixture of several different things! I was very interested in Visual Kei music in middle school. I discovered a few bands through anime, and that led to me discovering Malice Mizer and Mana. I also played a lot of KiSS dolls online. They were little pixelated dress up dolls created by very talented pixel artists online. Several of them featured lolita fashion, which got me to do more research.
What does Harajuku mean to you?
Harajuku is a place that has inspired so many people, both designers and consumers alike. At its peak, it was home to so many creative small boutiques that helped create the foundation of the alternative fashion scene in Japan.
How has your personal style evolved throughout the years?
I was very much a baby goth when I first discovered Jfashion. I liked darker looks and originally I solely wanted to be into gothic lolita. Then sweet lolita caught my eye and I devoted myself full time to that aesthetic. I also take inspiration from gyaru fashion, or brands featured in magazines like Larme. I don’t put too much pressure on myself to limit myself to just one aesthetic. If I really like a clothing item, I can find a way to make it work in my wardrobe no matter what.
How did Sweet Poison Cupcake come about?
In the late 2000s it was very trendy within the lolita community to make jewellery that resembled desserts, so I wanted to try my hand at making it. However, I didn’t have many lolita friends my own age, so I would bring the rings into school and sell them to classmates. From there, things spiraled! I started vending at local anime conventions, first as an artist and then as a vendor when I started to carry items from other brands.
The concept of Sweet Poison Cupcake is that we are a haven for anything unique and different. Part pop culture shop, part boutique, part candy store. I wanted to give people in my city a chance to shop for items that they normally would have to shop online for. The experience of shopping in person was such a big deal when I was younger. Many shops have stopped putting in effort when it comes to creating a fun and welcoming in store experience. I want all visitors to Sweet Poison Cupcake to leave with happy memories and a full heart!
How did you go about opening your store?
I have to admit, a lot of it came from luck and the support of my mom. She was the one who found the listing for our first location on Craigslist. I always wanted to own my own shop one day, but I thought it would be in the distant future. We are located within The Village Gate in Rochester, NY which is a former factory converted into a mall with shops and restaurants, most of them locally owned.
What are some of your favourite items? Are there any pieces that you’d recommend to a first time visitor?
It depends on what the first time visitor is interested in! We carry a lot of merch and our store is very colourful. It can be a sensory overload to some, especially if they are completely unfamiliar with alternative fashion. Sometimes I’ll guide them to something familiar, like our section that carries licensed merchandise like Hello Kitty. But my favourite items to recommend are still our handmade items. It’s something I put a lot of love into, they are all one of a kind and you can’t get them anywhere else.
Can you tell us about some of your most memorable experiences at Sweet Poison Cupcake?
I think one of my most memorable experiences was just this past Halloween. Trick-or-Treating was prohibited in our area and I wasn’t able to hold a get-together at home. I decided to open my shop for the day and offered a discount to customers who came in costume. I expected only a few people, but so many showed up, and everyone was in costume! Everyone was so happy and it made me so happy that I was able to make something out of it despite the circumstances.
Has your relationship with Harajuku fashion changed since you first started enjoying it?
I think so! I care way less about following trends or community validation. I wear what I like and I’m not afraid of combining aesthetics, or pushing the boundaries of what the western community defines as “rules”.
What are some of the biggest difficulties you’ve faced while running your own business?
I was very worried about how to market to people outside of the Harajuku fashion subculture. In the early years, most of my customers had no idea about any of what I carried, many weren’t even familiar with anime. We tried carrying lots of different kinds of merch to bridge the gap. But recently due to social media, alternative fashion and anime is getting more “mainstream”! These days most customers are familiar with alternative styles and more willing to try them out.
Where do you see Sweet Poison Cupcake in 10 years?
My only goal right now is to be online! So hopefully, we can make a grand comeback to online sales. Preferably sooner than 10 years.