How Fashion is Destigmatizing Mental Health

Fashion brands are no longer just selling your average tee or designer shoes. They’re using their platform to address mental health and taking action through donating a portion of their sales to a cause.

Madhappy is one of those companies. Two words smushed together to create a fashion brand that sells trendy streetwear like t-shirts, hoodies and sweats. But the company also says it stands for something bigger than itself: it donates $1 from every purchase to one of three different charities.

A basic Madhappy t-shirt. Photo credit: Caillie Horner

The company focuses on The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the National Alliance to End Homelessness 2019, and DonorsChoose, a group that helps public schools.

Madhappy hosts pop-ups in major cities to promote their work, including in Los Angeles, Miami, Aspen and New York.

SMU senior Natan Elghanian, a general business and sociology major, supports Madhappy for several reasons. He believes the brand’s concept is unique because all their pop-ups have to do with mental or physical health.

“For me, it’s the mission, good quality clothes, and supporting a small business,” said Elghanian. “You get what you pay for.”

More and more fashion and lifestyle brands are using marketing to help destigmatize mental health. These companies have either donated a portion of their proceeds to a mental health organization or charity, created a product during May which is mental health month, or written blogs regarding mental health and providing a platform to initiate mental health conversation.

In July 2019, for instance, Jo Malone released a home candle in support of mental health charities in the UK. Seventy-five percent of the retail price was donated to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), which supports mental health services for children.

Most fashion and lifestyle brands that support mental health donate a percentage of their profits to charities that aim to destigmatize mental health. Companies want to be a part of change and feel that by doing so, they will appeal to more consumers. However, some companies are doing more than just donating a portion of their proceeds. They create blogs regarding mental illness, host panels or events to create awareness of the cause or create products that spark conversations around mental health.

During its pop-ups, Madhappy hosts at least one panel regarding mental health and normally some wellness events. “On a larger scale, our new website will include resources to learn more about mental health challenges and how to get help if you need it,” Peiman Raf, Co-Founder at Madhappy said in a 2019 Forbes interview.

As a “StigmaFree company” Kenneth Cole donated 20 percent of proceeds from the sale of their featured mental health sneakers to the National Alliance of Mental Illness in 2018. By utilizing the hashtag #CureStigma in the month of May, which is Mental Health Month, the company hoped to “help cure stigma and raise awareness around mental health conditions.”

Heartknoxx is another brand supporting mental health in the industry. This company has a line called “Heartstrings” where ten percent of the products will be donated to the Mental Health Foundation. The collection on its website includes tees and sweatshirts with sayings like “Be a warrior, not a worrier,” “It’s ok not to feel ok,” “Let’s make mental health a conversation” and “Cure stigma.”

The trend of “cause marketing”, or companies increasing profitability while bettering society, is appealing to consumers more than ever, found in the 2018 Cone/Porter Novelli Purpose Study. Seventy-seven percent of consumers said they feel a stronger emotional connection to purpose-driven companies over traditional companies, according to the 2018 Cone/Porter Novelli Purpose Study.

But SMU senior and marketing major, Morgan Risinger is unimpressed with these marketing tactics. She believes companies simply donating part of their proceeds to a charity is an easy way out.

“The only way I would buy it is if that’s the one sole purpose they’re in business for,” she said.

Risinger believes that in order for companies to make an impact, they must do more than just donate proceeds. They should completely brand themselves based on the cause.

“I think it comes off less genuine because everyone’s doing it, so now brands seem obligated to do it,” Risinger said.

SMU adjunct professor and President of Swimming Duck, a Dallas ad agency, Gordon Law believes the trend of companies “giving back” has always been around. Law believes that companies have always given back to their communities but consumes are savvier about it now because they’re exposed to constant marketing, including on social media and television. The countless digital channels and platforms allow people to become aware of a situation or topic within seconds, he said.

“Is this issue more prevalent? Or are we more aware of it because there are so many more communication channels?” Law said.

Mental Health and Conflict Coach, Elizabeth Didlake agrees with Law. Although the acceptance of mental health is still growing, she gives the media credit for spreading awareness of mental health. “It’s becoming more prevalent because of easy access to information with our internet,” she said in a recent phone interview.

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Prevalence of mental health in college students. Photo credit: Caillie Horner

Didlake said that the mental illness rate in college students is only rising. There has been a 15 percent increase of mental illness in college students within the past ten years, she said. The most common form of mental illness in college students is anxiety, which can turn into substance abuse as a coping mechanism.

“Exercising, getting good sleep, eating well and knowing when to ask for help are ways to combat the urge to self-medicate,” Didlake said.

More companies say they are joining the phenomenon of cause marketing because they can see the positive results in consumers’ purchasing behavior. The 2018 Cone/Porter Novelli Purpose Study found that 78 percent of Americans believe companies must positively impact society in addition to making a profit.

It makes more sense, “when a brand gets involved with something for the good of the people, when it feels logical and organic,” Law said.

SMU senior and Finance major, Morgan Swenson says she wouldn’t intentionally go out of her way to shop at a store just because it supports mental health. When walking down Melrose in Los Angeles over the summer, Swenson recalls seeing a Madhappy pop-up store catching her eye. Unaware of the company, she looked the it up on Instagram. She said she thought the clothes were “cool” and the company’s mission to destigmatize mental health was inspiring, but that it didn’t affect her purchase behavior.

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Photo of Madhappy pop-up location in Los Angeles courtesy of

“The pop-up really caught my eye because it was decorated so uniquely, but I didn’t end up buying anything,” Swenson said.

The surface level definition of mental health is “our emotional, psychological, and social well-being.” The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reported in 2019 that young adults aged 18 to 25 have the highest prevalence mental illness, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders and addiction.

Being in the mental health field for 25 years, Didlake’s definition of mental health is simple. “Mental health is our emotional well-being and the ability to cope with life stressors,” she said.

Law believes companies are standing up for mental illness or any cause for the betterment of the community.

Caillie Horner

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