An Open Letter to the Huffington Post
Hi, my name is Billi and I design accessories. Actually I run, along with Kitty and Jems, a small independent label called ‘It’s not me, it’s you’. We started a couple of years ago with a pretty basic philosophy: handmade by us, leather, slogans that may bring a smile to our customers’ faces and all made in London. That way, as a designer, I can oversee production and, why not, keep our carbon footprint to a minimum. All was hunky-dory until Kitty sent me an email from Topshop. We have a small concession with them.
Here I want to make it very clear that I speak on behalf of my label and not for Topshop. The email was requesting that we pull one of our bestselling slogans – Stressed. Depressed. But well dressed. A writer had published an article on the Huffington Post making quite a big claim. It would seem that we were, via aforementioned slogan, using mental health issues in order to flog a bag. And you know what happened when I read it? Get this, it made me depressed, in the real sense of the word. That is ‘sad’, ‘unhappy’, ‘dejected’. You see, I can be depressed (‘dispirited’ or ‘discouraged’, if you like) and not ‘suffer from depression’, which is how some articulate the mental health issue in question. But was I sad because someone didn’t like our stuff? No. You can’t please everyone, different folks different strokes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all that jazz. I was depressed for journalism. Or rather, that this DailyMailesque trolling was masquerading itself as journalism. You see, they ran with the headline “Topshop’s ‘Depression’ bag….”. Right there, two mistakes. It is not Topshop’s bag and depressed is very different from depression. Words are a journalist’s only tool and a good journalist uses them well. Here they were being used incorrectly. ‘Depressed’ is an adjective that describes an emotional state, like ‘happy’, ‘confused’, ‘cheerful’ and can fluctuate throughout the day. ‘Depression’ is a state of mind that is not easily broken. But then again, who would have read an article with the headline “Small independent handbag label uses the word ‘depressed’ within a slogan on a handbag”? That wouldn’t get a retweet, now would it?
But the headline was just a preview for the complete lack of real journalism that was to follow. Lucy, whose tweet was the source of the piece and works for the paper, was awaiting a response from the brand – as stated in the article – yet no-one had been in touch with us. Was this an attempt to make us look as if we were cowering from the claim that was being made? We had to request an audience. Had Lucy simply turned the offending purse around she would have seen our brand’s name embossed across it. When we did contact Lucy and Brogan, the former’s response was ‘Ah, apologies. I was unaware you were the manufacturer..’ So, absolutely no research had gone into typing up an article that was making quite a massive, and very erroneous, claim. Zero. Research. But enough about the incompetence of the piece, let’s move on.
The article is not the first in a line of stories attacking the high street in recent months. The shops down Oxford Street seem to have become somewhat of an easy target for the more “controversial” in Twitterlandia, and subsequently for journalists who use the social network as if it were the voice of the nation. From our perspective, a small British label, Topshop has been nothing but supportive of us. They took the risk of taking on an unknown brand because we are made in London and they believed in our vision. They have also given us a level of freedom to create pieces for our customers and now they are bearing the brunt of a decision we made. It is a bit unfair. Also, had Lucy done some research she might have stumbled across the long list of ethics that the store hands out to each concessionary. No matter.
In any case, the article seems to be a miscued attack at Topshop, a big name on the high street, so who cares if they pull one of their items? Yeah, we took on the big name and we won for the people. Maybe big brands can take a hit like having a bestselling item being pulled, I’m sure they are used to this game, but can we say the same? Time will tell. Again, all is fair game if we were actually crude enough to use something like a serious mental condition to sell a fashion accessory. This brings me back to the philosophy we started out with, that is, our choice of slogans is done consciously and with the aim of speaking for the carrier and not to them. The hope being that it may be a point of conversation for the bearer. That is, we started with the intention of actually making the world even a teeny-weeny bit more cheerful for our customer. A bit more light-hearted. Not depressing. Yet, we are now being accused of trivializing mental health issues. It really is a strange, old world.
The second question I asked myself was why Lucy picked up on that slogan. If she was in the mood to completely misinterpret the phrases we use, I guarantee that she would have had an easier job with the likes of ‘You can’t sit with us’, ‘Too many freaks not enough circuses’, ‘When you grow up your heart dies’, ‘Normal people scare me’, ‘You can’t airbrush personality’, ‘Part unicorn’, ‘I am the designer of my own catastrophe’….the list goes on.
Finally, let us pretend that everyone did interpret the slogan as Lucy did – that we are trivializing a mental health issue – then here is a real journalistic question she could have tackled. Why is something trivializing depression a best seller? Now, that is an article I would like to read – obviously if some real insightful research was carried out before writing.
Just for the record, my favourite slogan that we use is ‘Don’t believe everything you think’.
We wish you all the best for 2015 and we would like to thank everyone, many who have felt the effects of clinical depression from close-up, who showed their support in this non-story.
Billi, Kitty and Jems a.k.a. Its Not Me Its You.
p.s. The offending slogan is still available on our website.