Pin It
Eastwood Danso, Converse Spark Progress
courtesy of Converse Spark Progress project

How to find your space in the creative industries with Converse

Eastwood Danso, Converse Spark Progress

The label’s Spark Progress project continues, spotlighting DJ and presenter Emerald Rose Lewis, musician Miraa May, and designers Patrick McDowell and Eastwood Danso

Finding your feet in the creative industries can be tough, especially in the capital, but across the last year, Converse has been nurturing and elevating young artists, creators, and designers with the expansive Spark Progress initiative. In the last few months, the project has made space for a series of creatives living and working in London. 

In the project’s first instalment with Dazed, the iconic label gave a spotlight to designers Feng Chen Wang and Paria Farzaneh, and musicians Lava La RueRaye, and Ama Lou. In an honest and authentic short film, we met each artist and designer, and got the lown down on their lives and burgeoning careers. In a further creative iteration, longtime Converse collaborator Feng Chen Wang was joined by two other designers and labels, Koché and Faith Connexion, for the ‘Reimagined’ project. Each designer created an individual capsule collection inspired by Converse’s extensive archive and sportswear heritage, which demonstrated the label's sleek utilitarian aesthetics.

Across the American brand’s history, Converse has long reflected youth subcultures and movements across dynamic cities such as London – the iconic Chuck Taylor shoe has treaded the bowls of Brooklyn skateparks as much as it has Paris runways or Cuban dancehalls. While artistic communities from one continent to another thrive in their own ways, Converse is all about offering them the space, infrastructure, and support to elevate their work and visions. The Spark Progress campaign continues this, helping young creatives across fashion, music, art, and skating with telling their stories and realising their potential in their personal ways. As the Spark Progress project looks to the future’s most thriving creative talents and offers help and guidance to make their amibitions reality, we hear from the next gen creatives with their own advice for making your way in the world. Celebrating the initiative’s next stage, Spark Progress participants Emerald Rose Lewis, Miraa May, Patrick McDowell, and Eastwood Danso break down their tips and tricks.

DJ and presenter Emerald Rose Lewis reflects on how to find and be confident in your own voice; musician Miraa May offers up some life lessons through the mediums of songwriting and producing; while designers Patrick McDowell and Eastwood Danso discuss sustainability in fashion and starting your own label respectively. Whether you’re hustling in one of the most expensive cities in the world or crafting your skills in your rural hometown, their life lessons are a must.

EASTWOOD DANSO

Eastwood Danso launched his eponymous brand back in 2016, while he was still in high school. The label, which first found life in his teenage bedroom and incorporates elements of streetwear sensibilities with sleek tailoring, has now traversed London Fashion Week Men’s runways and found creative fruition in a rugged hiking boot-inspired Chuck Taylor rework with Converse. His celebrated S/S 2020 collection drew inspiration from streetwear staples – the shellsuit, the half-zip – and elevated the enduring aesthetic with the thoughtful editions of puka shells, leather, and high-end textures. As part of the Spark Progress program, he’s received support from Converse on his creative journey, from the gift of a laptop to his sought after collab.

The young designer offers enlightenment for any aspiring creatives with similar ambitions. First: find yourself an industry mentor. “I tried to get in contact with people I admire... mentors that guided me, that I could go to for decisions or opinions,” Danso says.

It’s also about never being afraid to reach out, make contacts and ask questions with people on every level of your chosen industry. “There’s no shame in asking for help,” he continues.

Danso also advocates for making the most out of interning opportunities: “even if you think you know it all, you’ll find something you didn’t know about”. That means understanding a label’s business from top to bottom – go to accounting and gain insight into areas you feel alienated from, ask to go to the factory and see things happen from square one. “Dabble in everything,” he suggests.

Another key tip for kickstarting your own label is to use your money wisely: “Follow a specific routine, and be prepared to make sacrifices,” he adds. That can mean going out less, forgoing a coffee for some fabric. 

Aside from the hard hustle though, Danso also encourages taking time for yourself to chill, whatever it is you like doing. ake time to relax. And ultimately, patience is key. “In order to stay true to your own aesthetic, you have to take the risk of not conforming for the sake of money or joining in with fast fashion ideas... you have to be very patient. You have to wait for people to catch onto your aesthetic,” he says. “Stay true to it.”

PATRICK MCDOWELL

Patrick McDowell is an urgent young designer making sustainable, ethical clothes that buck all outdated notions of eco-design. The Liverpool-born, London-based McDowell uses upcycled, reclaimed fabrics and ethically produced materials to produce luxury clothes with both hypermasculine elements and iconic Scouse glamour sensibilities. A graduate of CSM and former Burberry intern, his rich in texture designs have caught the eyes of M.I.A and Rita Ora, and have appeared at Venice, Helsinki, and London Fashion Week.

Speaking with Dazed, McDowell offers advice on how to be stylishly sustainable. “Make sure you really, really love the pieces you buy or invest in because if no one loves it, that’s the most unsustainable thing you can do,” McDowell explains.

Further, the 23-year-old talks us through his family roots as his most major inspirations – his dad’s looks, old family photo albums. It relates to his advocacy for clothes really affecting your mood, and thinking deeply about how and why something is made. “Invest in pieces with an emotional connection to you,” he advises. “That’s part of the sustainable story, rebuilding the connection people have with clothes and the craft of making them can really alter a mood.

“Coming from Liverpool I see how people, women especially, can change their mood and being by putting on certain clothes.”

And then, of course, McDowell is a champion of secondhand shopping. “I think it’s amazing to buy clothes that have already had a life, and you’re giving them another one,” he adds. And some tips on how to master thrifting? “Don’t get overwhelmed,” he says. So while that Prada top you find while scavenging might seem like a bargain, it’s important to think about it practically. McDowell asks you to think: “Do I really love this, will I wear it 30 times?’

McDowell uses offcuts and excess mostly from Burberry and Swarovski, and highlights that this means he goes through two design phases. “The pieces become richer, because they’re designed twice effectively. I really enjoy working in that way,” he explains.

MIRAA MAY

Representing the passionate musical zeal of North London, Algerian-born, Tottenham-bred singer-songwriter Miraa May makes bouncy, genre-hopscotching music that speaks to a young, vibrant, always-on-grind generation. Her 2016 EP N15 was a fierce ode to her North London ends, and Care Package was the vibey follow-up, her voluptuous, expansive vocals highlighting lyrics that journey across complicated romance, enduring friendships, good times and hard times.

Dropping some wisdom, May says that music is her self-care mechanism. “Music is the best tool to help you destress,” May says – forget Headspace, it seems. “Sometimes it’s not necessarily calming music that destresses you,” she adds. “Maybe it’s Skee Mask or Slump God.” 

Secondly, May insists on writing what you know. With her Algerian background and Tottenham upbringing, she’s lived a dappled life, and looks to experiences at home, with family, with friends and in the real world she exists in for her greatest inspiration. “That’s where I grab all my ingredients to make my cake,” May adds. 

Further to that, May says that continuously expanding her network keeps inspiration incoming, whether that’s meeting new people that connect you to genres you never knew existed, or hanging with good pals who keep your mind right. And when you’re tested, turn headache into coin. May highlights country queen Dolly Parton as a major inspo for this, turning her broken heart into bangers like “Jolene” and “I Will Always Love You”. “She was going through it… she turned some fuckery into some money, and I have to respect that.” 

In May’s world, ultimately, “Music is life, and life lives through music. One can’t exist without the other.”

EMERALD ROSE LEWIS

Emerald Rose Lewis, a DJ, presenter, and model, is building herself up to be one of the most exciting, thriving voices in independent radio – a commentator on the most wiley tunes in garage, house, and bass, you’ll find her on Rinse and 2-Step on the regular, or curating the iconic Meltdown festival with M.I.A. IRL, you’ll see her in campaigns for Converse X and in Frank Ocean’s stunning video for “Nike”. 

Lewis offers some jewels of advice on finding your voice, advocating for finding that inspiration all around you, shouting out women she looks up to across the creative fields. She shouts out M.I.A: “She’s outspoken when it comes to a lot of things especially activism, politics, and environmental things, and that comes across a lot in her music which I find really inspiring,” she says. The Black Madonna, a Chicago DJ, too: “She’s a massive spokesperson for equalising music. She’s sick when it comes to gender and sexuality.” And lastly, author of the very vital read We Should All Be Feminists, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, describing her as “an amazing Nigerian icon for women”.

To keep your voice and mission fresh and dynamic, Lewis suggests checking out underground artists who may be underrepresented in the mainstream. “A lot of UK dance music coming out at the moment isn’t getting a lot of recognition,” she says. “I find them really inspiring, I go see people who play instruments, go see people who sing live… I go home feeling really inspired to create something.”

And then, the enduring mantra: practice makes perfect. “I like speaking in public, I like speaking on panels,” she says. “I don’t think I’ll ever not be nervous doing it… I think what helped me a lot is just practice.

“I don’t think it ever gets easier, I think you just get a bit more rational with your nerves.” 

While working on your inner voice, looking after your outer-body and health is also key. Running, at any level and for any length, is important to Lewis. “Running used to be a big salvation for me when it came to anxiety,” she explains, adding playfully: “I’d be lying if I said Dutch courage doesn’t help sometimes! A little shot of Tequila before going out on stage!” 

And while tuning your own voice, it’s also vital to be listening to those around you and being open to collaboration. “Collaborating is really important,” she asserts. “If there’s people who have the same sort of desires and ambitions that you do, working together gives you that support and encourages you that what you’re doing is good, it’s right, and something good can come out of it and you’ve got a community around you. Working with other people is really important for finding your voice.”

Keep up with @converse_london on Instagram to see how young creatives continue to Spark Progress around the city