Why fashion designer Karen Arthur believes you should ‘Wear Your Happy’

— by Alyson Walsh


You may recognise this pair of sparkling eyes framed by vintage-inspired glasses….a close-up of fashion designer Karen Arthur is currently splashed across UK billboards (including the one at my local train station), in the latest Specsavers ad campaign. The 58-year-old former teacher says she’s had a great reaction from her ex-pupils, ‘ One of them contacted me to say, ‘Oh My God, Ms Arthur, it’s true what you used to say, “I’m always watching you. I’m a mother and a teacher, you’ll never get away with anything!’” Now self-employed as a designer, educator and model, Karen is happy to use her image in order to increase diversity and raise awareness around menopause, ‘ I’m learning to take up the space I deserve. I wanted to be visible with my silver locks because we see very few images of black menopausal women,’ she explains over the phone, ‘Though I do think the universe has a sense of humour, I didn’t expect to be quite this visible.’



After working in education for 30 years, first as a dance teacher and then after an injury, moving into textiles, Karen was a well-established, senior member of staff. Then at the age of 52, she had a breakdown, ‘ I put all my energy into teaching when my relationship broke up, I didn’t think I had a choice. I felt backed into a corner. And then a few years later after both my daughters had gone to uni, I thought I’d enjoy being alone but I hated it. I was suffering from Empty Next Syndrome.’ This together with a stressful teaching job and menopause created the perfect storm, ‘One day, something in my head snapped. I went to the office got my stuff and went home. There I carried on working, calling parents, emailing – I wanted to go to bed but realized it would bring the morning closer and I would have to start it all over again. Then I started crying and couldn’t stop. I thought I was going mad. Mentally and physically falling apart. I called a friend who came round and persuaded me to go to the doctor’s.’



Diagnosed with anxiety and depression, Karen was signed off work but eventually left her position when the time out didn’t help her to feel any better, ‘ Teaching was just part of the problem. I was running away from responsibility. I’d always bought into the strong black woman persona, I was the one who did everything.’ Acknowledging her career transition was a struggle at first, she continues,’ We were brought up to believe that you do one thing and stick to it. I thought I had to stick to teaching and it made me flounder when I left.’ But time, support from friends and family, and therapy helped, ‘I learned to say no, to leave space for the stuff I wanted to do. I did supply teaching for a while – thought I had to because I needed the money – but then I knew I had another 40 years left on the planet and wanted to curate a life that I wanted to live.’

It was then that Karen decided to turn her creative skills into a new career, to design bespoke clothing ‘for forward-thinking women who appreciate slow fashion.’ She is of course, perfectly qualified to share her skills and love of sewing with others via lessons, events and styling sessions (currently online),  ‘I have a lot less money but I have faith in my talent and abilities, I have 40 years sewing experience and as Malcolm Gladwell explains in Outliers, that makes me an expert.’




As a teacher, Karen had always relied on power dressing, ‘I had a love-hate relationship with fashion. I would head up school assemblies and power dress to the nth degree. I spent a lot of money at Whistles and was always in high heels. I dressed to command attention.’ Now working from home, Karen’s wardrobe has completely transformed. ‘I left teaching. I had no salary and was not buying anything I could make. It was then I made a conscious decision about how I wanted to feel and that coincided with not giving a shit about what people thought. I started putting together quirky outfits, dressing for me and it felt good. Fashion was a validation – and I fucking loved it.’

Clothes became less of a tool for maintaining control and more of a way to express creativity, ‘I think as a teacher, I used fashion to mask how I was feeling. Now it’s different – when I enter a room, you see me and my clothes. The clothes are my personality.’ Karen calls the phenomenon of using vibrant clothes to boost the mood, Wear Your Happy. As well as dressing to please herself she promotes the positive links between fashion and good mental wellbeing, ‘ When you’re out and someone compliments you, it makes you feel good. It’s a wonderful thing. I live by it, this is how I dress everyday – working from home has liberated me. I didn’t understand how powerful I am.’

Don’t miss Karen Arthur’s StyleLikeU video, recorded in 2019, HERE. Karen is on Instagram HERE and she is raising awareness around Menopause Whilst Black HERE.


Photography: Claire Pepper

Hair and make-up: Louise Heywood

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