As many of you know, this February was my first Fashion Week presenting as a designer proper. Gone are the days, at least for now, of serving as a design assistant under the umbrella of someone else’s vision. The experience as a whole was filled with more stress than my days spent as an assistant mostly because this whole collection fell on my shoulders in a way it never had before.
“Therapy” was a very intimate and raw collection for me. As it had me not only embrace my younger brother’s struggles with his mental health, but it forced me to address my own. It also placed me in a few bouts of self-doubt as I wondered if anyone would understand the themes being presented and if speaking out about mental health had a place in fashion. After some tough love and a lot of media training, I decided that the runway is the best place to address mental health.
Models, designers, and various professionals within the fashion industry are often subject to long hours in a high-stress environment with tight deadlines. The industry is also fiercely competitive and filled with the constant pressure of possible failure. Within the industry, you only have one moment to make or break the fate of your brand for that financial quarter.
A study conducted by the US Center for Disease Control, which compared suicide rates among occupations, confirmed a strong correlation between working in the fashion industry and the development of mental illnesses. The fashion industry ranked seventh on the list, behind the police, factory workers, mechanics, and farmers, but beating out doctors, lawyers, and accountants. The same report also concluded that the suicide rates throughout the United States rose nearly 30 percent between 1999 and 2016.
And yet, no one in the fashion industry talks about mental health or ways to ensure our assistants, creative directors, or various professionals are taking their mental health seriously and not sacrificing it for the dream of working with a fashion house. If Kate Spade’s recent suicide hasn’t taught us anything, it is that there is an epidemic of mental illness within the industry dating back to its origins. Has the loss of L’Wren Scott, Isabella Blow, Charlotte Dawson, Ruslana Korshunova, and Alexander McQueen taught us nothing? Icons are gone way before their time to something that could have been prevented should they have sought help instead of, in McQueen’s case, self-medicating through substance abuse.
For this reason, I chose to tell the story of my brother. Who he himself has struggled with his mental health and has attempted suicide. But the good thing is that he didn’t succeed, which makes us profoundly lucky that he is still here with us, and is still fighting to get the proper care he needs for his mental health. My brother has been very vocal when things are difficult, when they are going well, and when he needs distance in order to regroup himself. He has taught me how to be a better mental health advocate and most importantly, how to have the courage to seek your goals no matter what.
The courage to speak out about your mental health is a rare privilege, and together we hope to inspire others who have been silent about their struggles. We invite them to build communities around them of people who they can reach out to when they are in need. It is through these bonds that we can all combat suicide and make the world a kinder place for those struggling with their mental health.
If you or someone you know are thinking about suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or The Trevor Project 1-866-488-7386, or the Suicide Crisis Line at 1-800-784-2433 in North America or +44 (0) 116 123 in the UK.