Fashion has long been a catalyst for social change. Now, its not just well-established brands highlighting social issues on their products. A new wave of designers are spreading the importance of mental health advocacy.
The fashion industry has an ability to provoke change, inspire conversation and educate the masses. But can fashion be a passive form of activism and make a meaningful difference in improving our mental health?
Madhappy & Mental Health Advocacy
Let me introduce you to Madhappy, the clothing brand promoting mindfulness, optimism and positivity.
Madhappy is an LA based streetwear brand that launched early 2017 with a self-proclaimed ethos of optimism and inclusivity. In a joint mission, four twenty-somethings are working to raise awareness and provide mental health resources.
"Everything we're trying to do, both in our product and with the content we're producing … is to have an optimistic message to share"
Initially simply a clothing company, Madhappy has evolved into a community of optimists encouraging conversations about mental wellbeing. Using everything from impactful clothing collections to mental health resources, they're creating an optimistic mindset in every way possible.
The current, upcoming generation of consumers are more aware of their mental wellbeing than ever before. Brands need to respond to succeed. Madhappy has a core target audience of 18-30 year olds and even though the streetwear market is highly saturated, their built in ethos of positivity and optimism sets them apart from the masses. As well as this they're arguably the first brand to be so committed to creating awareness of mental health issues through their garments and online presence.
It's this advocacy that has caught the attention of traditional and newcomer celebrities alike. To name just a few, stars such as Gigi Hadid, Lewis Hamilton and Addison Rae have all been spotted sporting items from the Madhappy range.
The Local Optimist
But they do so much more than just sell hoodies embellished with a positive slogan. In 2019 the Madhappy brand expanded and launched the "Local Optimist" blog.
Acting as an extension of the clothing brand, it houses written, audio and video content highlighting anecdotal experiences of mental health. This content alone is continually strengthening the brand as well as helping its users foster positive attitudes and mindfulness.
"Local optimist" has become a Madhappy catchphrase and found its way onto many of the brand's garments. Doing so puts the brand's message of optimism at the forefront whilst promoting their online mental health advocacy.
A goal for the founders of Madhappy was to eradicate any exclusivity within their brand. Because of this, the positive good that comes from the 'Local Optimist' has made its way into the real world.
After building a platform of free and widely accessible resources available to anyone in need, they began introducing in-store events. Alongside the garments and online content, Madhappy also organise face-to-face sessions which are free and open to everyone. The founders organise and deliver events such as mental health panels and mindfulness courses with experts helping others better themselves.
It is through events such as this that the brand works to form charitable partnerships with mental health non-profits. Although not compulsory, they donate all contributions made at the events to their charity partner named 'The Jed Foundation'.
"We felt that Madhappy could be a more inclusive brand and everyone could be a part of it in one way or another"
In person events help to widen the scope of the brands reach as well as their eventual impact by removing reliance on being digitally savvy. However due to coronavirus they had to adapt, and so in January 2021 launched a virtual "Local Optimist Movie Club". The purpose being that movies can often act as conversation-starters on many topics, including mental health. In addition to this it aids the creation of a virtual community of mental health conscious people helping each other to forge an optimistic mindset.
How is mental health advocacy portrayed through garments?
Madhappy is known by many for their mix of colourful basics including classic tees and sweats in positive, pastel colour-ways. All of which, contain a slogan of positivity and an optimistic mindset.
However their recent launch delves a bit deeper. Madhappy's most recent collection which dropped on 27th April introduced 'Madhappy Outdoors". This collection consists of classic pieces such as sweatpants and hoodie sets alongside biker shorts, tank tops and bucket hats.
This drop in particular, as the name may suggest, encourages people to reap the benefits that come from being outdoors. The designs celebrate and advocate for the restorative effects nature can have on mental health including lowering stress and increasing serotonin.
With being such positive activists for one social issue, it's natural to question how they're adapting to other issues. Given that there are now clinical accounts of subclinical depressions and anxieties in relation to the climate it should be asked if they're doing anything to improve their sustainability.
Madhappy has admitted that like many in the fashion industry, their production line as a whole isn't entirely sustainable. However they're acting to responsibly make all of their garments by:
Reducing emissions with a compact LA based supply chain,
Using high quality organic fabrics across their core line,
All used dye houses have GOTS (global organic textile standard) certification,
Donating imperfect garments to charities to minimise waste.
They're also acting to improve this in the future. Already they're introducing recycled fabrics into their core line and hope to be a carbon neutral brand by 2025.
Year after year on world mental health awareness day, brands will launch marketing campaigns. But is this genuine advocacy or an act to jump on trends? For many once the hashtag hype dies down, the campaigns stop to reappear in a year.
When it comes to normalising mental health issues, fashion brands can be helpful allies. We can't underestimate it. By opening up the conversation around a once taboo subject, they can bring more awareness and attention to such a prevalent issue.