Creating a conversation about mental health in fashion

Since our article about companies creating fashion items promoting mental illnesses was posted, a huge discussion has been opened up about the rights and wrongs of the matter.

As mentioned in the previous article, it has been proved that one in four people will experience mental health issues at some point in their life. Sadly, some people lose their battle, including fashion designers Alexander McQueen and Kate Spade.

In the fashion and beauty industry, there are many issues that relate back to mental health. For example, dieting products, the sizing of models, clothing sizes and clothing items themselves.

Image: @kimkardashian on Instagram

At Fashion North, we’re working hard to try and get people to think more in-depth about mental health and how it can affect us, and those around us, in so many different ways.

We asked three people their opinion on the issue: Sam Boal, a fashion journalism student at The University of Sunderland, who suffers from bulimia; Naomi Austin, a senior lecturer in fashion design and promotion at The University of Sunderland; and Neil Gregory, a learning and development officer at Mental Health Matters.

Image: @MHM_Info on Twitter

“Do you think it’s okay for companies to create products, such as those mentioned previously, that can relate back to mental illnesses?”

Sam – I understand why products aimed at reducing weight and bloating are so popular, but I think they are really damaging for those who suffer from eating disorders. People who are vulnerable when it comes to being very conscious of their weight, are more than likely willing to do anything to lose weight, and the companies who make these products don’t think about the damage they can cause to someone’s mental health.

Naomi – Surely this will only serve to get the message out there to people who may be either don’t know enough about mental illnesses, or what actually covers mental illness?

Neil – Mental health is receiving more positive media attention now than it ever has, and there are multiple reasons for this. The question here is how would clothing help someone struggling with their own issues? I’m not sure it would. Some may argue that wearing something with such a message is empowering, but how might it be seen by others that are struggling?

“Do you think that products like these are wrongfully promoting mental illnesses and making them a ‘fashion trend’, or do you think that they are a good way to raise awareness of mental illnesses?”

Sam – I don’t necessarily think that these products promote mental illness, but when extremely popular celebrities, such as the Kardashians, promote them on Instagram, they do become a trend. It is so rare for any of the promoters to mention the effect of these products on someone’s mental health, and because of that, I wouldn’t say that they raise awareness of mental health.

Naomi – I don’t think that items like the anxiety hoodie (see previous article) are promoting awareness, a, in fact, increase anxiety in people, seeing this displayed on something. But I think companies that have something which has a hidden meaning are fine, for example, ones which are well designed graphically and look trendy, such as The Lone Wolf Pack.

Neil – We need to think about the language that people continually use on items like these. Do we really think that “crazy” is still acceptable? If it isn’t, and most agree it isn’t, then what message does it give on a tshirt?

“Do you think that products like these would be more beneficial if the money made from sales was donated to mental health charities?”

Sam – I think that using these products to raise money and awareness for mental health would be a great idea, but realistically, at this moment in time, these products and mental health charities don’t go hand in hand. If these products were promoted in a healthier way then maybe they could work with mental health charities, but I don’t think that this will be the case for a long time.

Naomi – I think anyone who uses mental health in their product design should donate some of the proceeds to mental health charities. It will help to promote awareness and to fund the treatment for people struggling with mental health issues.

Neil – It’s difficult to see how printing suicide notes on tshirts or ‘asylum patient’ fancy dress costumes would help anyone struggling with their mental health, no matter whether some proceeds were donated or not. If such companies want to say/do something meaningful about mental health then they need to begin by talking to those who have experienced their own struggles, otherwise, the items will end up simply being another way of trivialising an issue that affects millions of people.

Join in on the conversation about mental health in fashion @Fashion_North.

If you are suffering from any issues discussed, here you can head to the Mental Health Matters website for support.

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