Entering a new decade and looking back at some of the most talked-about topics of the 2010s, mental health has undeniably seen a rise in popularity on social media. In a sense, this is a positive direction for society to go in, as we are seeing more and more people promoting and normalizing therapy and self-care. However, a negative consequence of the increased attention on mental health is that big brands are using mental health to seem more relatable to their consumer base. While these efforts to be relatable can shed more light on mental illness, it can also seem as if these companies frankly don’t care about the issues they’re promoting and are only using fake concern and relatability to get more money and attention.
Take for example Demetrius Harmon. Demetrius is best described as a social media influencer and comedian. Like many influencers, he used his success from making skits and other feel-good content to launch other ventures, including his extremely popular You Matter clothing line. According to the brand’s website, the purpose of the clothing is to, “spread love and normalize the complexities of the human experience.” Although the brand sells various accessories, the main attraction is the hoodies, which have the words, ”Although I feel weak, I know I am strong” embroidered on the wrist for those who use the hoodies to cover up their self-harm scars. The hoodies have become insanely popular among today’s youth, to the point where the entire catalog is almost always sold out. This has created a culture in which those who are lucky enough to grab a hoodie before they sell out are part of an exclusive club that gets to brag about getting one.
Demetrius is no stranger to controversy, especially when it comes to the business tactics surrounding the hoodies. Back in June, Demtrius released Pride flags with the words “You Matter” embroidered on them. Demetrius received criticism when a trans woman who goes by the name of @iconickbeauty on Twitter was suspended after questioning where the funds of the flags would be going to.
That boy upped the “you matter” price from $60 to $65 so he could say the Black Friday $59.50 price is a deal lmao capitalism is a powerful drug
— sky$ (@skulladominey) November 29, 2019
The prices of the hoodies have been put into question as well. The hoodies originally retailed for $60 but then were raised to $65, only for Demetrius to “discount” them on Black Friday at a price of $59.50 (essentially giving his fans a 50 cent discount.) Although Demetrius has defended the increase in prices by claiming that it covers “better customer service and faster shipping rates,” many customers contradicted his claim with evidence that the customer service refused to respond, their hoodies took weeks to come or the hoodies came with stains. There’s even an account on Twitter called @whereourhoodies that is devoted to highlighting people who have yet to receive their hoodies.
Demetrius also made a tweet giving a 40% discount code to all of his fans who have self-harmed. Although this isn’t the first time that Harmon has given a discount code to fans who have suffered from self-harm, his increased popularity combined with the wording of the tweet left a bad taste in the mouth of many.
The sale was mocked so much to the point where Demetrius deleted the tweet and issued an apology.
I’d like to clarify and apologize for the things that have transpired over the last few days.
When I made the 40% off tweet I fumbled my words terribly and hurt a lot of people. It came off in poor taste, and I’m asking if everyone would take a second to understand-
— Demetrius (@DemetriusHarmon) December 4, 2019
So, the question that everyone is wondering is, is Demetrius Harmon a genuine ally and advocate to those who struggle with mental health issues, or is he using mental health to sell hoodies? To answer this question, we must first get some context on the issue.
It Wouldn’t Be The First Time
If Demetrius Harmon is indeed using mental health to sell hoodies, he definitely would not be the first to try and make a profit off of mental issues. Take a look at Sunny D for example. The orange juice brand isn’t necessarily famous for its social media presence compared to other brands such as Wendy’s or Popeye’s. However, in February 2019, the brand posted a tweet that said, “I can’t do this anymore.”
I can’t do this anymore
— SUNNYD (@sunnydelight) February 4, 2019
The tweet garnered attention from other brands and celebrities alike, all of whom satirically responded with fake support. Moon Pie responded by saying, “What’s going on sunny.” UberEats asked, “You ok, bro?” PopTarts took the cake by responding, “Hey sunny can I please offer you a hug we are gonna get through this together my friend.”
Clearly the tweet struck a nerve with many as it amasses more than 150,000 retweets and 350,00 likes.
However, it’s clear that SunnyD is yet another brand jumping on the bandwagon of pretending to be depressed and suicidal to seem quirky, relatable, and to ultimately sell more product.
The problem with companies marketing mental health doesn’t just lie in the fact that it’s a false narrative. Brands are also being hypocritical by promoting mental health while also treating their workers like trash behind the scenes. Take companies like Burger King, for example. They partnered with Mental Health America to release a variety of meals, all fashioned for different emotions, to encourage customers to #FeelYourWay.
— Burger King (@BurgerKing) May 1, 2019
The campaign was fashioned after and as a snub to McDonald’s signature Happy Meal. This looks progressive on the surface until you look deeper and find that former workers at Burger King have complained about being, “so overworked and stressed that I cried in the walk-in multiple times…” One person replied to the feel your way campaign by saying, “My manager was a rm for Burger King for years she recently quit but they literally put her through so much shit it was ridiculous Burger King needs to treat there employees better!!!” Another person responded with, “I work for Burger King for 2 years and it’s horrible. I already had 2 burnout because of them and i think that my mental health is very disturbed because of them…”
It’s not just big corporations that are responsible for this problem. Social media and society as a whole also seem to be hypocritical when it comes to mental health. When big celebrities commit suicide or overdose, we often see a hoard of tweets that all say how we need to pay more attention to mental health, yet, only days later, those same people bully others on their social media without thinking about that person’s mental health. We all say that mental health is important but don’t make the effort to be kinder to others or give support to those who suffer from mental illnesses.
Demetrius Isn’t A Villian
While it’s easy to cast the narrative that Demetrius is some power-hungry villain who uses mental health to sell his hoodies, I wouldn’t be a good journalist if I also didn’t mention the good he’s doing in the community as well. Demetrius does keynote speeches at different organizations. He donates publicly to different charities, and privately to his followers GoFundMe campaigns. Demetrius also claims to privately donate to pro-LGBTQ organizations on his own time. I say this to say that the money he is making isn’t just going to his own pockets. So while the proceeds of the You Matter hoodies may not be going directly to any charities that are helping those with mental health issues, Demetrius is doing his part to bring awareness to these issues. I also question the morality of deciding how much is the right amount to donate to a charity, especially from those who wouldn’t think to donate to a charity themselves.
It’s not like Demetrius is marketing mental health while not being someone who suffers from mental illness himself. Demetrius has been open about suffering from self-harm, depression, and suicidal urges. The whole point of the brand is to reassure others who have been through the same things that he has.
march 1 is my 18th birthday so i wanna do something for self harm cause when i was self harming i never thought i would live to see 18
— Demetrius (@DemetriusHarmon) January 31, 2016
Another common defense from Demetrius’ fans is that it’s his fans who decide to purchase the hoodies with the knowledge of the prices and his previous discretions. Can Demetrius really be blamed for taking advantage of others’ mental health issues when it’s his fans who choose to buy the hoodies on their own merit?
And of course, when it comes to the price of the hoodies, there is the obvious explanation that like everyone else, Demetrius is just trying to support himself. Although being an influencer is lucrative, living in Los Angeles and relying on money from social media campaigns can’t be cheap, so who can blame Demetrius for trying to make a profit? The average businessman out there may even say that Demetrius is smart for using mental health to make a quick buck.
So, let’s scale back to the original question: Is Demetrius Harmon using mental health to sell hoodies?
Yes, I believe that Demetrius Harmon is using mental health to sell hoodies. However, morality isn’t a black and white issue. Is it inherently bad that Demetrius is using mental health issues to sell hoodies when he’s also using some of the profits to donate on his own? While I do question many of Demetrius’ business methods, I think that overall his heart seems to be in a good place. Would I personally buy a You Matter hoodie? Probably not. However, I can’t blame someone who’s just trying to make a living out here while simultaneously helping others. Ultimately, regardless of my or others’ feelings about it, it’s up to his fans who continually make his hoodies sell out to decide whether Demetrius is an ally or not.
Whether you love him or hate him, he has definitely contributed to the conversations around mental health.