ShareJoy: ‘At the end of the day, this is all about the love of a mother for their daughter’
14th Feb 2021
Former Vogue Digital Director Anne-Marie Tomchak has utilised her love of sustainable fashion and mental health advocacy and cumulated it into the ShareJoy project - developed in loving memory of a daughter, a friend, a sister lost, in the hope of making both us and social media more purpose-driven.
It isn’t easy finding light in moments of sadness. Just as it isn’t easy honouring the memory of those we have loved and lost during the pandemic. However, editor and journalist Anne-Marie Tomchak’s newest project does all this in spades; it pays tribute to a young, vibrant Irish woman who loved fashion, while also emphasising mental health awareness on social media.
“I think that this was something I wanted to do anyway. But then when I got a call from my friend Maeve McMahon telling me about what happened to Marie Sullivan, and the loss of Marie’s daughter Arwen, it put into focus a real purpose around doing something on mental health,” Anne-Marie explained. Marie Sullivan devastatingly lost her 23-year-old daughter Arwen to suicide during the first lockdown.
The Sharejoy project was made in tribute to her and her life, as public figures from Roz Purcell to Laura Whitmore and Irish fashion designers offer clothing from their wardrobes for sale on Depop with all proceeds going to Pieta House. So far, they have raised over €13,000 in only a few weeks.
It’s a passion project for Anne-Marie who is using the many threads from her vast career helping to support the mental health sector – which has seen huge losses during Covid-19. “Last year, during the pandemic, I think there was a lot of issues and themes that have come up and arisen around child safety and mental health and how technology is affecting us. And then similarly, in fashion, the pandemic shone a light on an industry that has an awful lot of problems.
“And this felt like a way of doing something in a more meaningful way, leveraging our circular economy and pre-loved fashion in a way that could support that third sector – one that is going through a lot of challenges now because of the pandemic. When you think about some of the big fundraising activities, that charities like Pieta would have done, such as Darkness Into Light, for example, was not possible to do now, ShareJoy was an opportunity to try to do something purpose-driven, but also to acknowledge the story of Arwen.”
“Because at the end of the day, this is all about the love of a mother for their child. This is the love of a mother for their daughter. And that’s that was front and centre of this. Everything else comes second to that. And so, from that perspective, it was an extremely humbling project to work on, for someone like Marie Sullivan to have trusted me. And she entrusted me with her grief and her story. And for me to then take that and to put together this project, which in many respects, has been a way for the family to be able to channel their grief and be able to acknowledge Arwen’s life at a time when that was not really possible to do in the same way you normally would.”
At the end of the day, this is all about the love of a mother for their child. This is the love of a mother for their daughter. And that's that was front and centre of this. Everything else comes second to that.
A silent killer
We talk of the pandemic and the news agenda’s focus on a public health perspective and Anne-Marie says that while the focus is rightly on our physical wellbeing, her research led her to realise that younger people have essentially been left behind during the pandemic.
“I just feel personally through my research into the area of Youth Mental Health, there was a whole cohort of people that weren’t being seen or heard during this time in the way that they deserve to be. And I think that the news agenda rightly is focusing on the public health issue of the pandemic, but what we’re not seeing enough of, is a focus on how young people are affected,” she continued.
“There’s this assumption that just because you’re not older and you’re physically healthy, and that because you won’t die from the virus that you’re fine. However, really, the reality is that there’s a secret killer here – a silent killer happening. It’s the consequences of mental wellbeing that COVID is having on younger people, with the economic and social impact that this pandemic is having on them. A disservice is being done to young people and I think you can care for older people and want them to be vaccinated and care for the most vulnerable, while also caring about young people – it’s not saying we shouldn’t be prioritising the elderly, I’m saying we should be trying to do both.”
“And that what’s being left behind here: People think, ‘Oh, sure, you don’t have to make a big sacrifice, you’re just missing out on out a few nights out. But I think what isn’t being recognised is that those nights out and all those social interactions at that time in university, when you’re able to go to the pub and have your conversations with what’s going on in the lecture hall and so on – those are the things that shape the wiring in your brain.”
“Because your brain is still undergoing development right up until you’re in your 30s, the neurological pathways are still developing. So if you think about it, this is having a social and psychological impact on a whole generation, where they’re not going to fully come to fruition, or they’re having this stagnation in their life, that needs to be acknowledged and addressed. Because there’s a whole other crisis coming down the tracks if we don’t look at that and meaningfully engage with that right now.”
A timely initiative
Coming from circumstances so devastating and sad has been obviously very difficult, she says, but overall, ShareJoy has been a humbling and rewarding experience. “We’re trying to get a more positive message out there. It’s about outreach. And so, working on this project has been obviously extremely sad thinking about Arwen and her family, but a completely beautiful experience in that when you do something that is not informed or motivated by your own self-interest, it becomes something else entirely.”
“And I think fundamentally, that’s what ShareJoy is about; the positive scientific psychology of sharing and the endorphins that releases in your brain. There’s a quote that we use on ShareJoy, “happiness is the only thing that doubles when it’s actually shared,” and there’s a lot to be said about that. Overall, this project has just been extremely positive, we’ve been amazed at the response. The reception we’ve gotten is beyond our wildest expectations and I think that speaks volumes.”
“I think this initiative is at a time when we do need a bit more light in our lives,” she continues. “We’re not doing it in a way that revolves around toxic positivity. Yes, the Instagram page has pink and lilac coloured Instagram squares, but we know an Instagram tile can never quite fully illustrate or convey the profound challenges that people are going through during this time. However, we want to try to use a model that is almost the antithesis of the capitalist or commercial digital model of late – we want to focus on time well spent on our Instagram page. The audience and the person who’s on our website is the person we’re thinking of – the duty of care towards them is the first and foremost thing that comes to our mind.”
What we're trying to do is just make people more aware of these behaviours and how your behaviour online can actually really affect your happiness. If we can get away from doomscrolling and start using Instagram with more intent, I think we'll all be a lot better off for it.
“So our goal is for you to be on our Instagram page for a good time, but not a long time. We want you to look at the page and then get off Instagram and go and do something good and live your life off the screen and have a social interaction. Or maybe you’ll have a meaningful engagement within the ShareJoy community. But the goal is for using the page in a purpose-driven way. We’re also hoping to drive people towards us if they’re feeling distressed, providing resources on our website with tips around mindfulness and so on as well.”
Fashion for everyone
When we talk of luxury and fast fashion, Anne-Marie agrees that the industry has changed in the last 10 months, but says the ShareJoy project will always be about inclusion. “I think people have really had time to assess the value systems that they want to subscribe to [when it comes to fashion]. So I think that the nature of a brand is not just about an expensive logo or a demonstration of wealth – that’s the old fashioned concept of luxury. I think that the notion, construct or concept of luxury has definitely evolved. It’s now not necessarily about an item or a belonging anymore. In the past, that has been an expensive handbag. For now, I think, having time, for example, is a luxury.”
“And if you look at our edit, we’ve included some items of fast fashion on there. And I think that that’s an important point to make because this is a reflection of the real world. While we do not advocate fast fashion, we think that this is about circular economy and pre-loved fashion and the only way we think real meaningful change is possible around fast fashion and how it’s produced is by getting everyone into the room. So we’re trying to bring about change by consensus and real inclusion, which involves actually including everybody, not just creating another echo chamber – we want to make sure that this is including different socio-economic groups, as well as people who have spending power to buy luxury items.”
“It’s all about trying to invite people in to be exposed to this way of thinking.”