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The BoF Podcast: Kenneth Cole on Why Mental Health Is the Other Big Pandemic

The American designer talks about his efforts to destigmatise mental health issues and the importance of improving emotional wellbeing in the fashion industry.
Kenneth Cole | Source: Courtesy
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LONDON, United Kingdom — "[There] needs to be a cultural shift… a new narrative, a new vocabulary, a new way to talk about mental health that [isn't] debilitating, but is in fact empowering," designer and social activist Kenneth Cole told BoF Founder and Editor-in-Chief Imran Amed.

Cole recently brought together leading US mental health organisations and high-profile advocates and media platforms to launch the Mental Health Coalition, an organisation that seeks to destigmatise the topic. In the latest episode of The BoF Podcast, presented by Worldpay, he discussed how the issue pervades the fashion industry and efforts to address it. 
  • "The fashion industry is a perception industry, and how we are perceived often is how we see ourselves," Cole said, warning of the dangers to mental health when designers become preoccupied with reviews, likes on a post or comments from editors. "We define ourselves so often by these external forces that we can't control and to a degree if you allow them to take hold then you become a victim of that. I often say, 'fashion is what I do, it's not who I am.'"
  • The pressures on designers have become even more intense with the rise of social media. That's more true than ever in an era where the pandemic has at times made digital the only available avenue of communication. Constantly being exposed to the feedback and opinions of others can feel debilitating Cole said. "Unfortunately our industry embraces it and rewards it… and the more likes you have and the bigger audience you have, the more access you will often have."
  • What's next is changing the way people speak about mental health so it there's less stigma attached to it. The best way to do that "be supportive and non-judgemental and listen," Cole said. "We all have different degrees and we have ups and we have downs. And we have periods where we're feeling more in control than other [times]... [but] having a conversation is a big first step."
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