While studying for a fashion design diploma in 2016 at CPUT, students were required play around with concepts for their third year design collection.
Rebecca Carlisle Jacobs knew exactly the direction she wanted to follow.
Her collection 'Fragmented' featured pyjamas as daywear. It's an ongoing global fashion trend, yes, but she had a different motivation...
My collection is called "Fragmented" and illustrates my struggles with various psychiatric diagnoses. It is a range of pyjamas as day wear to symbolise the making of the personal, public. It is done all in white to represent institutions such as hospitals and psychiatric clinics. The panel pieces in all the garments represent the fragmented mind. They also represent the idea of being broken and being put back together. You are different for having being broken, but you are stronger. This is my story. ?? @ivanhendricksphotography . . . #mentalillness #mentalillnessawareness #mentalillnessstigma #fightthestigma #fighttheshame #diagnoses #misdiagnosis #misdiagnosed #medication #recovery #health #pathtohealth #roadtorecovery #cput #thirdyear #graduationyear #diploma #fashiondesign #fashiondesigner #designer #runway #models #readytowear #pyjamas #pyjamasasdaywear #thepersonalispublic
You've been living with mental illness?
It started as I matriculated in 2010. I went on to study at Stellenbosch University but ended up getting clinically depressed and had major depression disorder.
I missed classes and tests. I wasn’t getting out of bed. I was barely eating. And what came along with the depression was a lot of anxiety.
After dropping out, I moved back home and started seeing a therapist who is still working with me.
Tell us more about your collection
In 2013, a few months after I’d been (mis)diagnosed with schizophrenia instead of extreme anxiety, I was admitted to a psychiatric clinic and placed in the high care ward.
Before being admitted I realised that I didn’t have a nice set of pyjamas.
So I went to the mall with my mom that winter to look for a set and I just hated the ones in the women’s section that a specific store had, so I ended up actually buying a set of men’s pyjamas. They had those great blue and grey flannel checked pair.
I pretty much lived in them while I was in the clinic.
Pyjamas are so personal. They're what you wear to bed. But for me it was also just this comfort zone. Because I was wearing a matching set I I didn’t feel sloppy in them. I felt like they were decent enough to be seen in public.
The idea was that they’re so symbolic of sick people, hospitals, mentally-ill people, psychiatric clinics, etc. They symbolise all these things and not just sleep.
'Fragmented' is a collection that you can wear out but the range is also made with absolute comfort in mind and with completely natural material – 100% cotton, muslin and linen.
I've received plenty of positive feedback from friends, family and my lecturers. The people in my life are aware of the story behind the concept in varying degree of intimacy, but the one thing they all know is the symbolism behind the panel pieces; the idea of a fragmented mind being broken and put back together and is now stronger.
How can fashion spark meaningful dialogue around the stigma of mental health?
Although my anxiety is currently being managed through medication and therapy and it no longer has a major impact on my day-to-day life, throughout the last few years I have faced the shame and stigma of being diagnosed with a mental illness and one of my aims of creating this collection was to draw attention to and create awareness around this very issue.
I think fashion, like any creative discipline, has a role to play in creating positive discourse around issues like mental illness, and I hoped that by bringing my own personal story to my collection that I could add to the ongoing, essential conversation around these issues.
Interestingly, the effect of the misdiagnosis was also more psychological than anything else. I felt restricted in what I believed my brain was capable of, and this directly impacted how I lived my life and what I chose to attempt based on what I believed I could manage.
Through the years of intensive therapy, I learned to combat that perception and make an active decision not to let the diagnosis rule my life. To that end, diagnosis or not, for the past three years of studying I have been living my life as if I was illness-free.
It was almost a case of mind over matter – I believed I wasn't sick, and so I wasn't.
Here are two international designers that have also based their collections on highlighting mental health awareness
Wear Your Label
"Self-care isn't selfish," "On Wednesdays we fight stigma", "Anxious but courageous" – these are just some of the many slogans thoughtfully worn on Wear Your Label's clothing, founded by Kyle MacNevin and Kayley Reed. The friends hoped to spark conversations on mental health.
"Both myself and Kayley live with mental illness... I live with depression, anxiety and ADHD and Kayley's recovering from an eating disorder, and we thought there has to be a better way to share our stories to a larger audience, and we chose fashion – a medium that's famous for making people with mental illness feel bad," said Kyle in an interview with Global News.
Since the launch of their clothing line numerous people have reached out to them – fathers have started talking about self-esteem to their daughters and people who are entering or leaving treatment see their clothing as a sign of hope.
Pyer Moss' A/W 2016 runway show
When fashion has a deeper than usual context, that's when we're intrigued. Founder of the menswear label, Kerby Jean-Raymond opted for models strutting the runway in sweatshirts that read "Suffer No More".
Those words and the show referenced the suicide of Black Lives Matter activist, MarShawn McCarrel II. McCarrell had posted those words on his Facebook page hours before committing suicide on the steps of the Ohio Statehouse.
"My demons won today. I'm sorry," was a phrase taken from the post and placed on a large picket sign held by one of the models on the runway at the close of New York Fashion Week.
Jean-Raymond is known for incorporating current events into his runway collections and works hard at pushing for necessary dialogue on social issues that affect marginalised people. The previous season highlighted police brutality.
Glitz, glamour, extravagance – the words perfect to describe the mainstream portrayal of the fashion industry, so to deviate from this is, we think, is certainly brave and heartening.
If you’re suffering from depression, are having suicidal thoughts or suspect you might need help with any issues pertaining to your mental health, visit The South African Depression and Anxiety Group.
You can also contact a counsellor between 8am-8pm Monday to Sunday on: 011 234 4837 and there is a suicidal emergency contact number - 0800 567 567 as well as a 24-hour helpline: 0800 12 13 14.
Images: Getty and Supplied/Ivan Hendricks Photography
Sign up to W24’s newsletters so you don't miss out on any of our hot stories and giveaways.