Born and raised in southwest London, Edwina Arthur has lived in the same flat with her mother and older brother all her life. The city is the only place she can conceive of offering her the avenues to learn, create and celebrate fashion with the freedom and support that she has.
“I’m only now beginning to feel that London is championing and supporting young independent designers,” she says. “London is one hundred percent the hub [in which] to study, learn, live and breathe fashion.”
Right now, there’s a growing network of young, independent designers in the city that is being bolstered by connections made on social media, which facilitates collaboration, friendships and new ventures. There are also several avenues of support up-and-coming indy designers can tap into early in their careers.
“British-bred designers like Dr. Samuel A Ross (founder of label ‘A Cold Wall’), foundations such as the Graduate Fashion Foundation and New Designers are offering scholarships, internships, grant programs and awards with prizes that propel these young talents,” Arthur tells me.
She won a New Designers Award from Pentland Brands last year, shortly after graduating with a BA in Fashion Accessories and Textiles from Ravensbourne University. Her final project, Make a Noise, was a deeply personal and profound exploration into black empowerment, music, culture and the footwear women choose to venture through the world in.
Her lineup of four footwear designs features idiosyncratic silhouettes and an inventive use of textiles built on a surprisingly tech-centric scaffolding. The striking shape of the soles and heels of Arthur’s shoe designs were generated using an algorithm that converted music—specifically soundwaves—into 3D forms.
Turning music into wearable art
Music has always been part of Arthur’s life. Her father played a number of instruments in their church, and he taught her how to play keyboard, trumpet and bass guitar.
“That really encouraged my love for jazz music, so I ended up learning the saxophone, too,” she tells me. “That influenced me to use the shapes of these instruments, but it was way too literal at first.”
Her first iteration of shoes incorporated the silhouettes of various instruments, but it wasn’t long before she realized she could incorporate not only her musical influences more subtly but also her identity as a Black woman.
“Music is ingrained in me,” Arthur explains. “Music and sound have been used to liberate, save, motivate and communicate with others throughout history.”
Another motivating influence in Arthur’s designs was her Ghanaian heritage, which led her to choose certain fabrics and textures
“I am very proud of where I come from,” she says. ”I always integrate some part of my heritage in anything I design—it’s a habit. Ghanaian traditional fabric is called ‘kente,’ which I emulated using plated knit.”
The Make a Noise project transformed over time from a literal interpretation of Ghanaian fabrics and the shape of instruments into something “more evolved,” as Arthur describes it.
The key? Nina Simone’s iconic 1960s narrative song ‘Four Women,’ which tells the stories of four women’s lives over the generations from slavery to the present: Aunt Sarah, Saffronia, Sweet Thing and Peaches.
As we talk, Arthur reflects on Nina Simone’s incredible artistry.
“The way she communicated black pain and joy through music has captivated me since I was young, she says. “I chose the song ‘Four Women’ because she speaks about four different Black women’s experiences, where each of these black women are of different skin tones within the ‘Black women spectrum.’ All of them have their own struggles.”
While soundwaves are two-dimensional, Arthur used Rhino 7 to turn ‘Four Women’ into something not only tangible but also wearable by manipulating the shape of soundwaves around a shoe. At first, she was simply experimenting, but ultimately, she ended up with a really strong, cohesive collection.
Each of the carefully sculpted shoes, with their eye-catching colors and Ghanaian-inspired knit patterns, is named after one of Simone’s four women, whose experiences can only be digested, Arthur believes, through music and art.
“I believe the world isn’t ready to digest these experiences and stories in the same way Black women do in a daily basis,” she says. “Since Make a Noise was my final major project, I needed it to be a complete extension of me and everything I’m proud of.”
Arthur’s footwear collection was shortlisted twice, for both the Graduate Fashion Week (GFW) Footwear Award and The FACE Excellence Prize Award. Perhaps the only person surprised at the enthusiasm for her shoe designs and her talent for conceptual accessory designs is Arthur herself. However, she concedes that given the enthusiastic response to her shoes, footwear might just be “her thing.”
“I come from a fine arts background,” she says. “I taught myself how to sew, alter, and make my own clothes. I had a brand in lockdown at one point, but this project has been my most enjoyable and the one I’m most proud of.”
Would she consider venturing into footwear full time with her own brand in the near future? Indeed she would and don’t be surprised if you see her hit it big. The industry acknowledgements—through prizes and awards received to date—have led to both employment and opportunities, some of which she hasn’t realized the full scope of yet. In addition to the New Designers Award, she also won an internship at Pentland, which owns Italian sportswear brand Ellesse.
“I now work for the global marketing team and am their stylist, too,” she says. ”I love the team, I love the job, but I do not feel complete when I’m not designing something. I still freelance on the side and eventually, I want to do it for the rest of my life.”