Peyton Inoff is the founder of THIS IS A SPACE, an online database for global sustainable and inclusive fashion, accessories, and homeware. The site, and subsequent social media platforms, covers the intersectionality of topics as they relate to fashion, spanning sustainability, body neutrality, ableism, and more. A Houston girl now based in New York, Peyton sat down to discuss her platform, her journey to body acceptance, and how she exists in the sustainability movement whilst still trying to challenge its lack of diversity. Below is an excerpt from our conversation, the first in a series of talks with different creatives, as we discuss the role of mental health within our creative disciplines.
Orlanda: In terms of THIS IS A SPACE, does your work with the platform connect to mental health in any way?
Peyton: Oh absolutely in so many different ways, do you mean personally or with the brand?
Orlanda: I guess I connect them because to me sustainability connects to mental health. If we don't have a healthy world, we won't have a healthy mind. Also, the empathy that is required to be inclusive requires a certain mental attitude and also some positivity I think. Maybe if we talk about being in sustainable fashion and how hard it is to be positive right now. I think it's very easy to get quite glum, especially within fashion when we look at the lack of diversity, the body shaming and so on that has gone so unchecked for so long. And there are strides we're making towards a healthier industry but it feels that we're really fucking far behind.
Peyton: Yeah, absolutely. My running joke is that I need a full staff because I'm researching so much and sometimes I think I focus too much on checking off every box on my checklist. If I’m researching a brand and they aren’t size-inclusive, I still want to represent them because I don’t want to necessarily take away the opportunity for someone else to know about them just because I may not be able to fit them. And that’s definitely been a learning process and takes a lot of questioning brands and continuing to learn the whys and hows of a brand and it's nearly impossible to check off every box. I work myself up because I want to make sure to be as inclusive and diverse as I can, while also trying to not centre myself. And so that can affect my mental health for sure. It’s so important to really be talking about the intersectionality of all these things and I want THIS IS A SPACE to not just be about brands but also be an educational tool that highlights things like talking about environmental racism and highlighting incredible people, organisations, communities, and also not shaming the consumer, which is definitely a rhetoric that has been leading the sustainability movement because it's been so whitewashed. We’re constantly shaming the consumer and expecting someone to pay $400 for a top without explaining anything behind it. It’s understanding that it's actually not the consumer's responsibility, it's these corporations and these brands.
Orlanda: Yes, completely. I think that's such a brilliant point.
Peyton: I think in those ways my work does connect to mental health because at the end of the day, the whole reason I got into fashion to begin with was because I was so tired of clothes not fitting the right way. Actually this is a good point about mental health, I’ve realised I don't like the term 'body positivity’, the more I’ve learnt about this movement I have gravitated instead towards body neutrality/ body acceptance. I actually don't think I really feel bad about the way I look unless clothing doesn't fit me the way I want it to. I feel pretty confident about my body most of the time, but I noticed recently when trying some new pieces from some mission-driven brands, that even if they carry my size, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s made for my body type, like someone with curves.
Orlanda: I think that's a really interesting point, that the clothes themselves can shame us into something that we wouldn't naturally feel and that, again, the responsibility is on the wrong person. It always seems to be us altering our bodies without any of the work being put on society to make it easier to exist in different bodies. Part of the reason that I want to talk about fashion and mental health is that fashion is an integral part of how we navigate the world. Choosing to express yourself visually, you're communicating something at every point, when you step out of the house and you choose to wear something, no matter what that something is, those choices we make are part of our personality, part of our persona that we're delivering to the rest of the world whether we're consciously making those choices or not. We don't acknowledge how important and how damaging that can be when it's not supported by the world around us.
Peyton: 100%. I feel like we're all forced to participate in fashion, well we don't even have to call it fashion, but we all wear clothing so technically we all participate. So I totally agree, I think what you wear and how you present yourself is going to be a huge determining factor in your confidence. There is such a struggle internally, that finally you just get to the point where you're like, fuck it, I'm just gonna wear what I want to wear, what makes me feel good. Because that's how I then accomplish what I want to accomplish for the day. If I feel uncomfortable in what I'm wearing, that takes away from the whole rest of my day, much more than if I just put on an outfit I feel good in. If I feel that I'm able to express myself creatively, have a little bit of a creative outlet, then I can just go about doing what I need to do.
Orlanda: It’s interesting isn’t it that once you start seeing mental health in broader terms, you can see it enter different parts of your life in ways that you wouldn’t have thought beforehand. We box in mental health so narrowly that we think if we aren't struggling from a mental illness like depression, we don’t need to relate to mental health in any way.
Peyton: Yeah, it's a huge unlearning and relearning process.
Orlanda: Exactly. I think that's an interesting subject and definitely something to talk about more, but I don’t think we can tap into our full creative selves without that connection to our mind and to our bodies.
Peyton: It’s about being in tune with yourself, I think that is an important thing for people that truly tap into their creativity. Because as a creative, your identity is so tied in with every single thing that you do that you become completely entangled and there isn’t any separation of self and job, which can definitely be an issue in itself, like who are you without your work? It's almost like you're not even realising what the severity of your mental health is until you are prompted to. That’s a huge thing I’ve had to unlearn - well unlearn and then relearn - understanding mental health in more complexity. I think you are very intuitive, very good at seeing the connection between the two, and really thinking deeply about it. I think you see it from a more honed-in perspective, which is really nice.
Orlanda: Thank you. I think that is true, I hope it is, and that’s part of why I want to continue to push for these conversations, but I think as well I definitely have a lot that I’m having to unlearn, like you said I think we’re just taught it wrong. I mean there’s a lot that I need to unlearn, and there’s a lot that I need to relearn in a healthier way. Like you were saying about THIS IS A SPACE, it’s having to hold yourself accountable, well not having to but wanting to hold yourself accountable and challenge yourself in every different intersection. It's finding ways of having these conversions in all the right ways and I think mental health is included in that too. We can’t talk about mental health without talking about systemic racism and we can’t talk about mental health without talking about global warming and the environment, and all of these different intersections, without gender equality, gender diversity, that intersectionality is so important.
Peyton: 1000%. I think because I’ve been excluded, or have felt like I have been excluded, from fashion so much that I don’t want to do that to anyone else. And I think there's going to be an exclusion in that, of course, you may not like the brands I curate or like the clothing that I make (eventually). But I’d rather you be excluded from it by choice, rather than me excluding you before you even had a place in it. I think that's true of every aspect of what we do. We are seeing this year especially, there is so much that goes into the intersections of all of these points, if we’re talking about the environment or systemic racism or able-bodied vs disabled-bodied, privilege, race. At the end of the day we are still consuming and you can’t buy your way into sustainability as Céline Semaan of Slow Factory says but there is a huge importance to educating & understanding our part in all of this. I mean there’s so much to say on all of this but it's not even that I'm trying to be PC or not upset anyone, I want to do it the right way. And if I’m going to do that, it's going to take so much more work because it's more of a new thing for me to be addressing, for me to really be talking about.
You can learn more about Peyton, THIS IS A SPACE, or engage with the resources (Peyton spotlights academics and activists who have an authority on all the topics we discuss) via thisisaspace.com or @thisisaspace on Instagram and follow Peyton’s personal account @pinoff__________.
Text: Orlanda James