Voices of Fashion

i-Caad gave me the chance to speak at their Voices of Fashion event recently dedicated to good mental health in fashion. Previously I have been working with Graduate Fashion Week organisers and our graduates to create resilience and emotional intelligence understanding. In this cut throat industry, I don’t have to tell you why.


The day would be about discussion and revelation. The variables of mental health fragility are considerable but for all of us, whether marginalised by dominant culture, experiencing some or multiple discriminations; as well as those of us privileged within dominant culture, but still unable to express fatigue, fear or grief, the challenge to protect ourselves is considerable.

Marc Jacob, John Galliano and Elbar Elbaz have all revealed their own struggles with mental health. One of the slides in Dr Carolyn Mair's presentation

As someone who has worked in fashion for nearly 4 decades, I have had some amazing highs but I’ve also had the equivalent lows. Relentless deadlines, high standards, shifting aesthetics and technological developments or unsafe work situations come as obstacles to our creativity. It is very hard to access ideas when the mind is stressed and fearful.


Before a full audience at Kings College London on December 7th 2018, we learned that there are higher rates of mental health struggle in the creative world with suicide disproportionately higher than the national average. We discussed toxic leaders, boundaries and the responsibility of the individual. We saw presentations on co-dependence and how to recognise its unhealthy presence in our relationships. Highlighted by organisational therapist Lillie Naor, was the shared language that must be in place in order to discuss shared experience and clarify how to act. We acknowledged the inbuilt inequalities in the system experienced by freelancers and interns which requires legislation to prevent further exploitation of an un-unionised workforce.

Simran Randhawa model and activist

Speakers included Dr Carolyn Mair, founder of Psychology Fashion, Fabian Hirose: management consultant; Chula Goonwardine: clinical director and psychotherapist; Tamara Cincik: CEO Fashion Roundtable CEO; Sharoo Izardi: behavioural change specialist; Simran Randhawa model and activist as well as many others. Having introduced Farrah Liz Pallaro to my friends at GFW after reading her excellent book: Light Workers of Fashion, and hearing her talk, I could see we were in good shape to launch what i-Caad hope to be a series of initiatives dedicated to better mental health in fashion.

i-Caad's Maylis Audry, Management Consultant Fabian Hirose, Doctor of Fashion and Dance Manrutt Wongkeaw and I

Honesty about our vulnerabilities takes bravery. We all know some of our most revered names have undergone public and sometimes tragic struggles with mental health. We also know anecdotally of many more who have battled privately, but it was shocking to turn round to see 80% of the audience also raise their hand to confirm personal mental health struggles. My hand was up with the rest at this point and was an emotional moment to witness. Models Simran Radhara and Sonny Hall revealed their personal battles with eating disorders and addictions, sadly fairly common behaviour in modelling.


The day had goals of course Firstly to open debate: The tyrannical leader, the climate of fear. How do we keep ourselves safe and help others to report their own struggles?


Secondly to establish knowledge of company wellness policies. What are the minimum standards required by law? And what does evolution to a gold standard look like? Can we leverage change in the workplace with the knowledge that greater productivity is a direct outcome of wellness?


Lastly, to compile resultant company pledges of action and establish of a central network through i-Caad for information sharing. This latter aim needs further formulation and funding. But it has to start somewhere. As I named these in my opening talk I reminded us all about the joy in reconnecting with our creative purpose and found my voice cracking with emotion. Creativity is capable of delivering joy and we all want to find out way back to it don’t we. Being compassionate towards others as well as ourselves is a start, with the latter being much harder than it should be. In closing I asked influencers, bloggers, journalists and representatives of companies to take on the awareness we received that day and activate it within their own communities.


Under the hashtag #MentalHealthButMakeItFashion I invited conversation about personal experience. And bolstered by expert vision of a healthy environment, I also suggested we ask future employers a simple question from now on “What is your wellness policy?” If you get an answer, any answer please post on the above hashtag. We all realised that few of us have any real knowledge of what should be in place for good mental health. Of course we can step up to be accountable... Imagine going to work every day looking for ways to give unlimited support and kindness to others once there. That’s power.


I love the study undertaken at a Coca Cola plant in Madrid in 2017 which found that when workers received an act of kindness, they passed it on, not once but up to three times. We are powerful enough to create a better workplace with something as simple as infectious kindness.


I will dwell on the power of kindness as this year comes to a close. I will end by wishing you all a resilient and compassionate 2019.

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