Using Fashion to Fight the Depression Monster: An Interview with Ryan Brunty

Las Vegas artist Ryan Brunty has been breaking barriers between fashion and art. After the loss of his grandfather to cancer, Ryan became depressed. It is with these emotions that he created a self-portrait character called Yerman the Sad Yeti. This infamous character was a symbol of how Ryan felt at the time, and has since been a loveable character for those suffering from mental illness. 

Yerman was then printed on t-shirts and that how is how the fashion label Depressed Monsters was born. The label creates genderless clothing and donating proceeds to mental health organisations to help fight the stigma around the conversation of mental health awareness.We chat to Ryan about how Yerman was born, his stance on genderless clothing and his advice on how to overcome mental illness. 

Depressed monsters was established because of the loss of your grandfather to cancer, what was that moment like when you felt I need to change this and turn it into something positive to help others?

I don’t think there was a definitive moment, but a whole slew of moments leading up to it. For instance, when I was in the darkest moments of that depression in 2012, I tried painting one day and in the midst of it all realised the painting had a dark monster in the middle with words such as “loser” “nobody will love you” and “failure” in the background. This was the first time I realised I needed a change, I was going down a dark path. This is when I first started leaving my house and hanging around at a coffee shop trying to acclimate back to the real world. Then the second instance was when I first printed Yerman shirts and they began selling very quickly, leading to a sell-out. The nice things people were saying really made me realise the character was something special. Soon after that, I shared the story my blog and it got traction online, allowing people to connect at a deeper level. Life is full of little journeys like that. 

Tell us about Yerman and how it came to you?

I’m still not sure how Yerman was formed. I was doing self-portraits at the time to exemplify how I was feeling inside. I was doing little monsters, trying to formulate my sense of self. One day, Yerman came about and he completely encapsulated my feelings of isolation and after sharing to twitter; others picked up on it immediately without me having to say anything. Now, 5 years later, I’ve been fortunate enough to speak about my journey across the country, live paint at Coachella and Life is Beautiful Festival and sell clothing on amazing sites such as Zappos, 6pm and Amazon. Yerman changed my life and now he’s helping others as well! It’s an amazing feeling.

Some of the profits go to mental health agencies, could you tell us how that came about?

I love conscious companies that give back; I think it’s really important to stand for something. For me, mental advocacy just kind of came about. I shared my story after printing the first batch of Yerman shirts to my blog and it kind of took off. It was shared a bunch and then I was invited to NYC to take part in an event with The Moth. When all of this was happening, I decided that I wanted to give back so now I do public speaking engagements to share my story and donate a portion of proceeds at the end of the year to top mental health awareness agencies. Last year we donated to Jed Foundation which is an amazing company that works with college age kids.

You guys create genderless clothing, could you tell us more about it?

I come from a big family and it’s important to be inclusive. I always try to make my siblings feel welcome, maybe because I’m the oldest or something, but it’s really important to me. With this in mind, I don’t ever want to make clothing that makes people feel like they can’t wear it or it wasn’t made for them.

What advice would you give others going through mental illness?

Trust a professional to help you. I know it takes a lot to get out of your comfort zone and open up about depression, but a therapist can do wonders. When I was going through bouts of depression prior to seeing a therapist, I felt lost and almost like I was on a ship lost at sea with waves crashing all around me. After seeing a licensed professional, I was given tools needed to guide my vessel. I realized I was the captain of my ship; that I wasn’t lost at sea anymore.

What’s the response been like for you guys?

Absolutely fantastic. I’m not going to lie, when I first opened up about my journey; my family didn’t understand why I was doing it. They looked at it as though I was being weak and shouldn’t say these things. Over the years, they’ve not only grown to accept me but also be huge fans of the brand. Outside of my family, the response from the mental health community has been amazing. Furthermore, the response from the clothing community has been awesome too! I am so grateful for every stage of success we’ve had thus far and this year is going to be great.

Is your audience targeted at a certain age?

Not especially. When we released our toy last year, it was targeted to adult collectors and limited to 20. However, kids started collecting them too and it was awesome to see Yerman be accepted by so many art/toy lovers. I honestly believe that depression and anxiety affects people of every age and so anything we can do to speak to different demographics, I welcome with open arms. Whether we’re creating murals or t-shirts, fighting the stigma around mental health awareness is always top of mind. 

Visit Ryan at his website Depressed