Digidentity Explores the Pressures of Social Media and its Impact on Mental Health

The iD International Emerging Designer Awards is an exciting event for fashion lovers from around New Zealand, and for the past two decades the show has been giving audiences the opportunity to see top fashion graduates from around the world. Ahead of this week’s event we caught up with 23-year-old designer Eily Shaddock who is now part of the New K!D Designer Directory.

A finalist at this year’s iD Emerging Designer Awards, Eily Shaddock’s collection explores the social media landscape: “It requires balance and ‘user awareness,’ says Eily. Image supplied.

A finalist at this year’s iD Emerging Designer Awards, Eily Shaddock’s collection explores the social media landscape: “It requires balance and ‘user awareness,’ says Eily. Image supplied.

Eily will be presenting her collection, ‘Digidentity‘ under her label, Branded by Eily at the 20th Anniversary Awards show in Dunedin this week.

With a strong visual aesthetic, the Toowoomba-born designer merges futuristic glam with sports-inspired luxe. Through her collection she speaks directly to her generation about the inescapable grip of living in a digitally-driven world, and what it means to be immersed in social media culture.


NK: Where do you draw your inspiration from?

Eily: I often look to popular culture and I'm really inspired conceptually by this social media epidemic we are experiencing and everything it entails. I'm also really inspired by pop and satirical art that reflects and comments on current times - a concept that I try to reflect throughout my design work.

NK: Your collection draws on addiction and the impact of social media and 'self' validation through digital technology. How severe is this addiction to technology?

Eily: Technology has become an unavoidable incidence of our existence. It is unsurprising that peoples’ reliance on technology has increased exponentially, and now verges on the excessive. With Instagram having such a profound psychological influence on its users, it comes as no surprise that identities - both on and offline - are at a constant ‘under construction’ state of becoming, rather than ‘being’ where the walls between public and private have been demolished. In doing so, it has significantly blurred the lines between congruent on and offline realities.

I think a lot of evidence supports this, but our addiction to technology is so severe that it has become the norm. Most users wouldn’t identify as ‘technologically addicted’, yet their lifestyles and mental health might suggest otherwise. Social media can obviously be really helpful in self-promotion or brand-recognition. It’s free advertising, promotion and profiling which we just haven’t experienced to this level before. I think the platform isn’t sustainable and can’t keep going the way it is ... somethings gotta give, and I think it will be the users.

“Like anyone who exists online, I feel pressure to conform to a certain norm and still worry that I’m not overly active online, which makes me worry more about being ‘left behind,’ or not relevant anymore. “

~ iD International emerging designer finalist for 2019, Eily Shaddock.

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NK: Have you caught yourself being consumed by social media and felt the pressure to construct a version of your identity that is either subversive or conforms to the 'expected norms' in order to generate a positive response?

Eily: I think there has always been a lot of self-reflection when it comes to social media and I am in no way an active social media user. I would post more and more regularly on my brand’s Instagram page than I would on my personal account. Over the years, I have found myself uploading less and less content, and if I am to upload anything, it’s content that is really important to me - my family and work mostly. I really don’t like having my picture taken and will avoid it, if I can.

And since delving deep into issues surrounding true and false identity online and experiencing first-hand the addictive habits and damaging effect it can have on people’s mental health, it’s given me a different (almost cynical) insight into the platform that I didn’t have back in June 2014. Of course, like anyone who exists online I feel pressure to conform to a certain norm and still worry that I’m not overly active online, which makes me worry more about being ‘left behind,’ or not being relevant anymore. I just can’t seem to upload content like my peers do - it’s just not me.

I’m definitely consumed by social media in one way or another. And I think anyone who says they aren’t are lying to themselves a little bit. I’m consumed more by having spent a few years of my life writing and designing collections based on the platform, and I find myself reflecting on it every single day; I read about technology and social media dominance, and see my friends ‘staging photos,’ planning witty comments to accompany uploads, and sit there editing for obscene amounts of time. I am just so intrigued by it all, yet find it so frustrating and damaging. I think for the moment, social media requires balance and ‘user awareness.’

If like me, you sit there scrolling before you go to bed, it’s important to recognise that unnatural behaviour and monitor it in some way or another. Social media has literally been designed to be addictive. However, I think for me personally, I am a bit more conscious of the content I consume.

Above: menswear and womenswear from Branded by Eily - Digidentity, images supplied.

NK: How do your peers feel about the pressure of social media?

Eily: As part of my Honours degree we were required to write a research paper (or ‘thesis’) on a topic of our choosing. I looked at the link between the rise of psychological and behavioural issues among young people and the highly addictive, influential nature of social media applications - with a particular focus on Instagram.

Five Instagram users were questioned in order to highlight clear and incongruent on and offline behaviour among young people, and understand how addiction, identity and appearances are portrayed online. The results from my peers wasn’t really shocking - all of them were classified as ‘addicted’ and all of them felt immense pressure to ‘perform’ online and create a certain type of identity that was strategically constructed.

We live in a digital age and your Instagram profile holds a lot of weight, value and meaning. It means that not having [an instagram profile] or not uploading isn’t really an option anymore.

Living in a techno-driven society, it is how we ‘distinguish’ ourselves from others and how we showcase ourselves to the world. Went to a festival? You’ll document it on Instagram. Applying for a job? You’ll include your Instagram handle. Got a new haircut? You’ll post it on Instagram. Waiting for your bus? You’ll scroll through Instagram.

We have become slaves to the objects around us, and it’s really crazy that we can have almost multiple personalities depending on our accounts. It can be a really strategic way of branding yourself, or quite detrimental to your physical and mental health.

Don’t get me wrong, for myself and my peers it is such a fantastic and relevant way to brand yourself, your brand, your product or whatever else you may be putting out into the universe. It’s free and has a really strong influence, so it’s really a double-edged-sword in many respects.

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Eily: The pressure on my peers is being felt more-so now than ever. And I feel Instagram is coming to its climax, where the downfall of the platform (or the way in which we interact with it) may be coming to end in the not-so-distant future.

NK: How can digital technology be used in a positive way within the fashion industry, and what approaches do you intend to take with how you present your brand’s imagery?

Eily: Although I find myself putting Instagram down a lot, the platform is still genius, and if used ‘correctly’ it can be such a powerful tool and a helpful resource for its users.

I think more and more we are seeing everyday-users, influencers and brands promote or upload content that has more of a ‘real-life’ edge. Influencers are posting ‘before and after’ edited pictures and ‘coming forward’ about their processes, which makes them more relatable to users. Models are showing stretch marks and users are posting make-up-free pictures.

Diet-Prada is an excellent example as they are calling out big brands for copying and plagiarising each other’s work, which has in turn started to generate conversation about the fashion industry as a whole.

Technology at its very core is an alternative 21st century method of communication, and it does just that - help users communicate with people (online) who they would have never been connected with before. It’s become a platform in fashion where a different insight into the industry has become available for all. We get to see backstage shows, inside ateliers, inside the homes of A-list celebrities and models, and we can buy products in seconds with a swipe on the screen. Technology has opened doors that we just couldn’t have predicted. For fashion, it has developed not only new ways of communicating, but new ways of promoting, advertising and selling.

For me, it’s all about reflection when uploading and presenting imagery online. I hope to continue to take a more thoughtful approach to presenting imagery online, and to explore some reasoning behind my uploaded content as the year goes on. It’s a love-hate relationship for me, but it’s just about balance.

NK: Describe the core pieces in your collection and what they represent.

Eily: The collection and its pieces are all really important as each one leads onto the other. The jackets or outerwear pieces throughout the collection are really key, but so are the printed pieces underneath. I’ve chosen three ‘core outfits’:

  • The ‘broken iPhone jacket’ - a wool jacket completely covered in black mirror acrylic that has been strategically patterned, designed and cut to replicate a broken or smashed iPhone screen. There is a major contrast here between the wool (true) layer with the acrylic (false) layer that represents that juxtaposition between true and false identities online. The mini dresses underneath also signify that contrast, but in a more literal, tongue-in cheek way. The first mini dress is crazy colourful and bright, however, with the black organza mini dress over the top it dims it, like the brightening and dimming of an iPhone screen. The tattoo rainbow laser tights are a subtle all-over chaotic print that is meant to act as a second skin.

  • The ‘all-over Insta print catsuit’ - the first women’s Instagram print that I distorted (like the men’s) and printed onto matte lycra. The image was taken from a friends Instagram feed and distorted in a way that makes her identity unidentifiable. This signifies the editing side behind Instagram and the lengths and methods we go to to ‘enhance’ our image online. There is also some hand- wool embroidery of faces that have been almost Frankensteined together in a really abstract way, continuing to explore the theme of distorted identity.

  • The ‘holographic straight-jacket’ - a men’s crazy, chaotic rainbow laser set that is underneath an overcoat and was inspired by a straight-jacket. This look was meant to be really visually stimulating, hence, why I used the rainbow holographic faux leather and matching oil slick buckles. It signifies the addiction and mental health crisis facing this generation due to technological advancements. The fabric for the rainbow laser print and holographic coat represents this hypnotic influence that social media has on its users. It’s a darker end to the collection that hopefully gets audiences to look inward.

  • Accessories - throughout the collection the accessories also hold a lot of meaning. The bags are made from custom plastic road signage and are meant to present ‘in your face’ messages to the audience. “Caution: upload content is not always as it appears” and “Danger: vanity is highly addictive, get off your fucking phone”.

    The other bags throughout the collection all have iPad cut- outs in them so that you can slot your iPads into them and show your online ‘identities’ to the world. They also come with chains and cuffs that are meant to represent how we as a society are physically tethered to our devices, becoming slaves to our own technologies.

NK: What are your plans after the iD International Emerging Designer Awards in Dunedin?

Eily: I am set to graduate from QUT this July - I still have two electives left, so I am continuing to work casually at Sass & Bide. I want to do a short Graphic Design course, as it’s an interest of mine and I feel as though it will be a valuable skill set to have alongside my fashion degree. After I graduate in July, I hope to work for a few months, save, and then move interstate by the end of the year to either Sydney or Melbourne, depending on opportunities. I would love to do another internship once I’m settled interstate, either for an Australian label or overseas. This year will be a big one, but a great year for setting myself up for the next chapter, which I am very much ready and excited for!

Find Eily’s label Branded by Eily on the New K!D Designer Directory or head to her website for more information

The iD International Emerging Designer Awards Show runs Friday 15 -Saturday 16 March at The Regent Theatre.

Tickets available via Ticket Direct.