CW: This article mentions mental health issues, suicide and body image which some readers may find distressing or triggering.
Mental health awareness has gained traction and become a big talking point in the last few years. The topic of mental health among Fashion Designers, Models and Professionals has become an increasingly difficult topic to ignore. Statistics show that people in the fashion industry are 25% more likely to experience mental issues. The fashion industry, with the constant pressure to be ahead of trends, working at unsociable hours and being on form at endless rounds of social events, presents its own challenges. The sector is inherently fast-paced and relentless, which makes it a stressful environment for workers at all levels. The fashion world was rocked in 2010 by the suicide of Alexander McQueen. That led to the unveiling of his unpublicised history of depression, anxiety and insomnia. Marc Jacobs is another example of an overworked and anxious designer, having had checked into rehab twice for issues with alcohol.
The pressure of the industry is not only felt at the top of the industry but amongst the young people too. Teenagers face the pressure to keep their closets up to date with trends. They also and face difficulties with the fashion industries image of the ideal body types from a very young age.
Toxic working practises in the fashion industry
People working in the fashion industry are subjected to high levels of stress, long anti-social hours, and demanding deadlines. This is the reality of working in the industry. Creative people in the industry are also under immense mental pressure to deliver an endless stream of creativity and innovation. The designers are under a pressure to create the next big trend. This is the kind of working environment that causes unhealthy working practices and destructive working patterns. They include eating poorly, disrupted sleep and not taking adequate rest breaks. It often starts when they begin studying at University.
Competitive and critical nature
The challenging, fast-paced nature of the industry, therefore, expects superhuman resilience. It encourages you to push yourself to the limit. The models used in many fashion brands cause insecurities to other people. They are all tall, skinny, symmetrical, and with good skin. Young people may not address that this ideal look is often only achieved by using Photoshop. In Photoshop their skin can be smoothed to lose pores and imperfections, skin tone can be evened, and also their whole body can be changed.
The competitive nature also causes problems inside the industry. For designers and models alike, meeting excessively high standards is damaging to their mental well-being. Models are constantly expected to conform to an unnatural ideal, facing perpetual criticism and rejection. Now the people in the industry are using more their voice to talk about the problems. Here is a good example of 9 models talking about how the industry should change.
What can be done to improve mental health in the industry?
Firstly, the creative institutes should implement adequate training and education on how to manage their time and stress effectively. The institutes should equip students with the skills to identify the problems with mental health and how to develop healthy protective coping mechanisms. What you can personally do, is to strengthen your support network amongst friends, family, professionals already working in the sector and qualified mental health professionals.
Secondly, creating healthy workspaces for creative to thrive and innovate are key to alleviating the mental pressures on professionals working in the fashion industry. Manageable working hours and regular breaks must be implemented to fall in line with standard working hour’s legislation followed by most other industries. Employees in the fashion industry must be aware of their working rights with stable and clear contracts that fully disclose the nature of the job and the expected requirements.
In conclusion, we are already seeing a positive change in the fashion industry. For example, Nike is using plus-size mannequins in their London flagship store. As their employees benefit, they invest in their employee's mental health also outside of work. The second good example is ASOS, which is using different body types as their models, and they have trained 57 ASOSers so to become Mental Health First Aiders to provide support to colleagues. This is the type of support the fashion industry needs. This is our chance to start the change- appreciation of every talent, consideration of mental stability of the people that you work with should be something that we talk about more often!