The earliest iteration of designer Areeayl Goodwin’s business began when she was 16, and would sell her jewelry out of a shoebox to friends at her high school. “I thought it was so classy,” she laughs. “I called it, ‘Mrs. G.’” Her passion for jewelry design continued while Goodwin studied acting at Howard University, where she realized she was onto something. “Howard is such a fashion-conscious campus, so every time my friends went out [in my pieces], they got asked where they got their jewelry,” Goodwin says. “There started to be a demand.”
Today Goodwin—who is from and based in Philadelphia—has forayed her side hustle into a full-on career. She’s now the founder of both Beads Byaree, her jewelry line, and WHIM Byaree, her clothing line. The former, which focuses on statement earrings, has become a hit among celebrities: her bold pieces have been worn by Beyoncé, Tracee Ellis Ross, Indya Moore, and more. But the popularity of her earrings aren’t based solely on their aesthetics (though her nature-inspired designs, referencing leaves and shells, are certainly eye-grabbing). Each piece Goodwin makes also comes with a rich backstory or purpose, proving that fashion can also be used as a powerful tool for storytelling.
Goodwin’s love for jewelry goes back to her upbringing. “My mom is a crafter, so I went to a craft store with her once and saw a bunch of earring hooks,” she says. “I learned that people actually make jewelry.” Two of her early designs were the outline of a woman’s silhouette (which is still a recurring motif in the line), and her own name in cursive. Her mother taught her how to solder and weld metal, and she taught herself the rest. To this day, her process remains experimental and free-flowing. “I never sketch,” she says. “I just listen to music and make things.”
She now enjoys using pieces to convey a deeper meaning. “My art has grown with me on a spiritual level,” Goodwin says. “Now, I see more of a purpose with it.” She draws a lot of her inspiration from nature, and uses materials that, she hopes, will bring a calming energy to the wearer. Her recurring use of cowrie shells, for instance—like on her Come & Go & Come hoops—traces back to her African heritage, and touches on an affirmation that has guided her throughout life. “The shells mean a lot, they were used as currency in many countries in Africa,” Goodwin says. “Money is called currency for a reason; it comes and goes like a current. [The shells] have a spiritual meaning to me, to let people know that when you release, you receive.”
Even the pieces Goodwin has created for celebrities have been filled with rich context. Perhaps the most famous example is the pair of earrings she designed for Indya Moore last year that served as a statement of solidarity with trans women across America. The drop earrings featured eight small picture frames on each side, with a photo of a Black trans woman who had been murdered that year in each frame. “I had been aware of how many murders were happening to Black trans women in America,” Goodwin says of the design. “It was 8 frames long per earring, and I warned [Indya and stylist Ian Bradley] that 16 frames would be very heavy. But they told me that it’s heavy physically—but it’s also heavy spiritually and mentally.”
Goodwin’s earrings were also featured in Beyoncé’s Black Is King video earlier this year, which celebrated and uplifted an array of Black designers. “I am grateful my work is included in such a love letter,” she said of the special project. “There is no other place I’d rather be in this time and in history.”
Going forward, Goodwin will continue using her works as a medium to ignite conversations and push forward good intentions. “I never looked at fashion as something that helps other people spiritually; I always kind of looked at it as an aesthetic thing,” she says. “But recently, I started to learn that it was ignorant of me to even have that thought. Fashion has always been spiritual. In Africa, earrings are made for women who are mourning their mothers or grandmothers, and certain jewelry is worn to worship deities or ancestors. Our art should reflect helping and lifting up the world, because I feel like art is the strongest way to get through to people. It’s easier to reach people that way than asking them to open a book.”