Content warning: the following story discusses suicide and may be disturbing for some readers. “It’s wild because everyone mocks Gywneth Paltrow and Goop, yet still supports the very image of wellness they’ve created,” Rachael Akhidenor, the founder of ethical label Self Care, tells Vogue via email. “As a society, we’ve affirmed the wellness and self-care brands that promulgate the narrative that living well is for the white, thin, female and privileged. So it’s no wonder that this is being reflected in [our] yoga and meditation classes, and evident in the mental health statistics.” Akhidenor is describing what propelled her forward on her quest to push back against the lack of diversity in the global wellness industry and eventually led her to create a label that actively fights for greater representation. She created Self Care by launching with a line of T-shirts to invite people of all backgrounds into the discussions around wellness. “I branded my label to focus on advocating for self-care for all. But it’s been a challenge. Namely because, before the Black Lives Matter movement, people didn’t really think this was an issue. Or if they did, they weren’t talking about it.” Here, Akhidenor talks to Vogue about her Melbourne-based brand, how it straddles the fashion and beauty industries and the changes she would like to see come to fruition. Tell me about the idea behind your label, what propelled you to start Self Care?“My brand Self Care is an ethical label that promotes and educates on self-care for all. I was perplexed by why the imagery and conversation around self-care only seemed to only include those who were white, thin and privileged, so I set out to create a brand that challenged this. I wanted to create a label that invited everyone into the conversation, especially those marginalised by the current image of wellness in Australia. We promote and educate through our merch and considered content creation. Our merch, also, empowers others to promote the concept of ‘self-care’ to anyone and everyone who sees them. We call it ‘wearable activism’ because you are what you wear whether you are aware of it or not.” What was your professional background before launching the label—did you study fashion or business?“As a result of having an exceptionally long university degree (seven years), I launched my label whilst still at university. I am currently in my final year of that degree (studying a double degree of Law/Commerce (Marketing) and a Diploma of Languages (Mandarin)). Having such a dense university degree taught me a lot about discipline and grit—skills that have been invaluable when it came to starting and running my business. Prior to launching my label, I worked for four years for a high-end Australian designer. Being on the shop floor and communicating with customers, I gained a lot of knowledge around styling, customer service and how we use clothes to make a statement. I am also a freelance copywriter and somewhat of a brand strategist, dabbling in design and content creation for other small and medium-sized businesses. It was in my work as a freelancer that fuelled my passion for self-care and wellness as many of my clients were in the wellness industry. It also taught me about the power of branding and creating community around a shared vision, which has carried through to the work I do with my label.” It’s an ethical label. What does this mean and how does it inform how the brand functions?“Being an ethical label means all our merch is ethically made. This means our manufacturers all have the Ethical Clothing Australia accreditation. So everything—from the tees themselves to the clothing labels inside the tees—are ethically made here in Australia. Being an ethical label guides everything we do. We want to be able to empower people to advocate for self-care through what they wear. It’s the entire concept of ‘wearable activism’. But we also can’t ignore the fact that we are putting products out into the world. Being mindful of this, I wanted to ensure that our product was as ethical as possible, one that supports the local manufacturing industry. There’s no denying that producing products in Australia that [are] ethically made has its financial setbacks. So when I say, being an ethical label guides everything we do, it truly does. It means our margins are smaller, as we want to sell at a price that’s still competitive in the market. This means, as a brand, we run quite lean. We don’t have the budgets of other businesses that manufacture in China and India, so we have to be creative. It’s important, though, to show our community that we are steadfast in our values. I want to make a brand that not only changes culture but benefits the community. This is what it means to be a conscious business. I want to show people that it is possible.” What have you found in terms of the lack of diversity in wellness during your research and in launching the brand?“I had reached out to most of the main Australian fashion publications at the beginning of the year, saying I had created a brand that was focused on inviting everyone into the conversation of self-care (BIPOCs, men, the LGBTQIA+ community and other marginalised groups). None of them thought it was an issue worth talking about. The reason for this was likely because many of the editors and writers in the media are white and female. It’s a clear example of systematic oppression and how the structures of society fuel race disparity. Unless there is someone in the boardroom and making the decisions who is either a member of a marginalised group or is open to hearing the stories of marginalised groups, we won’t be given the space to talk about them. It was incredibly frustrating. Because I knew there was an issue and I felt like no one was listening. I feel really grateful for the Black Lives Matter movement because it has cut through the culture in a way that, I believe, is unprecedented. Without it, I don’t think I would have had the space to talk about diversity and wellness on such a huge platform.” What impact do you think this has on people who might not see any representation of themselves in the Australian wellness industry?“The impact is immense. Representation is so incredibly important, and I believe, it’s how we can make real change. Often I am told that wellness is privileged and elitist. I understand this sentiment. But if money was the sole issue at play here, then why is [it] that men are so overrepresented in the mental health statistics? Why is that men are three times more likely to die by suicide in comparison to women and yet, they are the most financially successful in our society? Without seeing men, POCs, members of the LGBTQIA+ community and other marginalised groups talking about wellness, mental health and self-care, we won’t believe it is for us.” What changes would you like to see in the Australian wellness industry?“On an elementary level, I would like to see more diversity and representation in the imagery of wellness and self-care. That’s where I think brands play such an important role. Instead of websites and Instagrams filled with thin, white women and branding it as ‘wellness’, let’s see POCs, let’s see men, let’s see trans people. Let’s change the image of wellness so that it speaks to everyone.” You’ve just dropped a new line of T-shirts—what are some of the new pieces you’ve released?“We have just released three additional ‘Merch Tees’ which I’m really excited about. Namely, because they’re colourful and help lighten the conversation and image of self-care from being quite serious to something much more uplifting and fun. The tie-dyed merch is hand dyed by me, so each tee is entirely unique in colour and pattern. Especially in the wintertime, for me, the very act of wearing colour is self-care because of the uplift in mood and energy that wearing bright colours brings.” instagram You’ve also partnered with Lifeline, why was this an important cause to support?“Yes, we have partnered with Lifeline, Australia. It truly does warm my heart to know we can give back to an organisation that does so much amazing and important work in this space. We donate $5 from every ‘Merch Tee’ sold to Lifeline. It’s an important cause because Lifeline is on the ground, doing the work. I couldn’t imagine the state of our community if we didn’t have an organisation like them providing crisis support 24/7. People often say that self-care is frivolous. But when you look at the numbers—that eight people [commit] suicide in Australia each day, and for every suicide, there are roughly 30 people who attempt [it]—it really puts all of it into perspective. It just reminds me why we do this work, why we look after our mental, physical and spiritual health. It’s important.” What does wellness mean to you?“For me, wellness means to live well. It’s not about drinking green juice or going to yoga ‘X’ amount of times per week. It’s much deeper than that. For me, it’s about living in alignment with my values and being my own best friend. Self-compassion and the knowledge that I truly am doing my best at any given moment help me live a beautiful, fulfilled life.” If you or someone you love is in crisis or needs support right now, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467. Young people aged 5 to 25 years can call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.
Original article published by @VogueAustralia >