Meet the young man who turned his crippling anxiety into a successful fashion label
After seeking help for his drug-induced paranoia and confinement that almost killed him, George Hodgson is now raising awareness and funds for mental health through his fashion brand that gives back.
“I remember the date quite vividly… July 8, 2012 was the day I took drugs. It was raining in a field. I remember the substance and being terrified thinking: am I going to die?”
George Hodgson was just 16-years-old when he ignorantly took drugs at a festival, which would lead him to spend three years in a battle with himself that threatened to end it all. But George, now 21, is a survivor with a successful fashion brand that gives back to those suffering with mental health issues.
George Hodgson, founder of Maison de Choup, modelling the ’Warrior’ collection.
Maison de Choup - or ‘House of Choup’, to you and I - aims to support people with poor mental health by donating 25 per cent of all profits to the UK’s YoungMinds charity.
Yes, you’ll find slogan t-shirts and printed hoodies in its collections, but they possess an important message, and one that is far deeper than your average ‘Feminist’ or ‘Carbs’ tee from H&M.
George’s story is actually an incredibly heartwarming one. To go from being a teenager with crippling anxiety and OCD, to being the owner of a successful fashion label with a genuine meaning, speaks volume.
To slowly heal and turn your darkest thoughts into something for charity takes a lot of effort and fighting back, and this is what George is trying to help others to do.
Now, George had always been an anxious child growing up. Hyperactive, needing to be calmed down in school by a specialist… He knows the choice was there to either take the drugs or leave them, but when you’re 16 and everyone else is doing it, aren’t you the odd one out?
Weeks passed after taking them, and he tried to forget about it. Then, in August 2012, his condition severely worsened at his home in Overton, Hampshire: “I was mucking the horses down the field and I suddenly felt very hot, my vision was tunnel-like, my heart racing… I thought the drug was back in my system.”
At this point, George rushed home to confess everything to his parents from taking the drug to how he was feeling in that moment. They rang someone to be told he might be having a panic attack.
Fran, 60, and Mike, 59, soon took him to the doctor who referred him to CAMHS (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Service) in Basingstoke after his anxiety turned into severe paranoia - he wasn’t able to go anywhere or touch anything without thinking he would pick up drug traces.
Claire modelling the ’Faces’ t-shirt, £35.
His condition was deteriorating and his parents were beginning to really worry, and to make matters worse, it could have taken George almost a year to get help: “There [was] a 40-week waiting list… What could happen in 40 weeks? Someone with a mental illness to wait that long… It’s unthinkable, isn’t it?”
Luckily, George was privileged to be sent to a private psychiatrist, a specialist in adolescence mental health care. He recalled: “It took about a year and a half with him - weekly sessions going into three-weekly sessions.
“He was using hypnotherapy, then deemed me well enough to be referred to a cognitive behavioural therapist, and then a private doctor who taught me how to cope with anxiety in my own way.”
During this time, George became so ill that he dropped out of college. He was an art and design student with the hope of eventually studying photography at university, his passion.
But his illness completely consumed him, even when the help was there. His condition was so severe he wasn’t able to leave the house unless it was with his parents or for his part-time job, which he still has, at Sainsbury’s.
@[video name](video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N7teUEkN4YQ) Behind the scenes video of the ’Warrior’ collection photo shoot.
“I washed my hands every time I touched something; I couldn’t touch door handles… My world shrunk. I stuck to my bedroom for a good three years, disconnecting myself from friends. They understood, I told them I wasn’t very well.
“How terrifying it was to always be in that state… What’s the next trigger? When is it going to attack me? It was an exhausting, overwhelming fear.”
It took time, but George began to recover and took trips to his father’s office - who is a graphic designer - and used Photoshop on his laptop: “I was messing on with drawings [from] a little black notebook I had…
“I would draw my feelings, thoughts, what I was feeling [any] day from anxiety. I thought, maybe I could put these somewhere to promote mental health.”
This is where the idea snowballed. At first, he got a little carried away; he thought it would be easy enough to get some plain t-shirts and print the designs himself… Let’s just say it didn’t work. But he managed to eventually print his first collection with a small company in Overton.
Kiera and George modelling the ’Warrior’ collection. T-shirts: £35.
So, George’s brand, Maison de Choup, was founded in 2014 but it wasn’t officially launched until August 13, 2015.
Inspired by his sister Charlotte, now 24, ‘Choup’ was a nickname George would often call her during childhood. Now, this brand has given him the chance to open up about the stigma attached to mental health, and aims to spread awareness.
Every Saturday in Winchester, he holds a market stall selling his designs, with a blackboard that says: ‘Mental health matters, raising funds and awareness through fashion’, and he tells me how so many people have came up to him to speak about their own, and other people’s, mental health.
Sometimes, these stories are devastating: “A few weeks ago, two older people told me a [family member] had just committed suicide. I just… I can’t imagine it.”
According to Young Minds, 25 per cent of young people have felt suicidal at least once in their lives, but George’s label is encouraging those to speak out about mental illness that can lead to such harrowing decisions.
It doesn’t stupidly put the words ‘Anxiety’ or ‘Psycho’ on a shirt to make the issue ‘glamorous’. It uses simple designs to get the point across.
For instance, George’s latest collection is all about ‘The Warrior’, about empowerment and showing positivity, which was very popular at London Fashion Week last month, but probably not in the way you would think.
George Hodgson modelling Maison de Choup’s ’Warrior’ collection at London Fashion Week.
“People asked me if I had a catwalk [when I was there]… I said no! I’m here to promote the brand, meet new people. We went along [George and Charlotte] wearing Maison, people started asking questions, they loved the story and I gave them my card!
“It would be amazing to have a show at Fashion Week, but it would be completely mental health-based. Someone like Vivienne Westwood who actively speaks about global warming… When people think of mental health and fashion, I want to be that brand.”
George now has a successful following from teenagers to grandparents and famous fashion bloggers, like Alice Catherine, in between. He’s even spotted people in Sainsbury’s wear them: “I want to go up to them and say, hey you’re wearing my t-shirt! They’d be like, no I’m not - you’re working here!
“It’s crazy, humbling, exciting… What keeps me going. I’m better - I don’t want to say I’m cured. I think we learn to cope with it in our own way. You’re always going to have those days when you’re slightly off, I still have them now.
“There’s still a long way to go, but I think we’re getting there - one t-shirt at a time!”
George at his Saturday market stall in Winchester.
If you’ve enjoyed George’s story, head online to Maison de Choup now to see the brand’s collections. Remember - for every item bought, 25 per cent goes to YoungMinds, the charity specialising in mental health care for children and adolescents.
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