The Beauty of Giving Back: Louise Clark’s fashion connection
A love of fashion became a safe space to talk about what’s really going on. Meet the woman behind The Collective
Brimming with bright, bubbly energy, Louise Clark is the sort of person who lights up a room, but it wasn’t always this way. For many mothers, the birth of a child is an exciting time of joy, love and connection. For Louise, it was a time of darkness. After a rollercoaster ride with fertility treatment she was elated to hear the news of her pregnancy, yet when her daughter Billie was born in 2009, Louise was hit with postnatal depression.
She struggled to feel a connection with her baby girl, and when she so deeply wanted to feel a sense of love and joy, she instead felt empty and suffocated. “It was a really frightening time, probably the scariest time in my life. I’ve never had anything like that before. I’ve always lived with anxiety, but this was by far the scariest thing I’ve ever had to go through,” she says. “I was like this shell of a person, any joy or love or happiness had just gone.”
With the help of therapy, medication and support, she made it through the depression and now cherishes her connection with Billie, but the experience sparked something else in her. “I realised after postnatal depression that I had to do something that was fulfilling to my soul,” she says. Knowing that her work had to be meaningful and rewarding, Louise began investigating charities and social enterprise. She was in search of a way that she could combine her love for fashion and pre-loved clothing with her passion for mental health, community spirit and compassion.
This was the beginning of The Collective, a beautiful secondhand store on Auckland’s North Shore that donates 50% of its profits to the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand. From its humble beginnings in 2014 with only five racks of clothing, the shop is now full of gorgeous secondhand gems, with an online store for those not in the area. From designer, retro and shabby-chic, to antique and restored, there is something for everyone.
Each week, Louise pours herself into curating and styling the store, carefully selecting pieces and up-cycling donated furniture. She describes the shop as eclectic and inspiring, and loves the creative process, but encouraging connection and conversation is what really sets The Collective apart. She is big on putting love back into secondhand goods, but even bigger on putting love back into people. “It’s about encouraging people to be emotionally authentic and to talk about what they’re feeling and what’s going on, and just providing people a place that they feel safe enough to have those conversations,” Louise says.
Reflecting on her own experiences with anxiety and depression, she knows that it can be hard to open up to our loved ones for fear of burdening them, but talking was a crucial part of her recovery. She encourages people to talk openly about their own struggles and mental health journeys in the store, and serving a customer or picking up some donated furniture often is the beginning of a new friendship.
GIVING FOR GOOD
Outside of their retail space in Birkenhead, Louise has also started doing corporate
‘It’s about providing a place that they feel safe enough to have those conversations’
clothing drives as a way for people to donate their pre-loved items and give back, while promoting conversation about mental health in the workplace. “When you think about where people spend most of their time, it’s in school or it’s at work. That’s where the focus needs to be,” she says. Since starting The Collective, Louise has realised how many lives are touched in some way by mental illness, and the clothing drives are an easy way for a business to make a stand and say to its people, ‘Hey, we care about your mental health.’ She hopes The Collective will show others that it is possible to be in business, make a positive difference, and do social good for the community at the same time.
Having made it through her own dark chapter, Louise is a strong believer that giving back can have an incredibly powerful and positive impact on mental health – something the Mental Health Foundation also promotes as one of their five key ways to improve wellbeing. Giving back to the community and helping others has been the most rewarding part of the journey for Louise. “It nourishes my soul and I’ve never felt better about who I am as a result of that, and I think everyone can do something,” she says.
The response to The Collective has been overwhelmingly positive, and although the business is still in its early stages, Louise has big dreams for the company. Along with a greater focus on the corporate clothing drives, she hopes to see the retail side of the brand expand, and eventually have more stores dotted throughout the country. With daughter Billie now nine years old, Louise envisions one day being involved with schools and education programmes, to try and open up the conversation about mental health to young people and parents.
Louise knows that for a retail store and a business they are doing things differently, and she’s proud. “I want to be different and I want to stand out because I want mental health to stand out. I want the lights to be shone on mental health. It’s time.”