Oct. 03, 2012 - Issue #885: Fall Style 2012
Nervosa Clothing: No plain white tees here
Putting a new twist on mental illness
How much power does a T-shirt wield? Nervosa Clothing designer Elizabeth Colette hopes it's enough to change perceptions about mental
Colette, who has lived with her own mental illness from a young age, decided to combine her design experience with a message she believes in: that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. She's created a line of T-shirts for men and women with slogans and graphics depicting some of these illnesses in an interesting way as both a conversation starter and because she loves bold, graphic fashion.
"I wanted to be an advocate, but I wasn't sure if I wanted to come out about my own illness. I wasn't sure if I was going to be a personal advocate. I thought I would end up doing it more through the label, but then I ended up sharing more about myself," she explains.
And sharing more about herself on Nervosa's website (nervosaclothing.com) might just have been the golden ticket people needed to feel a connection to this line. One year in—Nervosa officially launched last November—the T-shirts are selling in two Edmonton shops (Redemption; Mars and Venus), Toronto, Arizona and online.
Colette says she wants people to be educated and to make the idea of being mentally ill commonplace and not such an uncomfortable topic. "It'd be nice if people didn't use terms like psycho or schizo or 'I like my house clean, therefore I have OCD,'" she says, referring to the way we often throw these terms around. "For people who don't know a term for an illness, or if you don't understand it and you haven't experienced it first-hand, don't talk about it. The effects of it are huge. People commit suicide over those things."
When mental illnesses are made fun of, Colette says those who live with them feel more stigmatized and ashamed to come forward. She struggled with this herself and wants her T-shirts to be a starting point for breaking the ice on this issue.
"I felt like I had this secret and I couldn't tell anyone because they were going to judge me. And it's a part of me. I should be able to talk about it. Why should I have to hide this for others' comfort or because I don't want people to say, 'You don't need medication. You just need to try harder,'" she says.
Most of the responses to the T-shirt line have been positive with the odd negative comment where someone says she is exploiting mental illness to make a quick buck. "They obviously don't understand the fashion industry. Quick buck? Fashion? They don't go together. I'm not exploiting it; it's me. It's me putting it out there," Colette says, a little annoyed at the ignorance.
She says she realized after the first batch of T-shirts came out last year that she has to expand a bit beyond her personal style and not just aim for the younger crowd.
"Mental illness doesn't only affect tattooed, pierced youth." Different styles are in the works and for now the newest addition is a line of panties with Marilyn Monroe's face printed on them and her famous quote, 'Madness is genius.' "She herself was mentally ill and actually taken to a psych ward in the arms of orderlies and that's back when they did lobotomies," Colette adds.
Nervosa Clothing is a brand for everyone, not just those who relate to the illness depicted on a certain shirt. Colette says her dream is for her clothing line to have reached enough people that she hears feedback that there's been a change in society's perception about mental illness. Wearing a T-shirt shows your support.
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