Live Your Best Life: Karen Arthur

Live Your Best Life: Karen Arthur

I'm delighted to bring you the next in my Live Your Best Life interview series where we focus on what living the life you want, contributing to the world in a way that works for you and being the best version of yourself each day, really means for each of us. There's no right way to go about it and the inspiring women I talk to here don't have perfect lives, they're simply doing what they can to live the best life they can.

This time I'm happy to share that I have fashion designer and tutor Karen Arthur sharing what living your best life means for her. Karen's path has been full of twists and turns, she's an inspiration and I'm delighted that she's here sharing her story with us…

Karen Arthur

Hi, Karen! Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got to where you are today please?
I’m a black woman in my mid-ish fifties with rapidly growing silver locks. I’m the mother of two grown ass women who make me beam inwardly as I witness their journeys. I’m a fashion designer, sewing tutor and vocal advocate of ‘Wear Your Happy’ – making conscious clothing choices to uplift your mood and aid good mental health. I was born in London to Barbadian parents, raised in Oxfordshire, studied Performing Arts in Leicester then a teaching degree in Bedford before returning to London in the mid 80s. I taught Dance in secondary schools, then Textiles, before moving across fully to Pastoral Leadership in 2000. I left a long-term relationship in 2006 and threw myself into my job and making sure my girls were settled, conveniently forgetting that you can’t hide from emotional turmoil. My breakdown arrived late 2014 and I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression a few months later. This eventually led to me leaving my full time teaching career.

The onset of menopause, a family bereavement and life kept me occupied during the same year. I also fell down a hole (long story but I was sober and it was daylight) but needing to focus on my mental health meant that my physical pain took a back seat for a while. Therapy, mindful meditation and space for ‘me’ helped to heal mentally but physically my health took a nosedive. Lots of painkillers, a billion physio appointments, an MRI and a walking cane couldn’t help me until I stumbled across yoga therapy. Gradually my mind and my body became whole.

My mum taught me to sew when I was 15 and I have always created designs with fabric, including running a small side hustle making and selling bags from Ankara fabric. When I left teaching I realised that I really love connecting with people through fashion. Now I make bespoke clothing for women, often but not exclusively, using African print fabrics, colour and pattern. I also teach all ages how to fall in love with their sewing machine and take private tutoring sessions. I teach craft and upcycling workshops in schools and colleges.

I spent a life-changing month as a volunteer in Zimbabwe last June, teaching women how to create sustainable fashion businesses. I have been invited on speaking engagements and I plan to do more in the future. In November I held my first Wear Your Happy LIVE event featuring two women speakers as well as myself. Recently I was feature on the cover of Goldie magazine, a glossy for the over 40s, and another cover and an article in the Lewisham Ledger ensued. Phew! 2018 was a LOT!

It really was! What inspirational quotes or words hold meaning for you?
I live by ‘No one can make you feel inferior without your consent’ – Eleanor Roosevelt. I used to say this to my girls a lot as they were growing and navigating relationships. You have a choice. Let things get to you or move on. After all, what people think about you is none of your business.

‘This too shall pass’. It’s so true. I’m living testimony to the fact that nothing stays the same. I can’t believe the difference between my life, even six months ago.

‘Age ain’t nothing but a number’. I’m becoming tired of people questioning older people’s ability to do certain things. We are all individuals. Erase the words ‘still’ and ‘for your age’ from everyday conversations regarding elders. Ageism can ‘do one’. Do what you blimmin’ want to do and don’t let the age police get to you.

They're brilliant, thank you. So, how do you recognise when life’s getting on top of you?
I used to have panic attacks. I recognise them early now and they are less frequent because my life is much quieter and calmer, and I’m lucky enough to be able to move at my pace. Often though, it’s a physical manifestation and I become ill. I get a rash or I develop an ailment that makes me stop and take stock. Usually it comes on because I have lapsed on my self-care routine or I’ve not been looking after myself properly. That can be anything from people pleasing to going to bed late. As I am aging there are things about my lifestyle that I can no longer take for granted. If I don’t take care my body lets me know pretty sharp-ish so really I have no choice.

And then what do you do to get back to how you want to feel?
The opposite of what I have been doing! Meditate daily. Take more time to be ‘present’. Add more fresh food. Check my alcohol intake. Drink water more regularly and try to get a full seven hours sleep. That sounds righteous, doesn’t it? Sometimes all it takes is binge-watching a box set whilst eating something delicious (but not necessarily nutritious!) or doing a creative activity such as sketching or colouring and removing myself from a perceived outcome. I also look at my ‘To Do’ list and cross off all non-urgent tasks. That usually does the trick. Often, for me, it’s about checking in with myself and being silent. Letting go and learning not to try and control every damn thing.

Can you tell us what plans, hopes and dreams you have for the future?
Lordy! So much! The same and more! I would like to teach sewing to women or girls who wouldn’t normally have easy access to these sessions. I am passionate about helping more women to understand and harness the power of fashion to support good mental health, so speaking to a wider audience is on the cards. I was brought up to believe that you could only have one job and I had just that, teaching, for almost three decades. Now that I realise I can be and do lots of things – I’m just getting started! Scary and exciting!

This sounds so exciting! And finally, Karen, tell us, what does living your best life mean to you?
Striving to be authentic and fully present as often as possible. Being open to new challenges. Expressing gratitude and making positive human connections. In this second half of my time on this planet the words ‘freedom’, ‘creativity’ and ‘honesty’ have become the heart of what I do. I think that just about covers it!

Karen is a fashion designer, private sewing tutor and author of ebook '8 Ways to Wear Your Happy', a guide to using fashion choices to encourage good mental health. Karen left her long career as a secondary school teacher in 2015 and now focuses on her growing ventures under her brand ReddskinUK. You can connect with Karen on her website here, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest.

Photo credit: Kimberley Williams

gabrielle april 2021
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