Behind the business: George David Hodgson’s inspirational story

Starting up

4 December 2019

People start their own business for all sorts of reasons. For some, it’s a chance to be their own boss and escape the rat race. For others, it’s born out of an idea that they just can’t wait to develop and share with the world.

But for George David Hodgson, founder and owner of the Maison de Choup fashion brand, starting a business was an opportunity to turn the lowest point in his life into something that can change the lives of others.

Following a severe episode of anxiety and OCD, George decided to channel his experiences into something creative in order to better express what he was going through, and his business Maison de Choup was born. His hope for the brand is to inspire people to open up about their mental health and encourage others to come through their own dark periods.

Here, George speaks to AXA about his experiences of starting a business from a low point in his life, what he’s learned along the way and why it’s important to be a brand with mental health at its heart.

 

What inspired you to start Maison de Choup?

I started the business when I was suffering severely with my anxiety and OCD. In 2012, after leaving school I experimented with substances at a festival which didn't agree with me at all. I started feeling really peculiar and it turned out I was having a panic attack. It then sort of consumed me and I became incredibly unwell.

George David Hodgson, Maison de Choup

I started washing my hands 50 times a day, my panic attacks worsened, my anxiety worsened and I started experiencing suicidal thoughts. It was a downward spiral. I had to leave college – I was studying art and design with the intention of getting into photography.

I received private healthcare after being told I'd have to wait 40 weeks to get seen by the NHS CAMHS service since I was 16 at the time. It was during my therapy that I started writing down and drawing all my feelings and thoughts in notebooks. It was my way of expressing myself because I didn't know how to talk about my mental health properly.

I started to get better and started playing around with the designs in my notebooks. I thought maybe I could do something with them, and I landed on the idea of creating a t-shirt to express what I was going through. I'd wear the shirt and show it to my friends and family and tell them about the meaning of the design, like a protective shell almost.

I knew there was something there with this idea: using fashion to raise awareness of mental health and sharing a positive message. And obviously when you have an idea you want to run with it. I did, I pursued it and Maison de Choup was born.

 

What do you want to achieve with Maison de Choup?

The idea of the brand is to share a positive message about mental health, to raise awareness and start a conversation in a non-triggering way. Not necessarily wearing a label saying “I have anxiety” on a t-shirt, but wearing something that not only looks cool, but has a deeper meaning behind it and a story that can start a conversation.

If someone asks “What's that design? It's really cool, what's it about?”, you can open up your own story and why you bought that design, or you can tell the story behind the brand and why you support it. And 25% of the profit goes to YoungMinds – the young people’s mental health charity – to help young people that aren't in a position to go privately to get the mental health support they and their parents need. I wanted the brand to give back as well as giving a positive message.

 

Tell us more about your connection with YoungMinds. How does it link in with your business?

When I launched Maison de Choup, I wanted to give back to charities that helped people with their mental health problems who can't afford to go privately. Parents of young people with mental health problems need support too, so we like to help them as well.

When I was ill I Googled my symptoms – which is always a terrible idea – but I came across the YoungMinds website. It listed my symptoms and was quite a good resource of finding out more about my mental illness. So when I launched the brand I thought of giving back and I decided to partner with them. Then I started donating 25% of the proceeds from certain lines to help those young people to share their own stories and messages. I now work with them on an advisory level and I'm an activist for mental health too.

 

How has the brand been received since its inception?

It's been received incredibly well. We’re the only brand at the moment in its infancy that's promoting this positive message and also holding up strong fashion designs and ethical clothing that's soft and good quality as well. People really like the design and the story behind it, which is fantastic. And obviously it's been received well by the press, publications and it's been on the BBC as well, which is brilliant.

 

How do you see Maison de Choup evolving? What plans do you have in store for its future?

The brand has evolved since its inception, from being a little project to trying to grow it as a business. That's one of the most exciting aspects and one of the hardest challenges – trying to grow it in a sustainable way. That's why we're continually evolving, adapting to the market, introducing new things and always experimenting. Because with our core message – that spreading awareness and positivity about mental health is the most important part and working with young sufferers who have their own story to tell – it's about giving them a platform to do that and tell their stories, not always telling mine.

 

What's been your proudest moment with your business?

Working with YoungMinds has been such a worthwhile experience because there's a mental health epidemic happening in this country. Although there's been a lot more conversation around mental health, when you look at the intensity of cuts to mental health services and the waiting lists that exist within NHS services, it’s such a vital issue to discuss and bring more attention to.

I suppose my proudest moment is hearing people's feedback on the brand and how it's helped them recognise that they can come through the darkest period in their lives. The brand is a constant support. We collaborated with an artist on one of the lines recently and the brand helped her recognise she actually suffered from depression.

I think one of my proudest moments is having a BBC3 documentary released about the brand and what I was doing, called Amazing Humans. It was exciting and such a humbling opportunity. To have such a small brand be showcased and highlighted to millions of people was very exciting.

I still get a lot of feedback and recognition from the documentary today. It's still being shared. It wired into the audience and encourages more people to open up about their mental health, which is my business' main mission after all.

 

YoungMinds are the UK's leading charity fighting for children and young people's mental health, and are AXA’s chosen charity partner for 2019. To find out more about they work they do, visit the YoundMinds website. And you can find out more about George and Maison de Choup here.

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