Credit: Billy Toka / @tokaphotography_

Words by Alexia Petsinis

From social distancing to self-isolation, there’s no underestimating the impact of the global pandemic on mental health. With most of us reflecting on the freedom and connectedness of ‘old times’, it’s easy to be overcome by this climate of widespread uncertainty and feelings of anxiety. Well, guess what…you’re not alone, and no brand is encouraging gents to open up about their mental health more than Australian leisurewear label Mendl.

Founded by AFL footballer Mitch Hannan and Melbourne-based architect and friend Mark Losewitz, Mendl is a non-for-profit enterprise that uses apparel as a basis for encouraging men to prioritise their mental health. Having just dropped their latest ‘Flinders’ AW/2020 range last week featuring a series of must-have t-shirts and sweaters that are ideal for lazy weekends and isolation couch time, it seems there’s never been a better opportunity to join the ‘Mendl Movement’, heeding the brand’s message of checking in regularly with your own mental health, as well as those around you.

“The words of the new range were purposeful in phrasing, representing the movement of men and women who acknowledge men’s mental health as a priority…. we want mental health to be front of mind but discrete and inclusive in its messaging,” shares Losewitz.

“We see support for mental health as a movement of many, rather than a battle to face alone,” he adds.

Credit: Billy Toka / @tokaphotography_

From colours to graphics to logos, clothing choices are inextricably bound to a sense of identity. What we wear projects a deeply personal message to the world about who we are, and what we stand for. Creating the Mendl community has allowed Hannan to connect with people from all walks of life; from sportspeople, to media personalities, to consumers wishing to discover a sense of belonging via conscious clothing and lifestyle choices. Each month Mendl aligns with a different charity in the men’s mental health space, with the profits of all purchases made on the brand’s website going directly to the given cause.

“Fashion has long been a driver for change, and we recognised that by tying apparel with men’s mental health, and we are hopefully intertwining the two in everyday life,” reflects Hannan.

“Our future aim for the Mendl brand is to become the face of men’s mental health apparel, a known name that embodies and is recognised for supporting men to express their own mental health struggles. We started Mendl because of the beautiful connection between the simple act of provoking an important message via wearing a piece of fashion,” he says.

From the sports field, to the board room and far beyond, honest conversations about mental health struggles have come a long way in the past few years. However, it’s a topic many men still find difficult to discuss. Neil McMullin – former AFL player and now Player Manager at OMP Sports – has experienced the pressures of living in the ‘locker-room bubble’ at an elite sporting level. He notes the significance of social enterprises like Mendl in the current climate, and the extent to which they challenge preconceived notions that someone who is struggling with mental health must suffer in silence.

“For some reason, whether it be cultural or in their DNA, men are clearly not as good as opening up about their mental health as women. The beauty about Mendl in my view is that it is an incredibly subtle way of encouraging opening up. It’s almost like the wearer of a Mendl branded sweater or tee is saying ‘I am aware of the problem of men’s mental health, and I’m open for a chat if you need one’,” comments McMullin.

With social media being an essential tool for any brand wishing to disseminate their message to the world, it appears that Mendl is using their Instagram and Facebook platforms as a means of engaging an active community in the global mental health conversation. This is a commendable initiative in the over-saturated digital sphere, with most brands constantly competing for consumer attention without necessarily considering the individual’s state of mental wellbeing.

“The goal of our social media is to champion authenticity, inclusiveness and relatability. Through advocating for men of all standings to verbalise and validate their own experiences, we aim to break down the stigma around men’s mental health,” offers Losewitz.

“If these stories can be vocalised via widely accessed social media channels, then we believe that it can also be inherently positive and uplifting,” he adds.

Establishing Mendl while negotiating professional careers and personal challenges, the past few months have been enlightening for both Hannan and Losewitz. Having been drafted to the Melbourne Demons a few years ago, Hannan has learnt to juggle a career in the sporting spotlight, while also navigating this own mental health struggles behind the scenes. He and Losewitz emerge as unique and positive role models in Australia’s social sphere as they continue to develop their brand’s presence through a mindful approach to conversation and connection.

“The most important lesion I have learnt is that ultimately, we are all on a level playing field. We all deserve support, humility and respect, because it is very easy to overlook the struggles someone might keep under wraps,” Hannan reflects.

Discover more about Mendl and the new ‘Flinders’ AW/2020 collection, here.

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