What does fashion have to do with mental health? A whole lot, as far as One in Five Apparel founder Megan te Boekhorst is concerned. We chatted with her about the connection, and to learn more about the newly launched brand—which aims to support important mental health intiatives (and be stylish, to boot). —Noa Nichol
Hi Megan! Tell us a bit about yourself to start.
I was always someone engaged in my community, actively playing a role in one project or another. So it didn’t surprise anyone when I began to explore entrepreneurship while I was still in university. As with many entrepreneurs, my first idea (or three) didn’t exactly pan out. But I grew both personally and professionally from each attempt, and learned from every step I took. What did surprise a lot of people in my life was that I live with mental illness. I first began to question if I had an eating disorder in my first year of university, and eventually realized it stemmed from the depression I still live with 10 years later. I struggled with my mental illness for a long time while completing my degree, getting my first role in public relations, and moving across the country from Vancouver to Toronto. Talking about my mental illness and the experiences associated with it—like what happens when you accidentally go into antidepressant withdrawal—became a key part in managing my illness. I began to get more and more involved in the mental health community globally. And one statistic sparked an idea that turned into my business, One in Five Apparel.
What does fashion have to do with mental health (and vice versa)? How did you first make the connection between the two?
Fashion plays a huge role in how we share who we are with the world. Our clothing choices, whether consciously or unconsciously, make a statement about our core values and beliefs. Because of that, fashion can be used as a powerful catalyst for changing our perception on mental health, and especially mental illness. On the flip side, the clothing we wear can play a role in making difficult mental health days better. Everyone knows the feeling of comfort that comes with putting on their cosiest sweater, or the instant boost to our mood when we rock our favourite look. Our outfit is a simple, easy choice we can make to help shape our day and work to improve our mental wellbeing. The connection between fashion and mental health has always been a factor in my life, though I never imagined it would bring me to where I am today. Having lived with mental illness for a decade, my fashion choices have always been an indicator of how well I’m managing my depression. To be completely honest, if I’m struggling with my health I tend to wear unflattering, unkempt clothing as an attempt to hide myself from the world. I’ve always had a drawer of comfort clothes in my home for when I’m struggling and need to allow myself the space to reset. And for the days where I feel I might be slipping into a depressed state, I mindfully pick an outfit that will bring a confidence boost and put a smile on my face.
What is One in Five Apparel and what does it aim to do?
One in Five Apparel empowers you to change the conversation on mental illness. Our designs invite conversation and reflection on our preconceived notions of what mental illness looks and feels like, without labeling the wearer. When one in five people will experience mental illness in a given year, it touches all of our lives in one way or another. And yet, those who live with mental illness still face discrimination and judgement. This creates a major barrier to recognizing signs of mental illness in ourselves and accessing treatment when we need it. As an added bonus, 10 per cent of all proceeds fund The Living With Scholarship. As a country, we’ve seen incredible progress towards ending the stigma that surrounds mental health. We’ve reached a point where we’ve agreed it’s time to change the status quo. One in Five Apparel aims to help us now find out exactly how we do that.
What does the initial collection consist of?
We launched with the cosiest sweater you could imagine showcasing our bold but simple 1 IN 5 design, alongside a wicked two-tone snapback and our modern baseball cap. And this April, we’ll be releasing new ways of wearing the 1 IN 5 nearly every week!
Tell us about The Living With Scholarship.
The transition from high school to “adulthood” isn’t easy for anyone, whether they pursue post-secondary education, travel, or enter the workforce right away. It’s a time where a lot of us may begin to recognize the signs of mental illness in our lives. So it was important for me to find a way of supporting this transition while allowing graduating high school students to explore their creativity and leadership. That’s how The Living With Scholarship began to take shape. The scholarship is awarded to a graduating high schooler who examines mental illness through an artistic lens, working to end the stigma and change our cultural perception. Ten per cent of every One in Five item goes toward our goal of $1,000 raised for a 2020 graduate in Canada or the United States. Just this week we reached the 10 per cent funded milestone!
Finally, where are you at, personally, with your mental health?
Even after all this time, my mental health experiences its highs and lows. I’m so grateful my depression is well managed, and I’m in recovery from my eating disorder. I’ve been on an antidepressant for almost six years now and I don’t know if that will ever change. But every now and then, I still experience the symptoms associated with my mental illness. I still have days where I can’t leave the apartment, days where I binge, or days where I feel terrifyingly numb. But they are becoming easier to experience, and further away from each other.