Using fashion as a vehicle to change the conversation around mental health
Described as ‘the mental health spokesperson of our generation’ George David Hodgson is a fashionpreneur, public speaker and mental health campaigner known for his incredible honesty and no-filter approach to opening up about his suffering. In 2014 he founded the award-winning fashion brand Maison de Choup out of his severe anxiety and OCD episode. The brand has been recognised by the likes of Vanity Fair, which referred to Maison de Choup as 'The Fashion Brand with a Mental Health Cause at its Heart'. It also won the British Fashion Start-up Award for such an inspiring story. His story was made into a BBC Three Amazing Humans Documentary. George will be sitting on the mental health panel at the upcoming UAL Awarding Body Annual Conference on 7 February 2020. As a taster of what’s to come, he’s shared his story of his experiences with mental health and how Maison de Choup was born…
I've suffered from Anxiety (which didn't have a label then) since primary school. I was very hyperactive as a child and used to have extra support at home - a lady would come to the house and teach me breathing exercises as well as counting to ten in a bid to calm me down. I didn’t have the best primary school experience anyway, but this seemed to be a problem for the school and subsequently my parents. I thought these exercises were just part of education and growing up.
Everything seemingly changed when I went to secondary school, I immediately fitted in, had a good group of friends and was achieving well. My symptoms of hyperactivity and anxiety dissipated as my focus was leaning towards education and probably more so, being a teenager, which involved a lot of new feelings and emotions, and trying to fit in with my friends.
At the end of secondary school, and after finishing all our GCSE's my friends and I decided it would be exciting to celebrate this milestone in our lives - the celebration came in the form of a drum and bass fuelled festival. I remember discussing with my friends at this time the idea of experimenting with some substances, and we chose to do so.
It was after experimenting with this drug that I realised something was very wrong, I certainly didn’t enjoy the experience of the drug and more importantly, became frightened of how long it was lasting. Eventually it did stop and I decided not to do it again, more or less forgetting about it.
3 weeks later I was sorting the horses out in the field, when I suddenly felt incredibly hot and cold at the same time. I then began to notice that my heart was beating ten to the dozen and my vision was subsequently becoming blurry and tunnel like. What immediately sprung to mind was that what I was feeling felt much the same, if not identical to the experience I’d had upon experimenting with drugs 3 weeks prior.
I was having a panic attack.
I told my parents everything. After experiencing a panic attack every day for a week, we decided it was time to visit the doctor to find out what was going on. I had severe anxiety and panic disorder. He said he was going to refer me to Child & Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), the assessment was in two weeks from visiting the doctor.
My mental health in those two weeks decreased at rapid pace, panic attacks became more severe, anxiety worsened. I had begun washing my hands 50-100 times per day because I believed there were drug traces on everything I touched.
The final blow was dealt when I was told I'd have to wait 40 weeks to receive treatment under the NHS. I was very fortunate that my parents could send me privately and so I started my road to recovery.
I saw an adolescent psychiatrist who was using hypnotherapy techniques. I saw him for about a year and a half, when he then referred me to a cognitive behavioural therapist (CBT) to tackle the general anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) I was experiencing.
It was during his time I was writing down and drawing all my thoughts and feelings, it was my outlet of expression as I didn't quite know how to talk about them.
As I started getting better I went down to my Dad's office with him and played around with my designs on photoshop, adding colour, manipulating them and thought I could actually do something with them. The lightbulb moment came when I had the idea of putting them on a t-shirt so I could wear what I was going through and then explain to my friends and family what the design meant.
I thought I could take my idea further and launch something that would not only help myself but help others and at the same time spreading awareness which would subsequently raise funds for mental health.
Maison de Choup was born.
When I launched Maison de Choup, I wanted the brand to be something people would love wearing, feel good about wearing but also not feel like they are wearing a label. The idea of Maison de Choup's designs were to be subtle and non-triggering however still start the conversation surrounding mental health.
Not only that, I wanted to give back to help young people who aren't in the same position I was in to go privately. When I was suffering I used a website to find out more about my anxiety and OCD coming across YoungMinds. That’s why 25% of proceeds from certain designs go to YoungMinds to help those young people not in the same position I was in.
The most important thing Maison de Choup can do is inspire change within its industry, both fashion and creative. The idea that it’s an ethical fashion brand with a powerful story surrounding it, which also creates clothing that people want to wear and feel comfortable wearing is a sign at we can encourage change through business. Maison de Choup is using fashion as a vehicle to change the conversation around mental health, by doing so it is opening up the way we talk positively about our mental health not just personally but in business as well.
There is one message to take away from this.
You are not alone.
If you have been affected by any of the topics covered in this blog post, please seek help on the links below: