“Mental health has had a great impact on my life, ever since I’ve been a teenager,” said Elis Orginal’s creative force and founder, Lee Skovsgaard.

We were sitting in a space with really high ceilings, and despite all the airflow and the busyness of things around us I could hear the world momentarily come to a stop. 

“It’s pretty close home,” he admitted. “I, myself, am diagnosed depressed, and I have had mental health issues and suicide in my family.” 

It’s a sobering moment — the one where someone you don’t really know admits that they struggle. It is vulnerability and strength — and hope and solidarity. But at its core, that moment is hard and there’s no denying it.

But Skovsgaard has that part figured out. 

“I started Elis Original earlier this year,” he said. “It’s an independent clothing line designed to raise mental health awareness.”  

“The idea is that if someone is wearing an Elis Original shirt, they’re showing support for people living with mental health challenges, whether or not they identify as living with mental health challenges themselves, or knowing someone else who does. This clothing lets them take that stigma, change it to acceptance and wear it with pride.”

That’s a consistent in Elis Original’s messaging; their instagram proudly boasts “If You Feel Alone, You’re With Us.” 

The shirts say things like “Hopeless Ro-manic Depressed” and “Born to Lose, Dying to Win.” They’ve attended events like Hopefest 2018 and hashtag their posts #mentallosersclub. They acknowledge the overwhelming power that is mental health and the resiliency of people living through it.

Elis Original is reclaiming the stigma.

“I had a graphic design company, before this,” Skovsgaard said. “And I liked it. But I felt like I needed my work to stand for something. I want to give back to the community instead of just being a business.”

Right now, Elis Original is in the midst of its Red Lid Project. 

“We’re partnering with CMHA (Canadian Mental Health Association) to raise money for toques to give out to the homeless. I know how much mental health can impact every part of your life and we really want to give back,” Skovsgaard explained.   

Fifteen per cent of Elis Original sales goes to CMHA, specifically the Waterloo-Wellington branch.

“I want to help the community come together,” Skovsgaard said. 

“I find that a lot of people that have supported me in the past have either had mental health issues of their own, or people who know people who do. So I call it Elis Original, because my designs are unique, but also, everyone who lives with mental illness is facing their own original, unique battle and they shouldn’t have to feel alone in that.”