Fashion Forward: Mental Health Message Behind Clothes

It all began with a hand stitched shirt that reads “keep me high, love.” Now, there are seven products to choose from all bearing the message that it is okay to put yourself first. What makes this company stand out from the rest? The founders use their platform to open engaging, encouraging, and supportive messages about mental health through their products.

Me Before You Clothing Co. is new to the fashion scene of Nova Scotia, but co-founders Vanessa Hamkens (Dalhousie) and Rhiann MacDonald (Acadia) have big plans for their forward-thinking company. Their goal is to “raise awareness about mental health by spreading positivity and curbing the stigma around it,” as said on the Me Before You website. Themes of self-care and self-love are central to the clothing designs, but Hamkens and MacDonald are aiming even higher. The duo is giving back to the community, contributing a portion of sales to local charity initiatives.

An embroidered yin-yang symbol hovers above the word “balance” on one of the products, a black crew neck sweatshirt. This product is a part of one of the commitments that Me Before You Clothing Co. has taken on with a portion of each sale going towards Feed Nova Scotia, an organization that strives to reduce the food insecurity that many Nova Scotians experience. According to Feed NS, food insecurity has resulted in a dramatic increase of food bank users all across Canada. Specifically, in Nova Scotia, the 2016 statistics show a surge of approximately 20% compared to the previous year. Compared to 2008, Nova Scotian food bank usage increase by upwards of 40%. While Feed NS isn’t a mental health initiative, it is certainly related.

Most recently, Me Before You Clothing Co. made a special release on Bell Let’s Talk Day with a specific person in mind. Sold at the Halifax Forum during the Saint Mary’s versus Dalhousie Bell Let’s Talk hockey game, the limited-edition shirts sported a fox on the front and words that read “Fox 12” on the back. A portion of the sales were put towards the Cayley Fox Memorial Award of Saint Mary’s University, an award established to commemorate the SMU student and rugby player who struggled with mental health issues. After shirts were sold out, $1000 of the proceeds were raised for the award. Upon announcing this on their Facebook page, Me Before You encouraged to “keep the conversation going although Bell Let’s Talk has ended. Share stories of Cayley and others who are struggling even if they are smiling”.

So, what is next for the new entrepreneurs? “Right now we currently only have the Feed NS and Cayley Fox Memorial Award donations happening and that’s where our focus is for the next few months,” Me Before You commented. But the future holds even more opportunities for the clothing line. “Moving forward we are planning on creating new clothing items to partner with a donation to specific organizations or funds that align with our goals.”

Using creative outlets to combat mental health stigma has recently been more prominent in Canadian universities. An art project titled “Ventilation Movement” from Erin Chapman of the University of Ottawa made headlines in 2016 for the innovative way in which the project allows for people to vent about their struggles. Another Maritime clothing line, Wear Your Label, created by two UNB students sends the message that it isn’t selfish to practice self-care. Hamkens and MacDonald hope to contribute to this important discussion with their own clothing line by, as stated in their mission statement, “starting a conversation about self care and self love, with our name ‘Me Before You Clothing Co.’ prompting you to put yourself first and take care of your own needs.” Me Before You Clothing Co. is open to new ideas of community outreach, and encourage those with interest to contact them.