For this month’s A Man About Town column, Randall Porter speaks with Channing Estell about growing up in the South and her clothing line, Garden of Eden. The mission of the brand is spreading love and bringing awareness to the importance of mental health through fashion.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month and in the South, where most of us are still reluctant to speak about our own mental health issues, it can feel like you’re the only one who’s having a hard time and faking your way through it all. So it was a great relief to me when I learned about a designer from Alabama, whom I once shared social circles with in high school, expressing out loud fears so many of us harbor internally. Much like the lyrics to ”OK Not to Be OK,” the hit song by Demi Lovato, Channing’s line, “Garden of Eden” focuses on supporting those who may be struggling with anxiety and depression.
“It is okay to not be okay. Even in your darkest moments, you are loved.”
Randall Porter: Hi friend, let’s jump into it. How did Garden of Eden come to be?
Channing Estell: It’s funny because anyone who knows me knows that 90% of my life is spent in loungewear. It’s pretty much a running joke with my family and friends, but I’ve been that way since I was a kid. To be honest, I think I have spent most of my life feeling uncomfortable in my own skin, and as silly as it may seem, an oversized t-shirt, hoodie, or a pair of comfy sweats gives me that feeling of comfort that I yearn for on those days that I can’t seem to muster up anything else. I have always struggled with my mental health and last year, I started working silently for months coming up with the concept for Garden of Eden, fighting myself on the idea because I knew if I went through with it, I would have to be vulnerable.
I wasn’t sure that I was in a place mentally to bring it to life with the possibility of having it all come crumbling down. Then at the end of last year, I hit a very low, low. I would say it was in my top 5 lowest points of life I’ve experienced thus far. It seemed like life had made the choice for me at that point. Much to my surprise, it was that dark period and the support of many amazing people that gave me the push that I needed to know the only choice was to turn my pain into a purpose, no matter if it all failed. I just wanted to make people feel like they weren’t alone. I wish I could say Garden of Eden was born out of confidence and bravery, but the truth is it was born out of the darkest parts of my life. But, wow, has it been so rewarding. The kindness and love I have been shown have made it all worth it.
Randall: I totally understand the feeling of being uncomfortable in your own skin, especially where we are from or anywhere in the South. We don’t like to talk about such topics. It’s hard to talk about mental health, right?
Channing: Absolutely, because for every one person that may understand it, there’s one hundred that may not and that’s ok, it just breeds a tough barrier for conversation. It’s hard, right, because you can’t see mental health, you can see the effects of it and the events that it can transpire into, but the naked eye can’t physically see mental health as an object and sometimes as humans, we can’t wrap our head around things unseen. How do you explain to someone who has never felt it, that you want to crawl out of your own body sometimes?
So, when someone is asking me how I’m doing, there’s always that moment of pause where I ask myself if I tell them honestly, or if I protect my mind, insecurities, and heart and say I’m doing just fine. There’s this intense embarrassment and shame that I feel talking about my mental health and it’s a constant struggle to navigate. If only I had a penny for every time I asked God why I have this brain that I have. But I will say, I have some loved ones who completely understand and go through the struggle, and I have some that don’t, but one thing they all have in common is they have created a safe space for me to open up and be vulnerable. That’s how we all learn and grow. It’s when you don’t understand, but still gift people with being seen, heard, and supported. That cultivates change in the conversation, no matter the topic.
Randall: I feel like your line is doing just that, cultivating change. How do you want people to feel wearing your pieces?
Channing: Going into this journey, I knew I wanted each collection to represent moments from my personal mental health journey. I am, by nature, someone who bottles everything up, which can create a very lonely space inside of you. I don’t want to burden anyone, I don’t want people to know my pain or the battle I go through within myself on a day-to-day basis. It’s one of my greatest fears if I’m being honest. I have, in some ways, “mastered putting on a face” because I thought that was me being “strong,” and while I am still guilty of doing that some days, I have learned that all of those secret tears and painfully lonely moments have brought me to this very instant in life.
The truth is, I don’t want to hide my struggle anymore because I know I am not the only one who feels this way. We weren’t created to hide our emotions, that’s why we have tears. They are meant to give a physical representation of how you feel, and there is so much strength and power in that. So when wearing the pieces from Garden of Eden, I want people to feel unashamed, confident, empowered, and hopeful, whether they are wearing the pieces to represent their own struggles, or wearing the pieces in support of a loved one who fights the mental health battle. It’s the tough moments, had in the dark, that I hope to shed a little light on if I can.
Randall: I haven’t taken the black hat from your line off since I got it, and I am walking testimony of that strength and power it gives. Much like you, I want others to feel confident, empowered, hopeful, and full of pride. As a Southerner, we all have a bit of that pride in ourselves, right? It’s part of our culture. So tell us how Southern culture influences your personal style.
Channing: I think Southern culture is super interesting when it comes to style and fashion because it ranges from super relaxed and casual to almost theatrical sometimes. I have definitely drawn an influence from that in my personal style. My grandad was a truck driver, so he always had these cool trucker hats and amazing bomber jackets, and of course all the Levi jeans. My grandmother was always dressed to a tee, she wore a lot of blazers, trousers, and cool sneakers. Sometimes, I’ll look at old family photos and draw inspiration from my parent’s outfits from the 90s. I’ve always been inspired by mixing feminine and masculine fashion together, I think it makes for a really effortless aesthetic. My closet looks like comfort paired with statement pieces, which I think is true to my Southern roots.
Randall: So where do you see Garden of Eden in the next 5 years?
Channing: This is always such a hard question for me because what I see today will definitely change tomorrow. But I think the main thing I want for Garden of Eden, across the board, is for the company to be able to give back. I don’t exactly know what that looks like yet, maybe partnering with organizations, maybe just learning how we can continue the conversation around mental health. My hope is that it normalizes it for just one person—then it will all have been worth it.
Randall: Everyone loves a brand that gives back! We haven’t talked in a while. I am working on a personal branding book that allows the discovery and promotion of your best self by giving examples from my own life and career. So I would like to hear, and I am sure our readers like to know, more about your career. What have been the top 3 highlights of your career? And are there any career dislikes you would like to share?
Channing: I would say, my first, is breaking into the film industry. I had someone take a chance on me and that gave me the opportunity to be a part of something that I had always been so passionate about. Working on film sets and being able to see everything come to life was a beautiful experience. Another would be landing a job on the Fortnite Cinematics team for a company called Halon Entertainment. I never in a million years thought I would be working a job that had anything to do with video games, so that was a super interesting and fun chapter.
Last, of course, I have to dedicate to the launch of Garden of Eden, which will always hold a special place in my heart. I never thought I would have any of these experiences, but I have had the opportunity to learn and work alongside so many incredible individuals, and I am extremely grateful for that. I don’t know if I have career dislikes per se because I do believe even the worst moments lead you to your purpose, but I think I would just always say know your worth, and never forget a career is a career, but the people and the impact you leave are what makes everything worth it.
Randall: And who are some of your peers you admire or want to work with, and why?
Channing: At the top of my list, is collaborating on collections with my loved ones. I draw inspiration from visible talent of course, but also from connection. I have some incredibly talented friends and family that have shown me more support than I could ever describe, so to be able to bring a piece of their beautiful creativity to Garden of Eden feels very authentic and would be a dream! On a different scale, there are some amazing clothing brands that I can only hope to stand alongside or collaborate with one day. There’s Fear of God, The Mayfair Group, Elwood Clothing, The Museum of Peace and Quiet, and many more. I think it’s beautiful how fashion is about a purpose, it’s art, and not just about what looks good.
Randall: I can see you stand beside those brands. A few of them I follow because of what they stand for. What are some other things you stand for? Are there any quotes you live by?
Channing: Hm, I have a few but a couple that come to mind are:
“Life is short, so give love wherever you can.”
“Treat people how you want to be treated, you never know what storm someone is going through.”
Randall: You are a gem. I love everything you are doing and stand for. Whether you know it or not, you are an inspiration to me. So, any advice for someone who wants to follow in your footsteps and create a collection? What impact in the community do you want to leave for the next Channing Estell?
Channing: I mainly just want to leave hope in the community and for the next. I truly believe we were all put here for a reason and that thing about yourself, that is a thorn in your side, is what makes you special. My advice is to always chase your dreams, surround yourself with people who feed your soul, and don’t let anyone put you in a box. There are going to be days when you want to give up, but keep on, because the world needs your magic.
According to Channing, the mission of Garden of Eden is “to remind people they are not alone and bring awareness to the importance of mental health. We are here to spread a little more love, joy, and kindness.” Shop Channing’s line here.
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