Our Folklore: Chrissy Rutherford Talks Fashion's Relationship With Mental Health
Chrissy Rutherford is a West Chester native of Jamaican heritage, who for over 10 years has been a front-row fixture at fashion shows in New York, Paris, Milan, and London. She first got her start in fashion as an intern at Harper’s Bazaar before moving her way up the ladder at the publication. As the head of Instagram, Chrissy helped the magazine reach over 4 million followers on Instagram.
Chrissy worked at Harper's Bazaar for eight-and-a-half years as a digital editor, developing fashion content, running the Instagram account, booking talent for video projects, and finding contributors for the website She achieved all of this before leaving in February to pursue other opportunities and build her personal brand.
Her Instagram platform boasts almost 80k followers, intriguing people with her unique sense of style and engaging them with her openness on life. She regularly shares songs and playlists, book recommendations for self-development, her natural hair journey, and her love for astrology. But most importantly, she's well known for advocating for mental health, since she has a strong history of dealing with anxiety and seeking therapeutic help.
For this week's episode of the 'Our Folklore' podcast, we spoke with Chrissy about fashion’s relationship with mental health, and how her own mental health journey inspired her to become a mental health advocate. We spoke about how the fashion industry deals with mental health issues, the power of therapy, and the importance of manifesting your goals.
I graduated from college in 2008, so I got my start when the economy was crashing. My first job out of college was as a freelance sales assistant at a multi-label showroom that showcased contemporary European designers. I was not remotely interested in buying and sales, but I learned a lot. It took me two years before I got back on the path that I was meant to be on, which was in editorial. Finally on a fateful summer day in 2011, I got a call from my former Harper's Bazaar boss, who I interned for during college and wanted to take me on as a digital editor on a freelance basis for 2 months, then she fought for me to stay on at Harper's. When I look back on my career, all the jobs that I've gotten except for the first one was thanks to people I had met and worked for in the past.
I finally decided to leave Harper's Bazaar after 8 years in February just passed. The choice to leave was tough, I was in agony for two years but I knew deep down that my time there had run its course and I was no longer fulfilled and happy. This made me wonder if I was just being ungrateful, but in the end it wasn't where I was meant to continue, so once I had those hard conversations, I immediately felt relief.
I had my first panic attack when I was 13 and I couldn't go to school for days and I started seeing a psychologist, so I dealt with it head on. I grew up as a dancer since I was 5 and absolutely loved performing on stage, but suddenly I could barely even speak in front of a class of 20 students. It's like I didn't know how to function anymore and I spent a lot of time with my school's guidance counsellor. I have Caribbean parents, who weren't well versed in mental health discussions, so the experience was quite isolating. My friends were as supportive as they could be though. In 2015, I wrote an article for Bazaar at a time when personal essays were trendy on the internet. The article was focused on my fear of flying since I hadn't been on a plane for a really long time.
My fear of flying was so bad. When I went to Miami for Art Basel for work, my mom had to come with me on the plane and I was in complete agony the week leading up to the flight. I had worked by body up so much that I felt so tired and drained of energy afterwards. I realised that I couldn't keep going through this every time I had to fly out for work, so little by little I worked my way up by flying with friends and families for domestic destinations. Finally, I was able to take a flight by myself and fly internationally! I also have a Xanax prescription and I only take it if I'm ever at risk of having a panic attack.
Editorial team structures are getting smaller, so individually you're taking on a lot more work with no assistants and usually the intern is shared with the whole team. So it's tough because there's a lot of work to be done, especially online since it's a 24 hour news cycle and someone's got to be there to write it up and put it on Instagram. The 'difficult' personality and attitude doesn't fly so well anymore like it used to back in the day. My boss is very nice, she's not a yeller, but a lot of the big talent in the industry are allowed to get away with acting unkind. With that said, you have to be able to set your own boundaries as best as you can.
I think there are brands that are more conscious about mental health and aim to promote it. Just recently I did a campaign with The Upside for Mental Health Awareness Month, and people from the fashion industry were gathered to take part in it and share their experiences. I think it's hypocritical to have a whole established culture around fitness and taking care of your body, yet mental health can still be seen as weird or stigmatised. I care a lot about who I am as a person and how I communicate and relate to others, and I want to keep my side of the street clean.
Meditation is a big part of my self-care arsenal. Usually I meditate on and off, but during quarantine I've meditated every single morning. I've been doing this since I was a teenager because a therapist taught me how and I also incorporate visualisation. I also like listening to music to clear my mind. But a major tool for me is therapy, you're basically paying someone to listen to all your problems and who becomes your number one confidant that guides you to see the light. Taking baths, with lights off, candles and music is also amazing and I've been journaling since I was a kid to get my thoughts and feelings down on paper. I love having records on how I've evolved when I look back and read my journals.
More people are open about mental health now. I love receiving messages from people, especially black girls, on Instagram who tell me I've inspired them to get a therapist because I've promoted it on my stories. I believe therapy is such an amazing tool that can help you, but not everyone can access it though because of costs and lack of health insurance coverage. But it's still important for kids to see that anxiety and depression are normal and that so many people struggle with this, and it doesn't mean that you are going to struggle forever. I've gone a year or two straight without therapy, and it's nice sometimes to be able to take the training wheels off and apply my therapist's advice to my life and not have a meltdown.
Written by Christine Noumba Um