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

NEXT (New Zealand) - - Contents - BY ERIN FISHER

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.

OPEN SPA­CES

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.

FU­TURE FO­CUS

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.”

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