Hi Urban Outfitters, you need to apologise for making a fashion statement out of mental health illness

Following my letter to Now Magazine earlier this week, I had just about calmed down from the backwards practises from the fashion and media world, when lo and behold, I see that Urban Outfitters are stocking a crop top which glamourises mental health illness. Below is my letter to Urban Outfitters, on why depression isn’t a fashion statement: 

“Hi Urban Outfitters,

I don’t shop at any of your stores. Admittedly, this has always been because your clothes rarely fit over my fat girl breasts, but now I have one even bigger reason not to purchase anything from you, ever again. And that reason is a cut-price, cut-size crop top.  Because you see, I don’t particularly want to wear anything which attempts to make something very serious into a fashion statement.

I wonder if the people who designed this t-shirt, who made this t-shirt, and who approved this t-shirt to go on sale in your stores, have ever suffered from depression? I wonder if they have ever felt persistently weepy, exhausted or agitated? I wonder if they’ve found it difficult to go to sleep at night, and even more difficult to get out of bed the next morning? I mean, I recognise how easily the word “depressed” is dropped into conversation, but that doesn’t make it ok.

I wonder if they’ve felt constantly sad, scared of bursting into tears at any given moment? I wonder if they have lost interest completely in everything they usually enjoy? I wonder if they have felt worthless and guilty for no reason at all? Because I have, and I know that those feelings were so incredibly difficult to deal with, that I’d never wish to mock them. In fact, I’d rather wear nothing than wear your t-shirt – and I’d feel the uncontrollable urge to grab anybody who wears one with two hands and shake them.

I suppose it depends what sort of organisation we are dealing with, right, when it comes to the ethics of stocking such clothing? And when we are dealing with you, Urban Outfitters, an organisation which (amongst other controversies) pulled t-shirts in support of equal marriage due to “too much bad press” (to complement their financing against equality) and which thought it was appropriate to stock a game called “Ghettopoly”…how could we ever doubt your ethics are up to scratch?

I am burning for an answer to the question of how could anybody ever think that it is ok to stock this? Would you stock clothing with the word “cancer” emblazoned all over it? Clothing which made such blatant references to HIV? What about suicide, is that fair game, too? Where will it end? I know what the sensible answer is to that, but with your track record of selling clothing which make equally as blatant references to eating disorders and Jewish women, I’m not 100% sure anymore.

Too often in society, mental illness is treated as a non-condition, unimportant and not worth bothering with. There is a huge stigma against people with mental health issues, coupled with a lack of access to mental health treatments. And such illness is treated so differently from physical illness, it’s even doing the rounds as an internet comic. 

I mean, it’s not just you. I suppose your directors can sleep easy tonight knowing that you’re not the only company contributing to the stigma of depression, sending messages, particularly to your younger customers, that depression is such an important issues that it’s now a trend! It only takes a quick search to come across hundreds of sites stocking clothing which makes flippant references to depression. You are somewhat the thorn in your own side in that you are well-known and popular, which means a whole lot more people to despair at your choice of clothing. Go you!

I wouldn’t be surprised if your simple defence of this points out that such uproar has done nothing except draw attention to, and raise awareness of, depression. But as an international company, you would be better placed to use your money, your publicity and your influence to raise awareness of mental health illness, promoting mental health charities along the way, through more ethical channels. Channels which don’t involve making fashion statements out of something which nearly broke me as a person.

Removing the t-shirt from your stores and website isn’t enough. You need to apologise for stocking it in the first place. You need to apologise for attempting to glamourise mental health illnesses – illnesses which one in four people will experience in a year – when sufferers need to feel they will be taken seriously if they do talk about it. For me, even apologising isn’t enough. I’d suggest donating the money you’ve made from those t-shirts to a mental health charity, and make sure offensive t-shirts like this never slip through the net again. I’d do it for you, but I’d much rather work for a company which doesn’t fund campaigns designed to block equality.

In the meantime, I’ll start mocking up a fashion statement of my own – a pretty t-shirt (not a crop top, I’m still too fat for those) which tells people not to spend money in your store. You haven’t made it down to Plymouth yet, so I’ll take a trip up to your Exeter store and promote my awareness campaign there, encouraging people not to spend their money on your products.

All the best,
Kate”

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