A BROCKENHURST teenager has launched her own clothing brand in a bid to help normalise the mental health challenges that many people face.
After being diagnosed with autism a number of years ago, 18-year-old Lauren Matthews (pictured) says she always struggled to “fit in” with her peers, but things were brought to a head around three years ago when an online incident led her to develop severe anxiety and depression.
Lauren tried to take her own life in 2016, but after therapy, specialist help and incredible support from her family, the teenager has now become a champion for people with a range of mental health issues.
She launched her clothing brand Øbsydian in September 2018, after designing an array of slogan T-shirts with messages such as “struggling does not equal failure” and “there is no such thing as a small milestone”.
When customers order one of Lauren’s designs they are printed by her at home and then packaged with purple paper and ribbons before being dispatched.
Lauren said: “Øbsydian is named after a type of volcanic glass which is said to have healing qualities for people going though times of difficulty, and that was the message and feeling I wanted to share.”
Today the label has grown to incorporate a range of branded products such as backpacks, joggers, beanie hats, tracksuit bottoms and T-shirts.
Lauren said: “The label has been going really well. I have orders from all around the world – some from countries I have never even heard of.”
A message on the Øbsydian website reveals more about Lauren’s story and the inspiration of the brand. It states: “I have a diagnosis of autism which, for a long time, I found hard to come to terms with.
“I am 18 now, and Øbsydian is the sort of brand I would have wanted to exist a few years ago, when I was being bullied at school and was suffering from severe anxiety and depression.
“It seemed no one liked me so I didn’t like myself either. I see now what I couldn’t see then: that other people’s views don’t define me, that I am worthy of my life and that I was not alone.
“It is the unfortunate truth that so many of us go through periods of suffering, although it is important to remember that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
“I am content with myself now and I want to help others reach this point. That’s what Øbsydian is all about: accepting yourself, expressing yourself and loving yourself the way you are.”
Inspired by this message, Lauren says people have contacted her through social media to say her story has really helped them.
As well as running her own clothing brand and developing new products, Lauren has just completed her A-levels with Brockenhurst College, after undertaking much of her studying at home.
She said: “I went to school in Kent but my family then moved to Brockenhurst for a new start. I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder from my time at school so I couldn’t go to college – but Brockenhurst College was just amazing.
“They allowed me to study almost full-time from home and were incredibly supportive of my situation and needs. I was always in communication with my tutors and the college, and they set me assignments which I was able to send over to be marked.”
Having achieved A-levels in criminology and psychology, Lauren has enrolled on an Open University course with the intention of studying alongside her work on her clothing brand.
She said: “Because of my autism I will always struggle with social situations but building up the business has really helped me to get some of my confidence back that I lost when I was at school. I still find social situations difficult but I’m definitely getting better at coping all the time.”
Lauren also donates part of the profits from her clothing sales to the mental health charity Young Minds – which supported her during difficult times. She also supports Tourette’s Action and is now working with Autism Hampshire.
To find out more about Øbsydian visit: www.obsydian.net