To live with a mental illness can be a very lonely and isolating time in a person’s life, a fact I know very well still battling my way to recovery as I write this. We all know the statistics, in the U.K. 1 in 4 are suffering from a mental illness. Sadly, so many are suffering in silence and far too many are losing their lives to Mental Illnesses, one sad example this year was Claire Greaves who lost her battle with Anorexia.
When I began blogging about my physical disabilities, Mental Health and Autism through AMHA and the charity Fixers last year. I joined a growing online community that had been working hard to dismantle decades of stigma, misunderstandings, myths and negativity surrounding mental health through real stories about their own lives and experiences. As blogging is not my best skill struggling with dyslexia, being a more creative person, I decided to launch a new anti-stigma clothing and accessories brand called Whatlabel in spring 2018, hoping to compliment the work I do raising awareness around Autism, Mental Health and disabilities.
MENTAL ILLNESS. ITS NOT A FAD. ITS NOT A FASHION TREND. ITS NOT A HALLOWEEN THEME.
Why clothing though? When done right, clothing is a great way to promote awareness, after all clothes are used to express ourselves, they can act as a great canvas for artists and designers. Although I had a very clear picture about what i would design, I didn’t go in blind. I took some inspiration from some other mental health clothing companies like WearYourLabel, Fandabby and Schizophrenic.nyc who all have their own values, unique branding and designs based on their own experiences around mental illness. I also took note of independent sellers on platforms like Etsy, which is a great place to find some amazing handmade mental health themed accessories made by some very talented artists and designers.
Although I felt clothing would be a great way of taking what I was doing online into the real world, I was also extremely aware of how mental illness has been abused through fashion and the media, and im not just talking about how Mental Illness has been used as a theme for Horror, or the ridiculous Halloween costumes that pop up every year, (just to name a few examples).
What I didn’t expect was to find dozens of startup businesses with their own websites, aswell as independent sellers using platforms like eBay, Amazon, or sites like Zazzle or Cafepress (which frequently appear in the mental health search results), where it is apparently deemed acceptable to sell cheap mental health themed wholesale clothing and accessories which can be found on marketplaces like AliExpress, as if it’s some kind of fashion trend to jump on. Most of the designs have been created with no thought, using tacky cliché stigmatising designs, printed on see-through cheap material. Many of the slogans are not only offensive, but distasteful and rude.
Would you wear a t-shirt with “Medicated for your protection” slapped across?
This made me stop and think about what I was creating. I knew it would be essential to ensure I made it clear from day one what WhatLabels missions and values would be. I wanted to make it clear WhatLabel has been created by someone who really does understand. I have only ever wanted to promote awareness, acceptance and share resources to helps those suffering.
Although some home truths will be popping up in my designs, plus my take will be different when designing for Autism and Disabilities. My focus will be on promoting wellness and encouraging messages, especially around recovery, and enduring those dark lonely days when all you can do is just sit and look as a TV screen. I want those struggling out in the real world when they see my designs to feel they are not alone.
To see my clothing, something I spent months designing now roaming around the Barbican Centre on the backs of people this summer was a very surreal moment for me. To have a big organisation wanting to wear my clothing and contribute to raising awareness gave me hope and the energy to keep doing my little bit to highlight the struggles of others.
If you would like to support Whatlabel, you can do so through donation or purchasing of any of our clothing, profit raised this year is being used to support Mental Health Charities like Clearly Speaking, a Special needs family centre in Buckingham who support thousands of families and young people every year who have mental illnesses, autism, various disabilities and special needs. Find out more