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Does fashion have a mental health emergency?

Statistics show that people in the fashion industry are 25% more likely to experience mental illness. With the fast paced, pressurised environment and constant need to design and create new trends, it’s no wonder some people find the environment overwhelming. The question I’m asking is does fashion have a mental health emergency?

The tragic deaths of Kate Spade and Alexander McQueen gave the industry the wake-up call it desperately needed, but has enough happened to avoid a reoccurrence? Are brands and designers actively seeking out mental health support for the industry and their employees? Or are they just completing a tick-box exercise if a team member expresses their mental health problems?

To the outside world, the fashion industry is often portrayed as an exclusive, enchanting world of glitz and glamour. However, fashion designers, models and other industry professionals are subject to a side of the industry that can result in serious damage to mental health.

They have been known for developing mental health problems ranging from depression and anxiety to eating disorders. Below is a list of brands and designers who are saying enough is enough and are raising awareness of the mental health emergency.

Four brands and two designers raising awareness:

  1. Philosophy: In 2014, the skincare and cosmetics brand launched their Hope & Grace initiative aimed at raising $10 million to combat mental illness. Since then, they have surpassed their target raising $54 million with 91 grants and 74 organisations and 1.8 million women supported. The project directed 1% of sales to over 65 mental health charities, focusing on issues that affect women. The next time you purchase a cleanser or fragrance, consider Philosophy and feel good about where a percentage of your purchase is going to.

  2. Kenneth Cole and Paula Scher: For the 2020 Mental Heath Awareness Week, fashion designer Kenneth Cole collaborated with Paula Scher to create an identity for a mental health coalition. According to the design studio, it is “a collective effort that unites the leading mental health organisations, creative and media platforms, advocates and celebrities in a campaign to destigmatise mental health conditions and address the public health emergency around mental health”. The identity is launching a social media campaign to ask people how they are really feeling with the hashtag #howareyoureallychallenge.

  3. Boohoo: For World Mental Health Day 2019, the online retailer encouraged customers to support the World Federation for Mental Health, which promotes the advancement of mental health awareness. Boohoo released different coloured t-shirts with different happy colours for their customers to purchase and post on their social media to spread awareness for the cause. 25% of proceeds were donated to the World Federation for Mental Health.

  4. Adidas and Nike: Both sportswear giants have been rethinking their usual athletic campaigns and have started to use their global audience to raise awareness around mental health. In 2018, Adidas produced a short film “Infinite Silence” starring the rapper Kojey Radical speaking about depression and suicide. In August 2019, Nike released the In My Feels Air Max 270s guest designed by therapist Liz Beecroft, which raised funds for suicide prevention. The trainer design was then reinterpreted to incorporate mental health and sold out within 48 hours.

  5. The streetwear brand Boys Get Sad Too are fighting the stigma against men feeling like they can’t express their emotions. They are releasing a line of apparel and accessories with 20% of profits directed to CALM, which gives back to the UK’s mental health community.

Fashion and mental health protests…

On the other hand, Gucci model Ayesha Tan Jones staged their own mental health protest against the luxury fashion giant on World Mental Health Day 2019. Tan Jones held up their hands during their catwalk moment with the words “Mental health is not fashion” on.

In a statement on their Instagram profile Tan Jones opened up about their own mental health problems. Tan Jones said “It is bad taste for Gucci to use imagery of strait jackets and outfits alluding to mental patients, while being rolled out on a conveyor belt as if a piece of factory meat”.

The fact that this only happened in 2019 shows there is still a mental health emergency in the industry; there is a conscious effort by some but there’s still a long way to go. There is a prevailing stigma around mental illness for people who work in fashion and very few are willing to report their problems – maybe because they are worried about the repercussions.

If people feel too scared to speak up, how can companies ensure those with mental health problems have adequate support? The more we talk, the more mental health problems can be destigmatised and the right support systems put in place.

BT introduced a ‘Mental Health toolkit‘ for their employees 14 years ago which provides huge support on how to manage mental health issues. The fashion industry needs to follow suit, if they have employees reporting mental health problems or not. Fashion has a clear mental health emergency and the more we talk, the less of an emergency it can become.

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