Women who create: Frances Edwards

Frances Edwards is the founder and creative director of House of Cinnamon (HOC), which is a proudly South African brand that offers design-conscious, locally handcrafted footwear, and showcases limited edition accessories produced by South African entrepreneurs. Frances is based in Johannesburg, where she lives with her husband, James, and two children, Stella and Frederick.

Describe your journey to founding your brand.

I have always appreciated art and design, beautiful pieces and have loved shoes! After completing my commerce degree at the University of Cape Town, I worked in finance and lived in London and Zurich for a number of years, wearing corporate office wear and good-quality classic flats.

Once I had moved back to South Africa and needed new footwear, I could only find mass-produced, inexpensive flats that had been brought in from the East or very expensive pairs that had been imported from Europe.  In my frustration at not being able to find well-made shoes at a reasonable price, I made some enquiries about local producers.

I was introduced to a number of cobblers who made a few samples according to my designs for me to try out. They were great and I loved wearing them. I started making shoes for friends and then friends of friends. So, towards the end of 2014, I quit my job in finance and started Cinnamon Shoes, which then eventually became House of Cinnamon.

What is the ethos behind/essence of House of Cinnamon?

First and foremost, I respect the integrity of craftsmanship and much appreciate high-quality, good value shoes and accessories that express individuality. This enjoyment was developed strongly while I was overseas. As I had always loved limited-edition items, vintage pieces and clothes with character, I relished being able to browse in the many secondhand stores in those places and finding a treasure in the form of a hand-made leather handbag, a precious pre-loved blouse or one-of-a-kind jacket.

Then there was a pivotal moment of realisation when I went backpacking through South East Asia for six months in order to clear my head, have time for introspection and to weigh up future life and career options. 

As it was, I had only packed about 10 basic wash-and-wear items, which I wore almost continuously during that time. It became apparent that I actually needed no more than this amount of clothing and this taught me a really important lesson about materialism and having too much stuff.

I made the decision that I didn’t want to contribute to over-consumption and waste. I decided that I wanted to live more consciously and be discerning about the purchases I made as quality mattered more than quantity, that sustainability and lasting value mattered most.

I’d like to think that all the experiences mentioned, as well as these ideas and principles, have flowed into the ethos that is expressed through the House of Cinnamon brand and the items we offer.

Name 3 women who inspire you, and why they inspire you.

My mother, Monica, would be the first on the list, as she is a very powerful role model to my three sisters and me. While raising a family, she managed to juggle a successful high-level career with being a community activist and undertaking postgraduate studies. That is no easy feat. She remains completely committed to the welfare of her daughters, grandchildren and members of the far-flung extended family. She is always ready to help, advise, encourage and support, acting as my personal and professional sounding board and critic when needed. I love her dearly and it is very reassuring to know that she is only a phone call away and is available to my sisters and me at any time. Hence the Monica Flat and the Monica blazer.

My second inspirational woman is my late mother-in-law Jan Edwards, who died of cancer when she was far too young. I often think of her and regret not having had the time to find out more about her life, family, her experiences as a mother, wife and career woman. During the time she battled this dreadful disease with such dignity, I came to deeply respect the amazing strength she mustered, the level of optimism and courage she found, her indomitable will to live. She managed to enjoy her last year to the full, relished every day of travel, celebrated her last birthday in style and was full of hope to the end. I miss her greatly. Dedicated to Jan is the Jan ballet flat.

You might be surprised at my third choice. The Queen of Great Britain, Elizabeth ll. After recently watching a documentary on her life, I have come to realise what a remarkable figure this ninety-four-year-old woman is. Her uncle’s abdication, her father’s kingship and subsequent early death thrust her into a position for which she was hardly ready when she ascended the throne. She took on a huge role and weight of responsibilities and duties and has carried them out tirelessly without fault for decades. She has survived a world war, political crises, countless prime ministers, government scandals and family dramas. Through it all, she remains calm and carries on, in control, with an amazing level of composure and grace, strength and dignity that is truly inspirational.

Any advice for other women?

Live your life consciously and experience it to the full while you are young.  Take and make opportunities to travel as much as you can. When I decided to leave Switzerland, after working there for a few years, I back-packed through Southeast Asia for six months on a shoe string budget, funds which I could have saved. Looking back, the experiences I gained and the memories I cherish cannot be valued in monetary terms. They are worth so much more.

Be open and get to know other cultures, people, ways of living and working. Don’t be afraid if life is not always easy. Work hard, gain know-how, skills and connections. These early years are invaluable years, as you pick up all sorts of general abilities, from writing effectively, to dealing with clients, customers and colleagues. These will stand you in good stead if you do want to go out on your own at some point.

Think very carefully about marriage and children. These are, indeed, body-, mind- , heart- and career-changing decisions that will profoundly affect the rest of your life.

When considering how to balance marriage, motherhood and a career, you might have to compromise on income levels, as it is important to find work for which you will want to get up every morning – work that makes you happy and feeds your soul.  

And while you are trying to pull off this great juggling act, trying to meet everyone’s needs, expectations and wishes, trying to be a good wife, mother, employee, employer, team player, it is very easy to forget about you.

My advice is that it is okay to not feel guilty about taking care of your body, mind and spirit.

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