Fashion and mental health: It’s time to mend our mess.

Photo Credit: @india_stibilj x the syndicate

A recent 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 developing mental illnesses (we see you nodding fashion friends). The fashion industry has a problem. But what we also need to talk about is the strong relationship between fashion consumption and mental health. All markets are two sides of the same coin, so let’s go beyond the business side for a moment and start talking how you, the consumer, can create greater wellbeing through your relationship with fashion.

Our fashion habits may well be a mirror to our thoughts. I read a simple statement recently, ‘a resilient person is a rested person’, it’s relevance to the current (fast) fashion system and our compromised mental health seems so obvious. Can it be that our desire for fast, disposable and convenient fashion is a reflection of a mindset that has forgotten the benefits of slow and considered choices? It was twenty years ago that people started to accept the impact of fast food on their physical health, importantly, people are now beginning to realise the connection between fast fashion and their mental health. What if, when we consider the wellbeing of people and planet, we accept that what we put on our skin is just as powerful as what we put in our mouths?

LifeLine Op-shop. Military Road, Sydney.

Our addiction to cheap clothing is not healthy. Humans collectively purchase 80 billion garments a year, much of it made through processes we have no connection to and as a result comes with disastrous environmental and social cost. In his TedTalk, Johan Hari makes the empowered statement ‘the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, it’s connection’. Hari offers us the opportunity to expand our choices when it comes to transforming our problems. While saying ‘no’ to buying fashion isn’t necessarily going to salve your anxiety, changing your connection to it might. What if deepening the connection to our clothing can be part of our mental wellness plan? Could it be that valuing what you and your family wears represents a choice for greater well-being? Of course it can.

At this point, some people will default to a scarcity mindset and reason that not everyone can afford to buy better, it’s scarce not because it’s lacking in reality, but because it’s lacking in possibility. Culturally, we have become obsessed with money being the cause and the solution to our woes, but this creates a great diversion from common sense, the most renewable resource we have to change things. Vivienne Westwood summed it up simply with ‘buy less, buy better and make it last’, it’s a circular approach in that each action supports the other, something humanity greatly needs.

The World Health Organisation defines mental health as a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community. Read it again, slowly! Here we have a way to enact Grandma’s advice for greater wellbeing, it’s in the giving that we receive. Next time you go to purchase clothing ask yourself, does my garment promote the potential of it’s makers? Will it alleviate stress on our natural environments? Can it enhance dignified work and create jobs for a kinder future? And does my choice promote responsibility within my community? (as far and wide as that may be). Sure, scientific study is yet to wholly quantify these actions as bringing health benefits, but common sense (and grandma) knows differently.

It’s time to peacefully disrupt the systems that we have favoured, but in our hearts know we have to change, because they cripple our mental health. Fundamental to the change is tackling our mindset of entitlement and replacing it with contribution. Imagine the impact we can have as consumers on the health of the industry if we decided to truly consider the supply chain. Imagine if we didn’t demand fast fashion made from enslaved labour, or we desired customised T-shirts made locally, or we bought from artisans and designers who we speak directly to? Or we repair our clothing because it holds a story that has meaning. There are so many ways to mend ourselves through our relationship with fashion.

Mother Teresa (whose iconic sari is currently trademarked, little wonder we’re all a bit stressed) said “If we have no peace, it’s because we’ve forgotten we belong to one another”, we are at a crossroad in fashion, where strengthening our self-connection through collaboration, compassion, and creativity is fundamental if we are to transform our problems into opportunities, as an individual you have so much power to design the change you wish to see in our world. May you make peaceful (a)mends.

One in four people will experience mental illness in their lives, costing the global economy an estimated $6 trillion by 2030. (World Economic Forum). The Possibility Project is dedicated to nurturing greater wellbeing and attitudes for natural resilience through restorative justice. We believe it is the smallest acts of service towards all people and planet that will create a healthier life for all.

'The calming effects of sewing' The Guardian

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